“A mutual respect for doing something bigger beyond ourselves”

Emmanuelle Chaze is a freelance journalist from France currently collaborating with GSBTB and several local organizations. After following her blog Berliner Diary for some months we wanted to get to know her a bit better. Here’s what she had to say.

Tell me about yourself, what is your background and how did you come to Berlin?

I arrived in Berlin six years ago as a freelance journalist. I have to say, it wasn’t easy. I expected a natural transition but found myself dealing with a language as well as a cultural barrier. I realized that I had to understand the city in order to really appreciate it.

A couple of years later, having found my place and my friends in the city, I decided to explore it a bit further. This all led me to embark on a photography project. I began visiting cemeteries to seek quietness and be among the nature, birds and sculptures. It was nothing morbid. There was beauty in what I was seeing and I started a blog to convey my thoughts and visions. It was that same blog that connected me to other expats and wider opportunities.

Was one of those wider opportunities your connection to GSBTB?

Yes. I started following GSBTB on Facebook. They were a good group of expats, doing something for the city, a city I wanted to be a part of. I admired their initiative.

One day I was posting something about refugees on my blog and GSBTB re-tweeted it; I was thrilled that they had noticed it. It made me realize that we were all in the same boat, all trying to do our best. I went to one of their events and really liked what they were doing, both with their meet-ups and volunteers. It was then that they asked me to reproduce an article about the attacks in Paris. I had already been active in the Moabit Hilft and Train of Hope teams welcoming refugees to Berlin and then became part of the GSBTB team.

How do you think volunteer involvement in GSBTB is beneficial for the city?

Volunteering with GSBTB gives way to aligned interests and a mutual respect for doing something bigger beyond ourselves. Collectively, you become part of an English platform aimed at making newcomers feel included. There are so many people in Berlin that are trying to make a difference and GSBTB identifies us as a driving force.

Tell me a little bit about your side projects.

I am currently involved in various projects:

The first is a welcome class teaching refugee kids. It is a very rewarding experience and I am really enjoying being able to see how the students adapt to their lives here. Throughout the teaching process, I began to realize that on a psychological level I was learning as much from the kids as they were learning from me.

As a journalist, as I began covering the refugee situation, here I was, witnessing what was happening, but not really being involved. That to me was a defining moment. I realized that looking back to this time in history, we could never say we didn’t know. There was no excuse to not do anything about the situation in this day and age. I got more and more involved with refugees but after witnessing the situation in Lesvos, eventually found myself needing to slow down.

You are obviously a deeply committed person, what’s next for you?

I will be teaching until next year. I will also report on the situation at the border this summer. This is an exciting opportunity for me because we need as many voices as possible to report on what is going on with refugees. There is so much more to say that goes beyond the facts towards reality. I am also looking to get more involved in my local shelter. There is no doubt, that we are at a time where we are being judged on what we are doing. I hope to live up to that.

Diya Khanna is a Canadian journalist, educator and humanitarian with a focus on diversity and migration.