Hagen, Germany. Since several conflicts in the Near East as well as unstable economies, hunger and war have driven masses of people to travel around the globe, in order to reach security and freedom from danger, a large number of refugees arrived in Germany and now live here with us. Since our political system assures access to everyone to good education, schools face big challenges dealing with the current situation. The established structures do help, but the crisis cannot be dealt with if students and teachers don’t take action.

Unfortunately, my friends and I noticed that friendships between refugees and local students are rare at schools in our district, and that both parties keep to themselves. It is not an issue of racism or xenophobia. It’s more likely a consequence of cultural barriers and reservation.

As Hagen’s Student Council Board, my friends and I intended to organise a football tournament where local students and refugees can build teams together in order to encourage building friendships and cultural understanding. Our idea is based on the fact that sport connects people and will bring the refugees in Hagen literally “out of the offside”. The only big challenge we faced was arranging a big tournament with a very small budget. We just felt our idea is doomed to failure when we got to hear about the “Seeds for Integration”-project. Having been supported by a total sum of 500€, we were able to afford everything we needed to realize our idea.

Two weeks before the tournament, I have visited the refugee’s English class of my school to invite them and present the ideas. I didn’t even have the chance to finish my sentence; when they heard the word “football”, they immediately started shouting and cheering. The students were fulfilled with anticipation and their reactions supported the intentions we had with the project.

On November 25th, our efforts paid off. After buying trophies, footballs and other supplies, arranging food selling and inviting every school in our region, communicating with teachers, students and representatives, preparing the gym and registering every participant personally, the tournament finally started.

123 students got together in the gym, plus several teachers and helpers. Our host kept the participants cheering and the teams were highly motivated. As if their lives depended on it, they ran over the soccer field, scoring goals and cheering. When the match started, there was no space left for barriers, conflicts or differences. There was no need for a united language, words were not necessary. The teams cooperated as if they had been friends for ages. At 1 o’clock, the teams had played all their games and returned to their seats, waiting for the results with bated breath. While our team started counting the scored points to evaluate the winner, we bridged the time with a raffle. When the participants were registered, each of them received a card with a number. The prices varied, we raffled chocolate, gelatin-free candies, crayons, watercolor, table soccer and, the highlight of the day, the footballs we used for the matches. The students were very excited and glad about their prices. We gave everyone the chance to win, regardless of their sporting potential. And the students noticed and valued that.

At the final victory ceremony, we played music and asked the first three winners to come to the front. We handed them the trophies and made photos of the teams. The first winner was the Liselotte-Funcke-Schule, a school which was founded only recently. The team was overjoyed. The teacher that accompanied them to the tournament proudly told us her students have never been taking part of any tournament or competition, and that the students were looking forward to it for weeks.

Gradually, the gym emptied as the students headed home, vividly exchanging about the events of the day. Our team stayed. There were no words needed to express what we felt. Sure, we trod a long path and all felt the exhaustion of the past weeks. But also, we were overwhelmed by the amazing atmosphere and the great results of the day. Integration just happened right in front of our eyes, not through rules and laws, but from childish enthusiasm and impartiality.

Article written by the project team of BSV Hagen – grantees of the Seeds for Integration funding. If you want to learn more about their project or you need tips from experienced applicants, contact them directly by writing to the Student Council of BSV Hagen: hagenerbsv@gmail.com

If you have a great project idea and you want to apply for Seeds for Integration funding, check the website of the project.