“I know the rules of Islam. I know what it’s like to be a migrant. And I know what it feels like not to understand what is being spoken in German,” said Funda Doghan.
The 28-year-old woman originally from Turkey has been working as a counsellor for young people with foreign backgrounds at Federal Employment Agency at Waiblingen in Baden-Württemberg for the past year. As a follower of Islam, she tends to develop an especially good rapport with Muslims.
All job agencies and job centres have counsellors designated especially for people with a foreign background. But the style of working in Waiblingen is unique in the state, said spokesperson Olaf Bentlage – as a career counsellor, Doghan goes to mosques, parent-teacher meetings and visits cafés for women, to make contacts.
Jürgen Kurz, who heads the Employment Agency in Waiblingen, added, “Many people feel inhibited about coming to an agency. But it’s a different matter when we’re the ones approaching them. Then we become the guests and they’re the ones in familiar surroundings.” Apparently, there are many people who aren’t aware of the fact that this service is free.
For Doghan, language plays an important role when someone is job-hunting. But she also understands the problems many have with the education system – although she made it to university, she struggled through secondary modern school and technical secondary school.
She said many immigrant women have very traditional ideas about the kind of work they might find. She said she often came across girls who wanted to be child care workers but find it hard to express any desire to pursue a more technical career.
“I then explain to them that the Koran also gives importance to professional self-fulfilment,” she said.
“The picture is slowly changing because the cultures are growing together,” says Doghan. Nevertheless, some specific problems remain – such as widespread antipathy to women wearing headscarves. Doghan has put together a list of companies which do not have a problem with that among their employees.
According to the Waiblingen branch of the Federal Employment agency, the 13 percentage of foreigners in its catchment area is higher than the national average of 9 percent.
Doghan also gives a lot of importance to the parents of the students she counsels. They often have problems with German or don’t know about possibilities like completing one’s Abitur (secondary school leaving examination) with evening classes. In such cases, small details – such as the calendar in Doghan’s office with the Turkish and Arabic holidays – help her to be accepted as a part of the community.
The project in Waiblingen, which will continue until the end of the year, has already helped about 120 people. Kurz would rather not make a general assessment of the project at this point, but he says, “For every additional young person we help, it counts for something.”