During his traineeship in the community’s building department, it became clear to Khalifeh that the building focus in Germany was quite different to that which he had experienced in the Emirates. Instead of constructing shopping malls, he was now busy planning child daycare centres. Not only the construction materials used, but also the building regulations and rules of tender for the construction projects were very different. Even native German speakers would be forgiven for not understanding the terminology. The experience was initially sobering for Khalifeh. He had to ask himself if he would ever be able to work in his chosen profession in Germany. Yet, the civil engineer refused to give up and he doggedly persevered.

Knowledge of still foreign terrain

"Although he found the experience frustrating, it was very important," says Detlev Fanger from the Beverstedt administration. "He was able to acquire important new skills for the labour market within the protective framework of the programme."

Khalifeh assesses the situation likewise. "It was extremely important for me to learn about the whole process of building in Germany," says the civil engineer. “It was difficult at the beginning, but I was really helped by the way the administrative staff holds together like a family." Having concluded his placement, he applied for a position at a construction company. His experience with the municipality counted in his favour and he got the job.

In addition to enhancing their qualifications for the German labour market, the traineeship also served as an introduction to the foundations of democracy. Hane Moshmosh was impressed by his experience in helping to prepare for the Bavarian regional and state elections in 2018. It provided him with a demonstration of how democratic elections function at the local level. Furthermore, he was able to participate in a public meeting to discuss the planned construction of an indoor swimming pool. Through this very specific example, he was able to experience how citizen participation functions.

Moshmosh was not the only trainee to gain such insights. Ahmed al Hamoud, 28, was born in Homs and has lived more than three years in Germany. The law degree he began in Syria he was unable to complete in Egypt for political reasons. So he fled to Germany via Turkey, hoping to be able to complete his studies. As he was missing important documents, however, this option was ruled out. He gladly accepted the offer of a traineeship in the town of Maintal, because, as he says, "I like to work with legal texts and I wanted to know how a local authority in Germany functions."
Win-win situation
Al Hamoud was impressed at how democratic processes were organised in the committee offices and, in particular, how the municipal council discussed the use of city funds and that it was normal to express controversial opinions. "There are no such discussions in Syria. People there are afraid to express their opinions."
Yet, it wasn't only the Syrian refugees who gained from the experience. Daily contact with the migrants proved valuable for the administrative staff, as intercultural awareness is a matter of current concern. Tensions and biases are best broken down by direct personal contacts, admitted Tagrid Yousef, Commissioner for Integration in Krefeld. "All studies on integration come to the same conclusion."
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