The "Happy Box" initative, where Germans give gifts to asylum seekers, has been going on for three years since the initial influx of refugees to Germany. How can an initative like this play a role in integration?
Lina Botman is German. She and her friend purchased many gifts for asylum seekers and handed them over to the "Happy Box" initiative to distribute to the newcomers. But her work did not end with giving out presents to the newcomers and her enthusiasm motivated her to join the "Happy Box" team. This happened around 2015, when nearly one million refugees arrived in Germany. Now, in 2017, the team is still collecting gifts from Germans and giving them to the newcomers.
Taking a stand against xenophobia
The "Happy Box" initiative is designed to provide popular gifts to refugees in many German cities such as Cologne, Munster, Bonn and Hannover. It was originally launched in Heidenau in Saxony, eastern Germany, following anti-immigrant riots in front of a refugee shelter in 2015, project manager Matthias Hervix told InfoMigrants. "Through this project, it was important for us to show refugees in the shelter a positive sign that many people in Germany want to take a stand against hatred and violence," he said.
According to many participants, "This project is a wonderful gesture because of the simplicity of its procedures and because the gift is promptly delivered to the refugees." The refugees are thankful when they receive a gift box and their happiness is overwhelming, despite the simplicity of the gifts. They often go to members of the project team and hug or wave at them. "This is exactly the beautiful message that our project is aiming for," Hervex said.
An important step in integration
In every German city, there is a team that is in involved in collecting the gifts. "Every gift box is an important step for us to integrate newcomers into German society and we are proud of what we do. We feel excited every time a gift box falls into the hands of a refugee," Hervex added.
What the Germans donate as gifts varies from person to person. Some of them offer a tea glass and tea leaves as a gift. Some of them put in a "Happy Box" a game or sweets. In most cases they write a personal greeting on a piece of paper and that helps develop more of a friendship between the Germans and the newcomers.
Standards for the gifts
For the sake of the gifts being of equal value, the size of each gift does not exceed the size of the carton. The value of each gift is between 15 and 20 euros. Financial gifts do not exceed 10 euros. This is so that the value of the gift remains fair to all recipients.
When preparing the gift, the giver tells the fund whether the gift is suitable for both sexes. He or she also writes the age group the present is suited for, such as younger than two years, between 3 and 4 years or between 8 and 14 years. But the "Happy Box" team points out that the number of young refugees is greater than in other age groups, so the team likes getting presents for young people.
The team recommends that the gifts be a mix of personal things such as a written card, a picture or a map of the city. It could also be an invitation to spend time at a barbeque, table tennis or football, learn German or go to the movie with a local accompanying them. Other items include dictionaries, educational books and games such as chess, coloring. Clothing suggestions include bags, sweaters, hats, industrial jewelry, mugs and socks. The team leaves the volunteers with the task of finding the gifts.
Switching around the contents of the gift boxes to suit the needs of the recipient is also part of the team's work. They ask the refugee whether the gift is suitable for him, otherwise the gift might be replaced with something more fitting.
Those evaluating the project say that there are multiple options for funding, the organization is a non-profit NGO and needs to be supported by donations in order to continue.
In the last three years, "Happy Box" has managed to collect 3,600 gift boxes for refugees from 11 German cities through its announcements in German public forums and the internet, especially on social media. As the project manager, Hervix, told InfoMigrants: "Through this project, we have managed to welcome newcomers in our way. Not only that, but we have also had the opportunity to feel happy to see their smiling faces each time we deliver a gift to one of them."