"Integration of diversity, with a smile": An interview with WelcomeCamp co-founder, Bastia
"In the beginning we collected money, clothes and other donations to help with refugee accommodation, but it did not seem to be enough..."
This is the the story of a group of friends living in Germany, who were inspired to start their own initiative through witnessing the struggles of the refugee community; not just to find food and shelter, but the more complex struggle... for acceptance.
Saddened by the fear and mistrust directed at the migrant community, but confident in the essential goodness and humanity within their fellow citizens, they vowed to help change attitudes and nurture the integration process by providing a platform for discussion and innovation. Thus, WelcomeCamp was born.
On 15th July 2017, Pass the Crayon, attended the second annual WelcomeCamp, a barcamp which saw over 150 people and 26 different projects including UNICEF, and Change.org and the UNO come together to exchange information and ideas, make connections, and ultimately create a family of people all working together to benefit the welcome culture movement.
In the weeks leading up to WelcomeCamp, I caught up with Bastian Koch, one of the lead organisers, and influencers behind WelcomeCamp. He spoke to me about how WelcomeCamp was conceptualised, the meaning and significance of WelcomeCamp, and what WelcomeCamp may hold in the future.
Tell us a bit about WelcomeCamp.
"Almost one year has passed and the WelcomeCamp 2016 has resulted in stunning projects, new friendships, established network events and further discussions on the welcome culture. The priorities have shifted: the social life, the everyday life, the search for training opportunities, jobs and housing have to be mastered. „Where are we now?“ WelcomeCamp 2017 on 15th of July 2017 is intended to provide the opportunity for all participants, refugees and inhabitants, to discuss existing questions and perhaps even find answers for all of us."
Who had the idea for WelcomeCamp, and why? Why were you personally drawn to working for WelcomeCamp?
"Henry, I and some of our friends and colleagues were shocked and motivated by realising the hate and fear when it came to the so-called refugees crisis. As we knew, most people here actually were open, tolerant and helpful, and we also knew people are not coming because they want to leave their homes; but had to! In the beginning we collected money, clothes and other donations to provide refugee accommodation with, but it did not seem to be enough so we wanted to use our skills and networks in communication, design and web development to do something good. That’s when we realised it’s not the missing skills, it’s the missing connection to the right people in the right place. With the WelcomeCamp we wanted to provide the missing link between refugees, volunteers and initiatives."
How does your experience working for WelcomeCamp differ from previous jobs within the ngo sector?
"The WelcomeCamp is organised completely voluntarily, but it’s not an ngo-thing, nor a real initiative at all. It’s some people preparing and holding an event where people can build and grow networks for their everyday work with refugees, donors or authorities.
So the difference is work itself. The one thing in common is, that everybody who is involved is doing what he or she is good at, with a lot of fun for a good and important cause."
Why is WelcomeCamp so important for the refugee community?
"It’s important to see that most of the people want to help and provide support already. But it’s about the other way around as well. The helpers community is meeting the people in need, meeting like-minded ones with the very same objectives, aims, failures and successes.
So it’s actually not a community thing at all, it’s the real life. people are coming together, living and working together, making the world a bit better together."
What impact did last years WelcomeCamp have on the refugee community?
"I cannot count the tweets, the links and the likes … I could, but that’s not our perspective … we want to provide all the involved with a good spirit and motivation. We want the world to get a bit closer and with the eyes on last year, the new initiatives, the stunning projects and the huge support for the barcamp, I am sure we are on a very good way. And maybe, once we don’t need to talk about the problems anymore, we can just discuss the success stories and the opportunities of co-operation."
Going forward, what are your plans for the future? Do you see WelcomeCamp expanding beyond Berlin?
"We receive questions on that on a regular basis. But we do not have the power to expand, nor leave our current jobs (and sometimes families) to leave Berlin. Still, we always say, everybody could technically hold a WelcomeCamp like ours, even with the branding, and of course we would give our full support. To be honest it would make us proud.
On the other hand, it’s not true that there are no similar events in Germany, or in the world at all. We know, and we are in contact with some initiatives which are doing or planning something to bring the people together, to stand up for welcome culture. This can be a barcamp, a dinner, a cinema visit or some bike tours.
Activities on this should be as diverse as the life of the newcomers and inhabitants.
And finally..... summarize WelcomeCamp in 3 words 😊
Integration of Diversity with a Smile