I am Jamil Jamal al-Din from Syria. I am proud to be from Damascus, Al-Midan neighbourhood. I am 33 years old and currently work in industrial electricity control.
I left Syria in 2012 for Lebanon because of the war in Syria and because I had to serve in the army. I settled in Beirut until the end of 2013, after which the Syrian situation in Lebanon became very difficult and propaganda against Syrians started to occur. I left Lebanon for Turkey and settled in Istanbul. It is a very beautiful city where the neighbourhoods reminded me of Damascus.
I stayed in Turkey for almost a year and in September 2015 I decided to travel to Europe because Turkey had no future for Syrians. You can work, spend money and meet people but that is it in Turkey. There is nothing more in the future which means there is no hope.
I am a person who is ambitious and loves to develop and discover new things so I decided to take this adventure to Europe. We got onto a rubber boat and headed to the Greek border, which is the gateway to Europe. Our adventurous journey took 13 days from Greece. We stayed on Samos Island for four days, then we went to Athena, Macedonia, Serbia and then Vienna, a very wonderful city, where I stayed for four days. Then, from Vienna I went to Germany, where I live now and I have been here for about five years.
A year after I arrived in Germany, I was able to attend a German language course. I wanted to take the course as soon as possible to be able to integrate into German society, communicate with people, understand their culture and, in return, be able to introduce them to my culture and country in German.
I was very lucky to be at a language institute where most students were European. The class I was in was composed of 14 students, 12 of European nationality and only two Syrians. In the other schools, most students were Syrian refugees and there were no Europeans. This helped me a lot to learn the language because you put what you have learned into action directly by chatting with your classmates. This can speed up the learning process as well as the integration process.
After a month of attending school, I was able to learn how to deal with people, how to start a conversation with people, and this encouraged me to go to an organisation here in the city where they help refugees and new arrivals to look for work. This organisation got me a part-time job during the language course.
I used to attend language courses in the morning and leave for school.
Of course, because of this and what happened, I was able to build an idea that the European community had a misconception about us as refugees or new arrivals. This encouraged me to ask my language teacher to make a reportage or a video that showed our country and our culture. She was very pleased with this proposal and very positive and so with my classmate I prepared a video about Syria that focused on universities and women in society because here they had the wrong idea that women are only housewives to raise kids. This idea they have is being shared due to the media here.
We focused on this point and how we could show them a more positive side that they were not familiar with. We actually prepared the videotape that included pictures of universities, university halls that contain veiled and unveiled female students, as well as hospitals where there are female nurses and doctors, and the markets and public streets where we have veiled and unveiled women. Our women drive like men and have full rights.
There was a discussion between me and the other students and it ended on a positive note. They admitted that they had had the wrong idea due to brainwashing by their media. The media presented us as a backward and uneducated society where women have no rights. I told them, “If women are without rights in our country, how are they educated and part of society as doctors, nurses, engineers etc.?”
A discussion took place between me and the students about this, and one of the teachers who had visited Damascus and Aleppo in Syria several times helped me. She talked about our culture and how nice people are. She explained how women are part of society, which means they work and give back to society. This encouraged me to suggest that the school should set up a charity party so we could teach the rest of the community about our society and who we are because this would help us to integrate.
German and European society was very afraid of the newcomers, and people would say, "We don't know you" meaning that if you didn’t live or work with them, German would fear getting to know you.
We were able to throw a good charity party. We served several Syrian dishes - Kebeh, Yalangi, Yabraa, Oze - and some pastries.
We also invited city officials, photographers, journalists and various groups from the German community. They were pleased with this initiative, and were also pleased with the delicious food. Questions came from every direction, everyone wanted to know how we had prepared the dishes and the ingredients that had gone into them. This pleased me and encouraged me to ask the mayor to hold this party every year in conjunction with Christmas and New Year. My choice of Christmas and New year is because there are markets for these celebrations in Europe, which people of different nationalities visit. This helps us to show our culture, integrate more into society and teach people about us while we get to know them. The mayor approved my proposal and gave us the necessary emotional and financial support, and a stall in the markets from which to run this event every year.
Through this activity that we do annually, we are able to show the German community that we are people who love to grow and that we have the persistence to innovate despite the war and displacement. In spite of the cruel journey of asylum, we have been able to prove ourselves. We have been able to integrate into this society, into every part of it and with all its members.
This is the story of what has happened to me.