Integrating in a new community is like taking yoga classes. At the beginning it looks impossible and as soon as you try it you start asking yourself what is wrong with you. You give a look around and you see people doing it easily while you are struggling to feel comfortable in a position which is not natural to you.

However, with the time you get it and you find yourself just going with the flow. Moreover, as it happens with yoga when you integrate in a new community there comes a moment when you feel you have reached the limit and you cannot go further and at that exact point you find out that there is still one step more that you can take, one inch more that you have ignored. However, every yoga course has a yoga teacher and what about real life? Is there anybody who can guide you when you have to integrate in a new society? The answer is “yes” or at least it is so at “Den Nye Havn”.   

“Den Nye Havn” is a voluntary organisation which supports the refugees who have just arrived in Aarhus. What makes “Den Nye Havn” special compared to the other associations which assist refugees is the focus of the organisation on the initial integration of the newcomers. In fact, its main purpose is to make sure that the refugees have all the tools to set up a new life in Aarhus. Another interesting feature of “Den Nye Havn” is the wide range of people volunteering there. Its members are from Eritrea, Kurdistan, Syria and Denmark and this variety helps them approach people of different backgrounds, cultures and languages.

To know more about “Den Nye Havn”, I decided to talk with its cofounder and coordinator, Abdullah Alsmaeel. When we met, I was already under the effect of the good vibes that the name of the organisation evokes: “Den Nye Havn”, “The New Harbour”. It recalls a place where you feel safe and, at the same time, a place from where you can set off again if you want. This image was giving me a pleasant feeling that grew stronger thanks to the warming smile of Abdullah and his warm hearted attitude.

Abdullah is a Syrian refugee who arrived in Denmark in 2015 from Damascus where he was working for the United Nation. He lives in Aarhus with his wife and his three children, he does research for Tufts University and he studies at the University of Aarhus to take a Master Degree in International Studies. He starts our conversation by telling me that “Den Nye Havn” was founded to answer to a need that he had experienced on his own skin.

“When I arrived in Aarhus three years ago, I found out that it was hard to discover the new society and to find my way around in Aarhus. In that period, I met other newcomers who were experiencing the same: a woman from Eritrea, other Syrians… We were sharing the same curiosity and the same eagerness to get integrated and so we decided to do something to support the people who would have arrived after us so that they would have found the answers to all their questions. At that point we had already discovered so much about the Danish lifestyle and we wanted to use our knowledge to help others. That is how “Den Nye Havn” was founded, a platform to support each other, learn, discover new opportunities and make life easier to newcomers.”

Who is part of the team of “Den Nye Havn” today?"

Our team consists of 14 members. We have different backgrounds and among us there are also Danish people, who are very helpful as they know how to move in the Danish society. We collaborate all together as ‘Den Nye Havn’ is based on teamwork. That means that we do not know hierarchy and that every decision is taken after meeting and discussing together.

In what kind of activities is your organization involved?"

With time, Den Nye Havn has grown stronger and has included new activities, but at the beginning we started with welcoming the newcomers: inviting them to lunch, organising a tour in Aarhus, giving them the basic information that we know they need at the beginning, like where to find legal advice, what to do if they are sick… However, with the time passing by we noticed that we could do more and we started arranging meeting with external people who come to explain some topics that sound complicated to foreigners. For example, we invited an employee from Aarhus Kommune to explain the changes caused by the introduction of a law which was affecting the refugees. Another time the topic was the healthcare system because we realised that the refugees were aware that Denmark has a strong and efficient one, but they were also having the impression that it was very complicated. Other activities that we implemented are building collaborations with other organisations and becoming a platform to show to refugees the opportunities that Aarhus offers in the voluntary sector. We are convinced that volunteering is a good way to get integrated and that is why we considered it very valuable.

I saw that you also released two animation movies dealing with the integration of the refugees. What is the story behind the movies?"

Yes, that is right. After being awarded by Aarhus University for a prize we decided to invest the money we received in something valuable for the refugees. Therefore, we put the money in creating the movies with the collaboration of an animation director. We displayed them on 17th May at the library in Viby and we will do the same at Lærdansk in Aarhus. Every time that we show the movies we see people reflecting on the issue of integration and they trigger conversations around the different perspective to see at it.

What has Den Nye Havn brought to your life?"

First of all, it brought a huge network. During these three years I have met so many people and had so many inspiring conversations with both locals and newcomers. Moreover, this adventure with Den Nye Havn taught me how to learn by doing. I have to show to others the answers and how to do things and that meant to learn myself what was going around me and how to make the most of the opportunities that Aarhus offers.

What is the best memory you connect to Den Nye Havn?"

I would say the moment when I heard that we were shortlisted for the “Aarhus takker” prize in 2015. We had just started our organisation and knowing that people were already seeing our potential was very encouraging and made us realize we were on the right track.

What are the three concepts that you associate with volunteering?"

 That is a hard question, but I would say network, discovering something about yourself and feeling better.

I said goodbye to Abdullah thanking him for our conversation. I immediately started thinking about all the times that we are chased by the images of the past which bring us back to situations in which we felt in difficulty. These images are invariably accompanied by a mantra:

If only there had been someone, if only there had been someone who had given me answers."

Abdullah is that someone or at least it is for the refugees who has to learn to call Aarhus their new home. How much strength does it take to do all this? To always start again? To do something for others despite everything? I do not have the answers to these questions and maybe neither has Abdullah. But there are some words that I heard during an interview with his colleague Mikal Yosiej from Eritrea and they brought me closer to an answer:

I was in the same situation and helping them means also helping myself."

Are you curious about what is going on in Aarhus while the city is holding the title of European Volunteering Capital? Don’t miss the next stop of Genny Cabas' pilgrimage around the city.

Genny Cabas is an Italian taking a European Volunteering Service in Denmark. In February, she started working at Studerendes Frivillige Netværk (SFN) based at VIA University College and she finished her project on 1st October.

To know more about her and SFN visit the Facebook page SFN - Studerendes Frivillige Netværk.