Framing the Issue
The H&M Foundation and Kiron’s targeted project, “Building a Learning Environment for Study Success (BLESS)”, is responsible for creating an innovative and supportive learning environment for refugees to achieve study success. One of the key obstacles to online study, is providing the students with a sense of community with each other, and the BLESS project sought to tackle this with a multi-pronged approach: creating study groups, making design changes, and organising seminal events that students could really engage in. While Kiron uses a blended learning model, which includes “offline” meetup weekends, the BLESS project created even more new, innovative ways to bring the community together and generate academic and cultural discussions.
Moataz is one example of how students can achieve their academic goals and succeed in their studies with Kiron. Moataz is a 28 year old Damascus native, who was forced to leave Syria four years ago while he was in the middle of his business and economics degree. Like so many others, he had no idea whether he would ever be able to finish the studies he had invested so much in, before the war broke out. After finally arriving in Germany, he discovered Kiron and has been part of the Kiron community for the last three years. As of last week, he holds the distinguished position of being the first Kiron student to graduate with a bachelor’s degree from a partner university, Berlin International University of Applied Sciences.
“I am quite proud of this achievement,” Moataz says. “Especially since it has been a long journey for me personally. My first year at university was in 2009 in Syria, and my final year was this year, 2018. It has taken me almost nine years now for my bachelor’s degree. I know it’s taken a long time, but I also worked along the way, and I gained a lot of knowledge from doing that. I’m very proud that I persevered and became a student of Kiron.”
Finding this perseverance was not always easy, Moataz reflects, but he credits the community around him to help him keep going. “There was a low point in March last year, when I wanted to throw away all of the work I had completed in Syria and Kiron and study something else. I was fed up with my studies because of all of the bureaucracy I had to deal with here, especially while studying at a high level university – it’s not an easy thing.”
Moataz had accumulated enough credits, through Kiron and his former university, to skip ahead to the third year, and while this saved him time, it came with its own particular challenges. “To come to a university and say “hey, I want to continue my studies in the final year” was not an easy thing to do.” Moataz considered switching to another study track, so that he could start something afresh, but thanks to the support of the community at Kiron and particularly two people, Ronny Roewert and Thomas Rieke, he got the encouragement he needed to keep going. “They advised me that it would be better for my future to complete my studies and to get my bachelor’s, and that I could always study something else as a master’s. They encouraged me to pursue and achieve my dream.”
Now Moataz is on top of the world. “It’s not easy, but it is not impossible. It’s difficult, but after achieving my goal, it is indescribable to have this moment. To live this moment, having achieved my dream.”
Thanks to initiatives like BLESS, students like Moataz can feel supported and part of a community of people who care. “Actually I have now many friends. We have a group on WhatsApp with almost fifteen people. So you could say, we have our own little community. At the beginning of the semester when I started to study in Germany, we helped each other by sharing our experiences. To see that you are not alone in this process, that there are others in the same situation, is so important. So yes we helped each other and we continue to help each other now. It’s ongoing.”
Now Moataz has taken a role at Kiron, liaising with students who are undertaking a similar student journey that he did. The future holds a lot of potential now. “After this I am even more encouraged to continue my studies even further. Now I am studying a master’s degree in International Marketing and Management at the HWR and I have more plans to continue the major that I love: marketing and business administration. Now I am more confident that I can do whatever I want with hard work and smart work.”