Welcome

Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the symposium "Encounters – sanctuaries for children" organized by the Peter Maffay Foundation in Tutzing on 19 May 2009

19.05.2009 - Speech

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Peter Maffay,

Mr Griener,

Excellencies,

Members of Parliament,

Bishop Huber,

Ladies and gentlemen!

You have asked me to say something from a politician's point of view on how we can create sanctuaries where children can meet and mix. I am happy to do so! While we were flying over the wonderful countryside here, some images from my own childhood and youth came back to me. I remembered where I had encountered the "sanctuaries" of joy and learning which Peter Maffay has created with his foundation:

The place of which I perhaps have the most intensive memories is not actually an enclosed area but, rather, the plantation area above my village. My mother worked there, just like many other refugee women! Over the course of many summers, I played there with other children from early in the morning until late afternoon: free of danger, free of fear. Admittedly, this is a very good childhood memory. And I assure you that it wasn't as idyllic as it sounds now. For the adults had to work hard.

Nevertheless, if you – like myself and everyone here today – travel around our country today, you learn to appreciate such childhood memories.

The world has changed, even our country. And it hasn't always changed for the best. That's perhaps not so much the case in Tutzing, but life in Berlin, Cologne-Chorweiler, Duisburg-Marxloh or Hamburg-Wiltensburg has certainly changed!

Just a few days ago I was in Neukölln, a Berlin neighbourhood with serious problems.

This neighbourhood is far removed from what we regard as a functioning society. Social disorder is widespread. There is very little care or supervision for children or young people there: neither from the state nor from parents and relatives. It would hardly be possible anyway because – quite literary – there is no access to this parallel society. The problems start with language, but go much further than that and include cultural differences and standards of behaviour.

It's almost impossible here to talk about school education. For most children play truant. And those who don't play truant need supervision. Normal lessons can't achieve much here. Rather, this is about nurturing a willingness to learn. And our teachers aren't trained to do that. They need more support: from the state, from institutions responsible for providing care for children and from civil society.

This is why Peter Maffay's project – and those of many others here today – are so necessary.

For this is the only way to provide positive role models which can serve as orientation for children and young people in these neighbourhoods. Role models from whom they can take heart when something goes wrong. Anyone who wants to run has to learn to walk first. And, as we all know, the first steps are the hardest. That's why it's so important to start early. We have to start with nursery schools and kindergartens, help with homework and in primary schools.

As I said, there are also positive role models. For example, the Stadtteilmütter in Neukölln and Kreuzberg. Within the context of this project, mothers who have managed to find a way out of the parallel society approach families with problems. They give advice on bringing up children and nutrition, help settle arguments, provide sex education and explain why it's so important to go to school. The example set by these mothers is now being followed in many other parts of Berlin. That's because this model works. And it works mainly because these mothers are credible. Because their example gives hope.

We need many more success stories such as the one I encountered three weeks ago in Mainz: a girl without any qualifications. She pulled herself together, rolled up her sleeves and, with intensive support, managed to gain a higher education entrance qualification and is now studying. That shows what's possible! Not everywhere and not for everyone, but certainly more and more often.

And making it possible is our job as politicians.

But not only in our own country. For we should never forget that no matter how serious the problems here seem to be, the problems experienced in other parts of the world are much worse. There, too, we have to lend a helping hand.

As Foreign Minister, you get around a bit. And you can play an active role in some projects and support them.

One thing is particularly important to me: that these projects offer opportunities: Opportunities for adults but, above all, for children. For they suffer most from social hardship and injustice!

We've been able to provide some help during the last three years. Here are three examples which are particularly important to me.

First of all, the German schools abroad. Very few people here in Germany are aware that no other country educates as many children of other nationalities as we do. Other countries' schools abroad are first and foremost for expats. In contrast, our schools regard themselves as partners. One particularly good example of this approach is our school in Jakarta, a megacity with severe problems when it comes to organizing everyday life and hygiene. I attended the school's 50th anniversary celebrations a year ago. I met children from a dozen different nations and four religions who are learning and working together – and speaking our language.

That's what I call a happy environment.

This is encouraging – also for us here in Germany – and it's important for our country. For these young people retain long-term ties with Germany and I'm sure that some of those now attending a German school abroad will one day welcome one of my successors in German. Just like my current counterparts in Mexico and Greece do – both of whom went to a German school.

I'd like to mention a second example which moved me very much. And although we're in a protestant academy today, I have to say that it's headed by a Franciscan father.

But that's not the reason I'm mentioning it. Rather, it's because I believe it's a good example of how we in Germany can support worthwhile projects abroad.

On my first trip to Brazil in 2006 I visited the port school run by Father Eckart Höfling in Rio de Janeiro. Thirty years ago he began working in one of the worst favelas, surrounded by misery which we cannot imagine here in Germany. It was so bad that his own Order wanted to abandon its work.

But not Father Eckart. He collected private donations, got children off the street, built kindergartens, schools and hospitals. He gave hope to an entire neighbourhood, indeed to an entire city.

He gave hope to children who for the first time in their lives didn't have to fight to get enough food, who didn't have to fear the violent dealers of their drug-addicted mothers, who didn't have to work in prostitution at the age of 12 or 13 in the port, who not only had a chance to survive (an achievement in itself) but a chance to make a future for themselves.

I've never forgotten his pupils' shining eyes and I was delighted when, two years later, I was able to help make it possible for thirty of his pupils to accompany him to Germany for an award ceremony. In Berlin they provided living proof of how commitment on a small scale can change things on a grand scale.

I'd like to end with a third example from a continent which has received special attention during the last few years and on which we will have to continue to focus: Africa. On one of my trips there I visited Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, the former Upper Volta. And I know from first-hand experience that it's no tax haven. But it does have a football school, which we established via the German Embassy. Here, children from very poor families encounter education for the very first time in their lives. These children have lived in dire poverty, they are street children, young victims of violence, former child soldiers, who will carry around with them their experiences of great cruelty for the rest of their lives. Some of them have found grounding and guidance there for the first time in their lives.

As Foreign Minister, I've witnessed so often how football can provide for children where there is no state care or a functioning society.

And I'm not just saying this because Philipp Lahm is with us today. He, too, has done a lot of good work through his foundation in Africa. Welcome!

It was the members of the national football team of Côte d'Ivoire who held the country together once the civil war had ended. And our football school makes possible not just three hours of football training but also five hours of school lessons. At the end of three years, the children have not only developed their football skills but have at least a primary school leaving certificate – an outstanding achievement in a country where the illiteracy rate is 80%.

Let me reiterate that making something like this possible is the task of politicians. But it can't be done by politicians alone. For this reason, too, I was more than happy to come to Tutzing: today's event, Peter Maffay, symbolizes your personal commitment, for that of everyone present today and for that of millions of Germans who do voluntary work for children.

I'm delighted that so many artists have accepted Peter Maffay's invitation. Your commitment is especially valuable.

Not only because you are well-known, but because people believe more in those who are special, who have their own lifestyle and yet are willing to shoulder responsibility and work for society.

Let us all work together to create a world with happy children in a society marked by justice and solidarity.

Thank you very much!

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