Culture, Heritage and Diversity

 

Intercultural Family Residential Model Brunnenhof

 

Living together with others – in one city, one neighbourhood or one house – is not always the easiest. Especially when thinking about the different ethnic, cultural or religious backgrounds people have. In times of very heterogeneous societies it is becoming more and more important to learn about each others cultural (living) habits.

 

From 2007 to 2009, the Swiss Foundation "Housing for large Families in Zurich" (WfkF) carried out a project which aimed at families with many children having different ethnic, cultural or religious backgrounds. The aim was to find ways in which those families with various origins can peacefully live together in one housing estate.

 

The "Intercultural family residential model Brunnenhof" brought together 72 families with at least three children under the age of 18, originating from 30 different countries. In order to have a variety of "participants" the WfkF was looking for people from a diverse educational and income background. The assumption was that early interventions in the daily life of the housing estate may reduce conflicts and encourage the residents to participate in free time activities with other families. To achieve this, the project manager and the social worker, responsible for the communication in the housing estate, introduced different conflict prevention instruments like a housing estate commission, house meetings and a chairperson for each house. The residents used these possibilities to communicate, to solve problems with other residents or the landlord or to organise different activities in order to get to know the culture of the other families or to support each other in daily life. For instance, English and Arabic language courses were offered by one of the residents. Others organised an evening meal during the Ramadan. Together with the social worker, one resident initiated a Femmes-Table in the Arabic language. On this occasion women could exchange their views on family and education policy.

 

Another important aspect of this intercultural housing estate was not only the active participation of the adults, but also that of children. An aim of the project was also to let the young generation have their say. Consequently a children's conference was organised together with "Mega!phon" – a local organisation that is engaged in teenage participation – and regular meetings were held to ensure a continuous inflow of the children's opinions.

 

Diversity was understood as an opportunity. Thus the special challenges of the housing estate – many children, high proportion of immigrants, a large range of income and education – were not perceived as a problem but as a great opportunity. The residents learned how to deal with problems due to their different ethnic, cultural or religious background. They realised how important their own participation and responsibility is in a multicultural community. Conflicts were solved during house meetings or even dealt with on the spot. Children and young adults were also given the responsibility not only to look after the premises they live in and share them with others, but also to look after each other.

 

All in all "the intercultural family residential model Brunnenhof" can serve as a real life model for successful housing policy in modern multicultural societies. The residents and the social worker cooperated closely to build a friendly and respectful intercultural housing estate where people can meet and exchange, tale about their fears and interests and solve conflicts. A network with local social institutions was established, more active residents are taking over responsibility in the long run. Others were convinced to join activities, which they now lead themselves, to ensure sustainability of the project. The inhabitants of “Brunnenhof” faced the challenge of transforming their neighbourhood into an intercultural housing estate from which everybody involved highly profits.

 

By Gloria Kremser