New home #2
Mistakes, muddles, slips of the tongue: That won’t do for 19-year-old Ahmed Barry. He loves perfection, no matter how much effort it takes. His path to the big conference table at thyssenkrupp in Essen for instance took a lot of effort. In order to sit here and pronounce difficult German words like “fachspezifisch” he traveled almost 7,000 kilometers, on foot, and by bus, train and boat. He’s spent years working hard and studying, first the German language, then at vocational college, and now he’s learning everything an office clerk needs to know. His new life in Germany is his opportunity. He’s determined to make good use of it.
Barry comes from Guinea in West Africa. He fled three years ago. He spent eight months traveling through Morocco, across the Mediterranean to Spain, France and Belgium – before finally reaching Bochum. He had no money, and no idea where he would end up or what his future life would be like. “I just wanted to get away from Guinea and make a better life,” he says. His home country has suffered decades of upheaval. For over 20 years parts of the country have been used as a refuge by rival former fighters from Liberia and Sierra Leone. Tensions are also fueled by an explosive mix of ethnic and religious groups: Oppression, abuse and violence between Muslims, Christians and other ethnic minorities are commonplace. Barry’s parents are dead. His brother stayed behind in Guinea, they often speak on the phone. The 19-year-old says he doesn’t want to talk about what happened before he left. He is still a long way off coming to terms with his experiences.
When he first arrived Ahmed Barry had little idea about Germany. As a soccer fan he’d heard of Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich. “I thought it would be a good idea to go to Munich,” he says. “But when I arrived in Bochum the bus driver said it was the end of the route and everyone had to get off. So I stayed here.” Today he knows it was a good decision. He’s settled in well. He moved out of a home for unaccompanied child refugees and now lives with a foster mother who teaches German at a secondary school. Each morning, except for casual Fridays, he puts on a clean shirt, a suit and tie, and goes to work in building Q1 on the Essen campus.
thyssenkrupp has created more than 350 apprenticeship places and hundreds of internships for refugees like Barry. To secure one of these places, refugees like everyone else have to attend an interview in which they are required to present their own strengths and explain why the job is important to them. Ahmed Barry had his interview last summer, it was the first in his life. “I was very nervous,” he says. “Yet I’d practiced so much beforehand”. With an average grade at vocational college of 1.7, his resumé and his letter of application, the young refugee won over his interviewers.
“I’ve been given an opportunity here.”
Since then, like many other apprentices, he has rotated through different departments every three months and appreciates working with helpful colleagues who give him the time he needs for his tasks. “thyssenkrupp is an engine for integration,” he says. “I’ve been given an opportunity here.” His words are painstakingly rehearsed. He’d like to say a lot more, he wants to tell us what his colleagues and his work mean to him, but sometimes getting the words right is just too difficult, and he finds that frustrating. Perfection is important, and language has to be particularly perfect. So he tells us what he believes all refugees need to take to heart: “They must never give up but keep on going, develop their self-confidence, work hard. They must go to school. And if they are given an opportunity they must grab it with both hands and make something of it.”
That’s exactly what Ahmed Barry has done. He’s making the most of his opportunity. His wishes for the future are relatively modest: He’d like to speak perfect German, attain good qualifications, and never become unemployed. And he’d like to live in his own apartment, maybe even start a family. For food there will mainly be fish and rice, a German dish he particularly enjoys, unlike rye bread.