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Working with handicapped people: Helping across national borders

Bakiye Barth is working in two countries for one common purpose. She hopes to initiate active cooperation between a German school for the handicapped with a similar school in Turkey.

by Janine Noack

Bakiye aus der Türkei © Noack/DAAD
Bakiye from Turkey . © Noack/DAAD

The 26-year-old Economics student Bakiye Barth spends much of her time making phone calls or attending events. Recently she went to a public forum organised by the city of Cologne where she met many dedicated individuals. Now she excitedly organises her new contacts and information. In her hometown in Turkey, a school for the handicapped is going to be built with funding from German sponsors. Bakiye’s task is to find a partner school in Cologne and establish contact with people who are willing to support the project.

Learning from one another

Since last September, Bakiye has been working on this project together with the association which is supervising its construction in Turkey. “We have many visions”, she says with enthusiasm, though she knows there’s still a long way to go. At the moment, Bakiye is establishing contacts with schools in Germany in order to discuss the building plans and design of the rooms so that the construction can soon begin. “There are not many schools like this in Turkey. Handicapped people, especially if they live in the country, are completely excluded from society,” she explains. Not so in Germany –something which impressed her very much. Later she plans to develop an educational concept for the school together with German experts. She also envisions an exchange programme, which would enable pupils in both countries to visit and learn from one another. Of course, many volunteers are needed to realise such a project.

Bakiye working on a computer © Noack/DAAD
Bakiye working on a computer . © Noack/DAAD

More than just a hobby

Working with and for people with handicaps is a personal matter for Bakiye. Her older sister Bahar was born with a mental handicap. It was never easy for her family in Turkey. “My parents always tried to integrate my sister. But it was difficult finding a school or even a place where she could get in contact with others,” Bakiye says, shaking her head sadly. Bakiye has been studying Economics at the Cologne University of Applied Sciences for the past six semesters. She quickly got settled in Germany and discovered that working with others was important to her. She strongly feels that everyone should be integrated into society. While here in Germany, she also volunteered her time at a youth centre and visited a number of schools for the handicapped. “You should accept everyone and like them for who they are,” Bakiye says. This attitude has helped her feel comfortable working with handicapped people.

Getting acquainted with a foreign culture and language

Bakiye is a strong believer in her volunteer work. She makes a confident impression when speaking with cooperation partners. And yet it’s not always easy describing her ambitions in German. “But I’m learning a lot as I go along,” she says. In addition to improving her German, Bakiye has also learned how to schedule her studies and extra-curricular activities more efficiently. Her volunteer work rarely conflicts with university. Sometimes there are weeks she invests several hours of her time, and sometimes she has an entire week free. Her job has also brought her in contact with German agencies and political representatives. “If not for this job, I’d know a lot less about Germans and especially about their working methods,” Bakiye laughs.

Not only has Bakiye organised a cooperative partnership between a German and Turkish school, but has also gained a great deal of experience working with handicapped people. If you are interested in getting involved in this area, you need to have fun and be motivated. Before you know it, you’ll quickly grow comfortable working around people with handicaps. German schools and nursing homes always welcome volunteer help. You can find all the information you need via the Internet or directly at your municipal administration.

My experience

I’ve been working in the educational field for a long time. I organise and offer seminars to pupils and help them with their projects. My work is so much fun. After my seminars, the pupils are motivated and can carry out their projects by themselves. When I offer political seminars, I’m always delighted when young people are more interested in politics and talk about it with others after finishing the course.