The children are missed at MädchenbüroMilena.
The children’s playrooms at MädchenbüroMilena have been left empty for months due to the pandemic, which has kept the country in a full lockdown since last year. This means, that the children as well as their mothers have been isolated at home without much connection to the outside world. The consequences for the children are not without significance, but the beginning of summer and increase in vaccinations gives hope that the playrooms will soon be filled with the sound of children’s laughter again.
By Camilla Jensen
I had just moved to Frankfurt – a new city in a new country where I didn’t know anyone, so I decided to get involved with the local community through volunteering. I came across MädchenbüroMilena e.V. – a local NGO in Frankfurt am Main, dedicated to integration of young girls and women with a refugee or migrant background. I have a background as an intercultural social worker, and experience working with both children and refugees, so I thought this would be a great match, and luckily so did they.
As I have experienced myself, learning German and creating a good social network is a key part of feeling at home and integrating in Germany. However, the lack of childcare is often a barrier for refugee women to attend German courses and getting out of the house in general. To break this barrier, MädchenbüroMilena e.V. offers childcare in parallel to their German classes, which takes place every Monday to Thursday. This means, that the women can learn German and create social connections with other women, while the children are making new friends and playing – it’s a win-win!
As one of the volunteers at MädchenbüroMilena e.V., I am responsible for the care of the children. We make sure they get along with the other children, comfort them, read for them and make up fun games. Some of the favourite activities are dancing to music, reading books and building towers. We have two different playrooms – one for babies and toddlers, and one for older children. Both rooms have lots of different toys and books, and usually the rooms are filled with laughter and excitement from playing children. Typically, we would be two volunteers in each room, taking care of a handful of children. The children always seem exited to be there, and enjoy a couple of hours to play with the volunteers and the other children. The mothers seem happy to be able to leave their children in a safe space, while they have their German classes just a few meters away in a different room. The atmosphere is always warm and welcoming, and you can feel that this is a very positive and safe space for both the women and the children to come.
When the corona pandemic hit, the staff at MädchenbüroMilena e.V. did what they could to keep going and offer their services to the diverse group of women and children. We would all get our temperatures checked before entering, wear facemasks and sanitize our hands frequently. We would also keep the windows open as much as possible, and have fewer children and volunteers in each playroom. But the beginning of the pandemic was a scary time for all of us, and we saw how it affected the mothers, who would stay at home more and more. Often only one child would show up for childcare and sometimes none. The women said that they are worried about corona; therefore they keep their children home and rarely leave their house.
When the country went into a full lockdown, it also meant an end to the German lessons in person and childcare for the children. And although the staff at MädchenbüroMilena e.V. are working hard to stay connected to the women – having online classes and conversations are just not the same. Many of them are living in refugee shelters and cramped housing, and might not have access to have private online meetings or classes. MädchenbüroMilena was a safe space for the women to come with their children and a way out of social isolation, but it has become increasingly hard to stay connected with them on a regular basis.
For the children, the lockdown has caused a significant change in their daily routines. Without school and the childcare at MädchenbüroMilena, they spend most of their time isolated at home with their parents. Of course this goes for all children in Germany, but for children with a refugee background who are starting a new life in Germany – having those routines and creating new social bonds are especially important. Going to school and childcare gives children with a refugee background an increased sense of belonging and higher self-esteem, and it helps recently resettled children to learn about and adjust to their new country (source). Whereas, being isolated and disconnected can have a negative effect on the children’s social, emotional and mental wellbeing (source). Although online learning has been available for the older children, a limited technological proficiency among refugee families might also create a barrier to online schooling – and for the younger children who are not yet in school, there are not many options to stay connected with the outside world.
It’s still too early to say exactly what consequences the lockdown have had on the children and how it will affect them in the future. As we are entering summer and the number of vaccinated people is increasing, we hope that the mothers and children will soon find their way back to MädchenbüroMilena e.V., so that the playrooms will be filled with playing children again. In any case, we are ready for them to return and are looking forward to seeing them all again.
Das MädchenbüroMilena e.V. in Frankfurt wird von Beginn an, d.h. seit 2014 als eine meiner Herzensangelegenheiten durch mich und meine Stiftung persönlich und finanziell unterstützt. Das Team leistet einen großartigen Beitrag in der Integration und Bildung für Frauen, Mädchen und Kinder. Ein ganz großes Dankeschön an das Team des MädchenbüroMilena e.V. in Frankfurt!