Christiane's Story

Christiane Görres / 4 min read

How the Common Purpose network turned into a village for Ukrainian refugees.

Christiane shares her story of how the Common Purpose network turned into a village for Ukrainian refugees.

In our neighbourhood of Grindelviertel, Hamburg, 16 Ukrainian refugees recently arrived at the house of a female lawyer. They had left everything behind; they spent up to seven days in Ukrainian bunkers and heard the bombs above them. The lawyer has a big heart, but even her days contain only 24 hours. Apart from her new Ukrainian roommates, the lawyer takes care of two families with disabled children. It all became too much - too many needs and too many tasks to handle.

’It takes a village to raise a child', goes an African proverb. The previous weeks have brought this truth home in a powerful way. Allowing people to find their place in another culture is a communal task; it is an effort to build a village around every single one of the refugees. This village is very difficult to create overnight - unless you are in a well activatable Common Purpose network of a city.

Connecting people, volunteering, taking responsibility has been my passion for a long time. And it remains wonderful to see how we overcome boundaries and activate leadership resources for the common good!

The Common Purpose network has proven invaluable in our "village". For a short time, I became the "interim mayor" of the little village and was able to bring people together who otherwise would not have met. Much like our Common Purpose programme groups.

The lawyer told us what was needed by the refugees. She had already done a lot to get the things they needed, apartments and services free of charge, but did not know the right people to act quickly. We were able to enter these needs into our Common Purpose WhatsApp and Signal groups. The network sprang into action. The effort was small, the impact great.

Within days, ten Ukrainian children found places in schools and nurseries, often after a single phone call. Volunteers came forward to mentor individual children, to find after-school activities, to locate much needed clothing, to talk with teachers, to help untangle administrative red-tape. An architect offered newly renovated, barrier-free apartments; a children’s hospice donated a height-adjustable bed. A local non-profit, ’Der Hafen Hilft! founded by a Common Purpose alum, provided household goods, furnishings and other everyday items to equip the new homes.

The founder of a nearby concert hall offered free tickets to Ukrainian refugees. After one of the concerts, a young Ukrainian woman describes her reaction this way: "I can do without food and drink, but never without music."

Those who belong to the Common Purpose community in town know that requests from us are solid. For this reason, people respond immediately. Everyone can guess that in these moments fast, unbureaucratic ways are required. We need person-to-person action and cannot wait for government approvals or coordination between large organizations.

Whoever we approach thinks about what they can contribute and a lot suddenly becomes possible. The first shared dinners between Common Purpose alumni and the Ukrainian people felt like small celebrations in a time of darkness. And conversation flowed easily around the table, made possible by translation apps, pen and paper, hands and feet.

We cannot heal the traumas that have occurred, but we can make everyday life a little more bearable. Doing something helps overcome the sense of paralysis spreading easily in light of the atrocities committed a mere 1000 miles away. The vibrant Common Purpose network has its role to play in all of this, creating a sense of village for a small group of refugees.

Christiane Görres is a Programme Director for Common Purpose Hamburg. She took part in the Hamburg Matrix Programme, in 2006.

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