SHARE RURAL AMBASSADORS FOR INCLUSIVE TERRITORIES: MAHER

 

 

A SHARE Network series featuring short portraits with our Rural Ambassadors for Inclusive Territories in France. 

 

 

The SHARE Network strives to promote whole-of-society and participatory approaches for the social inclusion of newcomers. 

 

Our ambassadors are people - refugees, migrants and local elected representatives of small and medium communities - who have first-hand experience of the inclusion and integration of newcomers in rural areas of France. 

 

Our ambassadors for Inclusive Territories will share their stories and input on good practices for welcome and integration in rural communities, promote their communities’ achievements, and advocate for more and better integration actions at the local, regional, national and European levels.

 

 

 

Portrait of Maher

 

 

 

Mastering French and forging relationships

Maher, 22, is a resettled refugee of Syrian origin. He has been in France since May 2016. He lives with his family, which includes his parents, three brothers and two sisters, in Montceau-les-Mines, a small town of Saône-et- Loire. “I arrived at 16, so I did all of my high school here in Montceau-les-Mines. The beginnings were very difficult because I did not know French at all”he explains. Indeed, because of this, Maher and his siblings were not able to enter the school system immediately after their arrival. With the help of a local doctor of Syrian origin, and in parallel with the administrative support of the family, a support network was set up to organize French lessons with a volunteer. "It enabled us to get into high school knowing a few words, but it wasn't enough to follow the lessons", he says. It is only the French as a Foreign Language (FLE) courses, set up for non-French speaking students (Syrians, but also Afghans or Albanians), that really made a difference and allowed them to overcome the language barrier.

Moreover, mastering French enabled Maher to be able to reach out to others and forge relationships. For example, in addition to school activities, it was through sport that he was able to integrate and make friends. “I joined the soccer club quite quickly. For three years I have been training a team of little kids. It’s really a rewarding experience and it enabled me to meet a lot of people", he says. Thus, living in a small town like Montceau-les-Mines, where all services are nearby and where it is easy to get to know each other and meet up, made the transition easier although he explains that "it was a shock at first for us, especially to see barely anyone in the street". 

Participation in the SHARE TI project

Maher was very motivated to join the SHARE TI project. “I talked about my journey and the war in Syria when I was still in high school. My goal was to try to deconstruct stereotypes about newcomers and to explain why people like me are here”, he tells us. He is committed to sharing his experience to raise awareness among local communities and also inspire people who are on their integration journey, in particular by encouraging them to get involved in learning French. “When we arrived here, we didn't know anyone, and it was people who didn't know us who came to us to help us integrate. Now when I see people in difficulty, I want to do the same and reach out to others", he concludes. 

And in the future?

Maher is currently a youth worker in a social center for children. "It was when I realized that I really enjoyed coaching children that I decided to get into the children's sector as a youth worker." Although it was unimaginable to him that he would get the job since he only had a high school diploma, he went for an interview and was hired. He now plans to study in the field of social work. His parents, meanwhile, settled in Montceau-les-Mines where they established a routine and built up a social network.