Neighbourhood Mothers Leading the Way in Neukölln
District Office Neukölln
Immigrant women are trained as mentors and agents of integration to help new immigrant families in local communities.
The premise of this award-winning program, Stadtteilmütter (“Neighbourhood Mothers”) project is simple: the people best able to help immigrant mothers integrate into their new communities are those who have shared similar experience in the past – other mothers.
The mothers first meet, informally, over a cup of tea. They talk about the needs and challenges of everyday life in their new homes, especially as it relates to their children and families, their education, health and wellbeing. Afterwards, they might meet up to ten more times, to discuss specific challenges and needs, and what supports or services are available in their community.
Mothers helping mothers
The area of Neukölln in Berlin has a long tradition of welcoming immigrants. Today, nearly half of the district’s population (42%) is foreign-born; many are immigrants from Turkey, and more recently, Roma families from Romania and Bulgaria. Rapid growth combined with changes in the make up of the local population have led to a number of challenges, including the isolation of newly arrived communities, pressure on local schools, and difficulties in reaching out to families who did not always speak German.
“Neighbourhood mothers” started in 2004 as a grassroots outreach project. It aimed to promote access to information and services that would help families with young children. Neighbourhood mothers with immigration experience and who can speak German undergo training before being sent out to meet with recently arrived, often isolated, families. These newcomers may be encouraged to attend other women’s groups, or to make use of local childcare facilities. The fact that this advice is provided by women with a similar background and family culture helps build trust and the confidence needed to ask questions, get answers and become receptive to change.
Familiar and sympathetic to the challenges faced by the new immigrants, neighbourhood mothers are community facilitators – lifelines to immigrant families in need of city services, support for school-aged children, or help with learning German.
Getting involved in children’s schooling
In Neukölln, where some schools have up to 85% pupils who don’t have German as their first language, neighbourhood mothers encourage parents to get actively involved in their children’s integration in the German school system, which, in turn, can help improve their children’s academic outcomes.
The program cooperates closely with with local childcare centres, “parent cafes,” school-based youth centres, school officials and teachers. These partnerships have contributed to the success of this work. Until 2009, the neighbourhood mothers worked exclusively with families who had children up to six years of age. Today it includes families with children up to age 12, and the Neighbourhood Mothers now receive further training on primary schooling and can connect parents with early education professionals and teachers.
What started as twelve Turkish women receiving training has now become a network of over 100 neighbourhood mothers from all different nationalities. It has been sustained by strong partnerships with various local and regional bodies, including the District Office Neukölln, Jobcentre Neukölln, as well as the Senate Department for Urban Development and the Environment and Senate Department for Integration, Labour and Social Affairs.
“The neighbourhood mothers … are a living example of hands-on integration work. Four thousand families, with over 10,000 children, have received advice and guidance from the neighbourhood mothers. What’s more, the idea is easily transferable to other districts and cities all across Europe, and beyond.”
District Mayor Heinz Buschkowsky, initiator of the Neighbourhood Mothers project
The project has received numerous awards, including the Metropolis award (2008), the Citizenship Award (2011) and the Helga and Edzard Reuter Foundation Award for outstanding achievement in the areas of integration and international understanding (2012). It has been replicated in other parts of Berlin and has also been adapted in Denmark where a similar initiative has developed across the country. It is still going strong In Neukölln, where some of the newest neighbourhood mothers are local Roma women helping newcomers from Romania and Bulgaria. These Roma neighbourhood mothers have already received training and are catering to the needs of this new population, showing how this flexible model can work in the long term.
The real success of this project lies in the way it empowers women on both sides of the relationship. Newcomers receive valuable advice, information and confidence, while neighbourhood mothers gain employment, income and status in the community.
On a larger scale, the project benefits the local government, by increasing the interaction of immigrant families with local mainstream service providers and facilitates their interaction with hard to reach communities. Finally, it benefits the Neukölln neighbourhood as a whole, by contributing to increased integration and cohesion.
Making it Work for You:
- Anchor community-based interventions within the community. Community members with similar past experiences can establish credibility and trust, and act as mentors and role-models.
- Identify individual needs with individualized approaches, such as home visits and one-on-one mentoring.
- Keep it simple. Sometimes the simplest solutions deliver the greatest impact.
- Evaluate and share your success story. Look for opportunities to scale it up, or how it could be replicated for new audiences or adapted in new contexts.
For this Good Idea contact:
Anna Hermanns, District Office Neukölln