Hewad Alikhil and Cindy Tian are the camp leaders of this years International Summer Workcamp at Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial, that is organized by the Service Civil International (SCI). Hewad and Cindy wrote an article about the voluntary work of the 12 participants from all over the world and what motivated them to travel to Neuengamme. The Workcamp took place from the 17th to the 31st of August 2019.
Service Civil International
During World War II, 100.000 prisoners were sent to Neuengamme concentration camp, the central camp of north-western Germany with more than 80 satellite-camps. Today, it is a memorial and a place of commemoration, information, education, and research; where young people from all over the world come to participate in a summer camp organized by the SCI organization.
The SCI organization was founded in 1920 and is one of the oldest peace and volunteer organizations with a network of branches and partners in more than 90 countries. Their aim is to promote peace, non-violence, international solidarity, social justice, sustainable development, and cross-cultural exchange. Every year, SCI Germany organizes more than 50 international workcamps, including Neuengamme, a camp that connects young people with the past.
Motivated participants from across the world
This year, 12 people are participating from Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Russia, Spain, and Turkey together with the Camp leaders Cindy Tian from Hungary and Hewad Alikhil from Afghanistan. What motivated them to travel thousands of miles from their countries and spend two weeks of time here was their interest in history, especially the topic of concentration camps and the world wars, learning through productive and intriguing workshops. They share the same expectation of making new friendships, cultural exchange, and broadening their horizons about other related topics.
Working and learning together
During the two weeks of the workcamp, we do physical work, which includes renovating the former SS administrative building, preparing it for the groups of the upcoming camps. It is the first time we are using this building for an international camp, where we had to start everything from scratch. In the last few days, we brought new furniture, cleaned and organized the rooms in the building, including the kitchen and the garage. Moreover, the focus is put on workshops, seminars, discussions and writing articles. Until now, we visited the main exhibition, exchanged our views and had the chance to get to know the staff of Neuengamme Memorial. One evening, we had a visit from two guests from the second generation, who shared their stories, feelings, and concerns. For the next week, workshops will be more emphasized, and we will have the opportunity to learn about some topics of our interest in detail, for example, women in concentration camps and medical experiments on children.
A typical day in our camp starts with breakfast and an energizer. We start working for six hours in two shifts with a lunch break. Since the group is so multicultural, we try to cook our traditional food because, on one hand, it helps us share this part of our culture and on the other hand, we believe that cooking together will keep us closer to each other. Later in the evening, we have programs to enjoy the time we spend together. For example, we host cultural nights, where everyone presents their country and culture. However, the challenging part for some of us is sleeping time, because it is not an everyday situation to sleep in such a special place where unimaginable things happened. The heavy atmosphere sometimes affects our physical state but we try to help each other feel better and make the best out of the camp.
As Camp leaders, we chose this camp because the topic has immense importance to us. We also wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the tragic events that had a huge impact on the world. Leading a camp with such a serious topic as concentration camps is difficult and new for us too, but we are doing our best to make this experience valuable and comfortable for the group.