Siwar Hagyahia experienced the war in Syria, survived chaotic conditions in a German reception camp and got by with odd jobs. Today, he is getting to know Volkswagen as an intern – and contributing important ideas to Communication at Group Components.
Siwar Hagyahia is standing in the factory grounds in Wolfsburg, not far from Gate 17. On this warm autumn day, the “Missio truck” – a rolling exhibition about “People on the run”, with a focus on the Congo – has stopped at Südstraße. In the truck, Hagyahia concentrates on reading, and looks at the pictures and listens very closely. In his opinion, the “Missio Truck” has done a good job of interpreting the topic of fleeing in Congo. Each visitor to the exhibition adopts the role of a fictitious character. “Although I myself have never been to Africa, this makes it easy for me to imagine the dangers these people are exposed to and the pressure they are under”, says the 34-year-old.
It is no coincidence that he is following the exhibition with such great interest: Just under six years ago, the Syrian native turned his back on the civil war in his home country and came to Germany as a refugee. He has been an intern in Communications at Group Components for almost four months. For him, this is an important milestone on a rocky path. A mixture of tenacity and good fortune has helped him to get where he is.
MISSIO TRUCK: “PEOPLE ON THE RUN”
Millions of people all over the world are fleeing from persecution, human rights violations, war, drought, disasters, lack of prospects and starvation. The aid organization Missio, based in Aachen, aims to use its rolling exhibition “People on the run” to give an idea of how it feels to be a refugee. At the end of October, the Missio truck made a guest appearance on the Wolfsburg factory grounds; almost 200 people visited the exhibition. The idea of the Missio truck is to assume one of six fictitious refugee roles in Eastern Congo. With the aid of QR codes, visitors then proceed through six rooms and need to solve a range of tasks, e.g. quickly packing up their most important belongings while rebels overrun their home village. This gives a small idea of what refugees are forced to experience, along with the obstacles they must overcome while searching for security and a better life.
You can find more information on the Missio truck here.
Finally, the media studies graduate is working in his own academic field. The internship is going well; he did not find it difficult to acclimatize, and Hagyahia is able to take an active role. “My colleagues are really nice. I feel at home here”, he says. He is particularly impressed by the sense of community. “When we organize events for Group Components together, we work as a close team. Everyone helps everyone else.” However, he still has problems with the team meetings: “There are so many abbreviations here. I don’t always understand everything.”
His colleagues in the department appreciate the ideas that Siwar brings to the team Communication Group Components. A colleague praises him: “At first, we were eager to see how Siwar would fit into the new, dynamic environment of our team. He quickly impressed us with his great commitment and creativity, and he went on to become an indispensible part of our team”.
With a will and a workshop
The fact that he is able to work for Volkswagen at all has a lot to do with Siwar Hagyahia’s personality: He has an inquisitive mind, was not satisfied doing odd jobs, and wanted to continue his personal development. In February 2019, he therefore attended a workshop held by Volkswagen Group Refugee Aid in Wolfsburg. The Group launched this initiative in the fall of 2015, when more than a million people were fleeing to Europe from war and expulsion, mostly from the Near East.
“For the Volkswagen Group and its brands, assuming social responsibility is a core value of its corporate culture. That’s why Volkswagen Group Refugee Aid promotes diverse integration projects for refugees with a focus on contact, education and professional integration”, says Ariane Kilian, the coordinator of Volkswagen Group Refugee Aid. “Since 2015, our projects have been able to reach over 5,000 people, who are now continuing their path step by step. Long-term professional integration, as we know from experience, requires years of stamina and dedication. For high-quality activities in particular, it is essential to develop good command of the language, attain qualifications and accumulate experience. We want to provide support with this.”
Still… a roof over his head
Damascus, Siwar Hagyahia’s home city, in 2014. Civil war had been raging in Syria for three years. Nor was the capital spared. “30 percent of Damascus was destroyed”, he recalls. “There were areas that were completely bombed to bits. And just a few kilometers further on, life just went on as usual.” Hagyahia, who belongs to the Circassian minority, decided to leave Syria. He hoped for a better future in Germany.
But the initial period was hard. In Schöppingen, close to the Dutch border, Hagyahia arrived at a reception camp. “Ten men in one room, one toilet for hundreds of people”, is how he describes the conditions. Still… he had a roof over his head. He learned German, managed to pass the integration test and took on jobs delivering parcels for several years, although he had a university degree. Via Marl, Hanover and Berlin, he finally found his way to Wolfsburg, where he came into contact with Group Refugee Aid.
Emergency aid at first, refugee integration today
In the beginning, the refugee aid members predominantly provided emergency aid – organizing contact with helpers and experts on refugee accommodation, vehicle loans, financial or material donations. Since then, the unit overseen by the Group Board of Management has been providing refugee integration, forming networks with other companies, associations and aid organizations active in the area, and coordinating cross-brand refugee aid projects.
Like the workshop that Hagyahia attended. That’s where his desire to work for Volkswagen himself took shape. He applied for a six-month internship in the Communications department at Group Components – with success.
The young man is now hoping to be able to continue working for Volkswagen after his six-month internship. “In general, I would like more refugees to have an opportunity to work here. Different people from different cultures would give Volkswagen an even more vibrant face”, says Hagyahia. And even if he doesn’t get a permanent job immediately after his internship, his next career steps will be significantly easier with this reference on his résumé. “I would also be interested in working in a start-up”, he says.