The German Fulbright Alumni Association is pleased to announce that this year’s Juergen Mulert Memorial Award on Mutual Understanding is bestowed to Sherief El-Helaifi and the project “Schuelerpaten Berlin”. The Mulert Award is given annually to volunteers, artists, professionals, or researchers across disciplines whose work reflects and advances Senator Fulbright’s idea of “waging peace through mutual understanding”. The award will be presented on February 2, 2013, at the German Fulbright Alumni Association’s annual Winter Ball in Hannover, where Sherief El-Helaifi will be a guest of honor and present the “Schuelerpaten” project.
El-Helaifi, currently a B.A. student at the Berlin Institute of Technology, spent a Fulbright exchange year at the University of California at Berkeley in 2011/12, where he focused on Industrial Engineering and Operations Research. “Schuelerpaten Berlin”, which El-Helaifi supported as co-founder, board member and head of public relations, is a unique project which focuses on the process of cultural exchange and awareness. Geared specifically to young people of Arabic descent, “Schuelerpaten Berlin” organizes tutorings between mentors and mentees. Mentors, usually university and doctorate students, are matched with young people from Arab families. Tutoring takes place in the privacy of the mentee’s home, opening up a whole new world to the mentor and facilitating intercultural education of both mentor and mentee.
Since its start in 2009, “Schuelerpaten” has created more than 220 tutoring partnerships and has thus been instrumental in broadening the public discourse surrounding issues of integration in Germany. In 2013, El-Helaifi plans to expand “Schuelerpaten Berlin” to the Ruhr region, and later to other regions, as well. El-Helaifi, who himself has both German and Arab roots, explains the need for such a program: “As the child of a Muslim Egyptian father and a Christian German mother, I grew up learning to appreciate and embrace two religions and two very different cultures. Sometimes I felt that I was pressured to decide whether I am Egyptian or German, although I just felt as both. But I realized how hard it is to integrate if nobody takes you by the hand and explains cultural differences.”
According to Benjamin Becker, president of the German Fulbright Alumni Association, “the idea of ‘Schuelerpaten’ is both simple and revolutionary, and promotes the growth of volunteerism in Germany”. The statistics are testimony to the success of “Schuelerpaten Berlin”: In a survey conducted in 2011, over 68% of mentees said that their grades had improved dramatically through the “Schuelerpaten” program. 79% had a better understanding of school tasks, 79% had learned and incorporated crucial organizational skills, and 74%, felt more self-confident. Overall, 90% of the mentees surveyed were more than satisfied with their mentors.