Not always black or white: Outreach program demonstrates how integration is a two-way street

A group of Somali-Danish youths spent a week in workplaces this week. They learnt a lot, as did their hosts

Fifteen Somali-Danish teenage boys from troubled and marginalised areas in Denmark were this month given a unique insight into the possibilities that await them if they study and work hard in school.

As part of a Somali Outreach initiative, the youngsters – all aged 13-16 and accompanied by four volunteer mentors – spent five days visiting 13 companies and organisations ranging from oil giants to ministries, and even a football club, to gain inspiration for their futures.

An incentive to work hard
“We needed companies that we could visit and see, so that the kids could get a glimpse of what is in store for them in the long-term if they put the effort and time into their school work,” explained Deeqa Said, the organiser of the initiative.

The project – which was established in co-operation with AmCham Denmark, the US Embassy and non-profit organisations Danish Human Appeal and Skovparkets Fritids- & Idrætsforening – aims to expose Somali-Danish youths to a professional working environment in Denmark.

The companies and organisations that the youths visited were Rambøll, FL Smidth, Brøndby Football Club, Microsoft, UN City, the US Embassy, Maersk, McDonald’s, the Copenhagen Film Company, Shell, the Foreign Ministry, the Social Ministry and the Police.

Not black and white
The kids – who come from marginalised areas in Copenhagen, Odense, Aarhus and Kolding – got to choose the 13 companies they wanted to see the most out of a selection of 130. 

The idea was to allow the kids to see how the companies work, but also for the companies to become more aware of the Somali community.

“In this way we were helping the community to realise the opportunities that are there for them and that everything is not black and white as they may think, but at the same time, the companies could see that the Somali kids are like any other kids,” Said explained.

The kids also visited the public sector via the two ministries.

The Social Ministry revealed how it engages marginalised areas and social issues, while the Foreign Ministry focused on its engagement in Somalia, so the kids could also hear about their country of origin.

Engaging the future workers
Søren Brøndum, the head of transport at Rambøll, the Danish engineering consultancy giant, said that his company generally supported these kinds of initiatives.

“We try to engage the youth,” explained Brøndum. “We have kids coming to visit us from public schools one week every year, and I think we will continue to get involved in these kinds of initiatives in the future.”

Brøndum said that the initiative was an important way for Rambøll to stay in touch and help inspire some kids who may in the future be potential employees looking to work for the company.

“We also have kids from the gymnasiums and from universities, so we have the whole food chain coming in, and hopefully some of them will become engineers when they graduate at some point, so it’s also in our interest to make them aware of what we do.”

The one who got away
One of the engineers who the kids met during their Rambøll stint was Danish-Somali, and listening to his story was a source of great inspiration to them.

“We met a guy who came from the same place that I do: a ghetto,” Yahye Said, one of the boys who took part in the project, said. 

“But he got through it, got a good education and, together with his sister, he moved away from the ghetto. It was very inspirational and I think I can do the same.”

Integration a two-way street
While this pilot project only included youth from the Somali community in Denmark, Said hopes to expand it even further in the future and get the Social Ministry fully involved.

“We hope this project will inspire every community regardless of where they come from, because social issues involve everyone in society," she explained.

“We wanted to show that we were able to inspire them during that short week. Just imagine if we had a year or so.”

Said argued that for integration to work, it must begin at an early age and the kids must learn how society functions. 

Schools and councils that have many immigrant students need to make use of this approach, and companies need to do their part.

“Integration is not only one- way, it’s a two-way street,” Said said. 

“We hope that we can continue with this and do it every summer because we want to make a difference.”

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