“I never expected that!”
Young students discover what it is like to work with disabled people
The first Erasmus+ CARE conference took place in Lübbecke from 9th to 14th February. 47 Students from five different countries (Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Finland and Germany) came together to deal with the topic of how disabled people are taken care of in Germany. The name of the project which is coordinated by the German school and funded by the EU stands for “Cooperating Actively for Responsibility and Empathy” (https://www.care-erasmus-project.eu). It aims at sensitizing young people for social professions.
The first meeting of participants from all five countries was mainly about overcoming inhibitions and breaking down prejudices. Even though the storm “Sabine” or “Ciara“, as it was called in some European countries, caused a lot of trouble, especially for the Polish and Finnish group, everybody arrived on time to start the first day.
On this particular day, all students and teachers were greeted during a welcome ceremony by the headmaster of Wittekind-Gymnasium (https://www.wittekind.de), Dr. Eberhard Hagemeier, and Angela Hölscher, the second chairwoman of the Lebenshilfe Lübbecke (https://lebenshilfe-luebbecke.de). Mrs Hölscher was able to give insight into her private life and thereby reported impressively from the perspective of a mother of a boy with Down syndrome to sensitize for the problems they have to face.
After that the students got the opportunity to try wheelchair basketball with a professional team from Rahden, a neighbouring town (http://baskets-96-rahden.de). They also played blind soccer and got to know what it must be like to be blind. This made it easier for them to find access to the topic and it helped to relate to the problems disabled people face in their life. This preparation was very useful considering the visit of the Lübbecke workshops in the afternoon where they met lots of people with different disabilities. They got the chance to see the workshops and learn a lot about the conditions for the people working there. With lots of impressons they went home after that first day.
On Tuesday the students were split up into small groups that either worked at institutions of the “Lübbecker Lebenshilfe“ or the “Wittekindshof“ (https://www.wittekindshof.de). Not only did the students receive insight into the daily routine of the people living or working there but they also got an impression of what problems the supervisors are facing while taking care of the people, for example they have to make sure that everybody is doing their work correctly, think of a way to design the machines so that possible mistakes or accidents are prevented and assess the person’s skills and assign him or her a suitable position and partner beside the “normal“ tasks such as medication or feeding those who aren’t able to do that themselves. In the evening there was so much to catch up on, so that most of the time wasn’t spend on the alley but on the table beside it, sharing the new gained information with the rest of the group.
On their trip to Bielefeld the following day, the group learned, much to their surprise, that the institution Bethel (https://www.bethel.eu) is much larger, complex and diverse than they originally envisioned it to be. They were informed about the so-called Bethel year, an opportunity to spend a year in one of the institutions in Bethel after finishing school for example. They also visited a school for nurses and learned about the job training as well as possibilities to study in Bethel. In their freetime, after the tour, they had a lot of fun exploring Bielefeld in small groups, spoiling the stores of the city with their money spent on food, clothes and souvenirs. The evenings were usually spent in groups at the host houses, bonding and talking about their cultural differences as well as similarities.
The last day was not only used to collect all the information and evaluate the project at the end of the week, but also to prepare a farewell party with all the host families that showed in the end how well students had learned to take CARE of each other when they presented their results, gave speeches, had dinner together and enjoyed the last dances in their international group.
As a conclusion one could describe this week as an extremely successful experience because students and teachers got the opportunity to learn at first-hand what it means to care for somebody but they also met many interesting people from different countries and build up international friendships that wouldn’t have existed otherwise.