Author: Zsófia Molnár
It had been raining the whole afternoon, and we did not have high hopes with the weather, but shortly before 6 pm when we arrived at our meeting point, the sky cleared out and the sun showed up. Surprisingly, a big group of people had gathered at Lindenhof and were waiting for the tour. The tour was lead by Okbaab Tesfamariam, who initiated the idea of refugee-led city tours, and volunteers from the organization Architecture for Refugees SCHWEIZ who helped him realize it. After a short introduction, we began the tour by heading towards the Pestalozzi library.
The aim of the tour was to give locals the opportunity to gain a glimpse into refugees’ lives, build personal connections with them, and enable further encounters. Okbaab has been living in Switzerland since 2008 and went through the stages of the refugee procedure. He knows that one needs patience, courage, and self-esteem to survive such situations.
The tour consisted of five stops; at each one, Okbaab told us stories from his life and enthusiastically answered questions from the audience. We all live in the same city, however we perceive it completely differently. For example, I work next to the Autonome Schule Zürich, but I had never realised that this institution is of such high value to refugees.
Many of us learn about the situation regarding refugees and migration from the media, which gives us a filtered and specific interpretation of the reality. We lack full access to information, so we only see parts of the big picture. We are ultimately often mislead. In order to make our own reality, we need to open our eyes and put ourselves in the situation of the other person. Meeting migrants and listening to their stories is a good approach.
So next time you’re walking through a park, why not exchange a friendly hello? Have you ever wondered how it would be to live in a small room with your family, to cook and to sleep in the same space? Or to live with ten more people in a shared flat where almost everybody speaks another language? To not have access to the labour market? To not know how long you can stay and to be afraid that maybe tomorrow you have to leave the country? To have few opportunities to socialise or have limited ways to find useful occupation due to lack of language knowledge and financial resources? Just try to stop for a moment and think about these questions, especially considering if you are a member of a vulnerable group, such as children and women. Some answers you will receive on the tour might change your perception and lead to more questions, which is what migrants are asking for: open your eyes and give them an opportunity to meet you.
Okbaab and the team at Architecture for Refugees SCHWEIZ organises these tours on a weekly-monthly basis. Check out their facebook page for more information