Based on the simple aspiration that access to education and quality education materials should be open to everyone regardless of citizenship, wealth, or gender, the three day OER festival, held in the Landesvertretung Schleswig-Holstein in Berlin, brought together more than 325 key figures involved in the promotion of open educational resources and free teaching material in Germany.

12 prizes were awarded in total, honouring the pioneering open educational resources work being carried out in secondary and primary schools, universities, colleges and adult education. SPD Staatssekretär Rolf Fischer (Land Schleswig-Holstein) opened the event. The special award for outstanding contribution to integration was given to the Refugee Phrasebook, which so far has compiled a free online medical, legal and orientation phrasebook in 44 languages for refugees and those helping them. More than 120,000 printed copies of the phrasebook have already been distributed and we are currently searching for funding to print booklets urgently needed in Greece. We are also expanding our language base and sourcing developers and coders to help create a more user friendly interface.

The three day festival gave members of the refugee phrasebook team a fantastic opportunity to exchange ideas, skills and contacts with our colleagues in the field. We were delighted to share the award platform with the excellent work of teams like Zum-Wiki, Mathe für Nicht-Freaks, ichMOOC, BarCamp-Schulung, edutags, Unterrichten mit dem Raspberry Pi, Serlo, Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, L3T and Jugend hackt to name but a few. We were equally delighted to meet with Staatssekretär Fischer and the sponsor of the special award for Integration Prof. Dr. Rolf Granow (oncampus) Fachhochschule Lübeck, who were effusive in their praise for the work of the Phrasebook Project and exceedingly generous with their time. covered the event and you can read more about what they thought here.

The collective open structure and voluntary ethos of Refugee Phrasebook has enabled translators, coders, developers, designers, printers, refugees and refugee helpers to collaborate, make and distribute comprehensive, free and easy to use online resources for refugees and those helping them. The data we have compiled is being reused in several other projects like the Refugee Phrasebook Interactive Android app, or the InfoAid app which were created and are maintained by volunteers not in direct association with our team. It is testament to this free and open ethos that at the award ceremony we were delighted to discover OER expert Sandra Schön had independently designed a fantastic one-page printable format with selected phrases drawn from the phrasebook data. This is exactly what the Refugee Phrasebook hopes to inspire. Our work is not ours, it cannot be bought, it is open and free for everyone to download, use and improve. We were very happy to hear that this small format phrasebook is one of the most downloaded formats on the Zum-Wiki website.

OER close up

While we are thankful that Refugee Phrasebook was publically recognized as an innovative and valuable tool for integration, we are also reminded of the fact that our contribution is small in comparison to the more basic requirements that desperately need to be fulfilled. During January this year temperatures in Berlin dipped to as low as -11 degrees Celsius. Moabit Hilft reported cases of frostbite despite the installation of two warming tents outside the Landesamt für Gesundheit und Soziales (LaGeSo) in Berlin. While Refugee Phrasebook is a great first contact point towards better communication and integration, we are very conscious of the fact that the most basic needs; food, warmth and shelter for everyone have fallen short this winter. We can and must do more.

As barbed wire gashes through borders that up till recently were free, as tabloid rumours foster fear and resentment, as our heads of state continue to use dehumanising collective nouns “swarms” to describe mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, attitudes harden. We have to continue to help those who need it. For if we don’t, we lose sight of the core principles our democracies seek to uphold but more importantly we lose sight of what makes us human – compassion.

OER award