Hoffnungswerk (Work of Hope)
After the floods in the Ahr valley in Germany in July 2021, many different relief efforts were launched, including “Hoffnungswerk” (Work Of Hope) by the Christian organisation To All Nations and the Siegburg Free Protestant Church. Like many other relief efforts, their initial focus was to help the people affected by cleaning up their homes, but after the first few weeks they realised that there would be a long-term need for help and that material reconstruction would only repair part of the damage caused. Through contact with the people on the construction sites, the team quickly recognised the importance of psychological needs. Their work is therefore divided into material help – rebuilding destroyed houses, helping to apply for grants and finding skilled workers such as architects and craftsmen – and non-material help.
In the early days of the response, coffee teams travelled around the affected areas with handcarts, bringing coffee and cake to people rebuilding their homes, listening, talking, and comforting. Through the regular coffee trips they made, they were able to build relationships with the people affected, bring them a little joy and a piece of normal life, and show them that they were not alone.
The “Hoffnungswerk” wanted to create beautiful meeting places in the destroyed areas, offering coffee, conversation, space for recreation, opportunities for professional psychological help, and activities. First coffee teams brought coffee to people’s homes, buses were converted and used as cafes, then two properties were bought and renovated as cafes to be used for the long term. The places are meant to be a café, a place to relax, to have community and spaces for psychotherapy, play therapy, and a repair café.
To ease the burden on children and families during this difficult time, another bus has been converted to host children’s birthday parties. Affected families can reserve the bus and their children can celebrate an individual birthday with cake, games and a programme organised by staff, and parents can have coffee in the front of the bus.
In addition to these meeting places, which aim to create and strengthen relationships and ensure peaceful rest, social projects have been organised to strengthen the community and cope with events. These included meetings in day-care centres, old people’s homes, and youth centres, as well as sports activities. Professionals also organised special events, such as swimming lessons, to introduce children to water in a gentle way, despite their traumatic experiences, to help them process what had happened and to give them back a sense of security.
Volunteers who wish to help after the acute phase of the crisis, whether it be in a craft, education, psychology, or hospitality capacity, will be able to live together in shared accommodation and help as much as they like, depending on the time available to them alongside their work, studies or other commitments. Private individuals, companies and organisations can support the relief organisation with donations.
From spontaneous relief efforts in the immediate aftermath of the flood, with a team taking coffee and cake to the affected people in a handcart, a wide range of activities has developed with long-term social and psychological support and the non-profit association “Helferwerk” was founded. Initially with just the handcart on the road, buses were converted into cafés, and then premises were bought and renovated to provide a long-term space for recreation, community and mental health support. Services have been extended to children and families, and various social projects have been set up to strengthen the community and help people process their trauma.
The organisation is also collecting donations for people affected by the war in Ukraine, transporting donations and considering other ways to help those affected.
Hoffnungswerk was launched out of the cooperation from the Christian organisation To All Nations and the Siegburg Free Protestant Church during their spontaneous help after the flood. Although parts of their motivation and motto “because there is hope” are certainly Christian motivated, anyone can participate and volunteer in their actions. A similar action or individual sub-actions can also be started by other groups that want to focus on people and their mental well-being. The fact that the individual partners already existed as organisations with different missions but with existing networks probably helped them to recruit many potential volunteers and donations.
Their involvement is a response to the need for long-term assistance and, in particular, psychological recovery. Long-term relief, dealing with trauma and strengthening community cohesion in the aftermath of a crisis are often not at the forefront of government relief efforts.