But Webster students can change that
Replace the fancy bright halls of Webster University with rundown bleak corridors to get a picture of the Freunde Schützen Haus. It is just another international community, except there is fear.
“This is the first thing we show the children when they come to us so that they know they are safe,” says Karin Klaric, legal adviser and co-founder of the organization, pointing to a giant impervious door, which she keeps locked 24/7.
This door keeps out unannounced visitors like policemen, who come to take away the residents, asylum seekers who Klaric believes have a right to stay in Austria, but are being deported too quickly to have their cases heard.
“Policemen come here on a weekly basis and frighten the children, carrying guns and weapons, using rough ways when trying to deport families,” says Klaric.
The house supports and shelters around 87 people, torn out of society – jobless and homeless because authorities have told them they must leave the country. Because the asylum seekers do not understand their rights, they often do not fight the orders even though many have lived in Austria as well-integrated people for years. Now they live in confined conditions – often six family members live in one room with two beds, the bathroom, though, they share with everyone on the floor. They wait for the order to leave – or not.
Since the founding of the organization in 2010, Klaric and the three other founders have successfully defended all 692 cases from deportation. But this can take up to two years. In the meantime, they must stay at the house, locked behind the thick door.
Luca Mattia Gagliardi, a Webster senior, wanted to do something for people before graduating. He says he realized he’s lately been so caught up in his studies that he has forgotten that some people live in more fear than that of getting a good grade. So he came up with the idea of helping less fortunate children this Christmas.
“We need to show children from all over the world that there is still chance and hope in the west, as ignorance often just leads to misunderstandings and violence,” he says.
Now a group of five or six students are raising funds to help the families at FSH. “We are planning to do some fun games on Thanksgiving and also take part in the Christmas Market beginning on the 4th December, where we will have our own stand with a bake sale, hot punch, a photo-booth, goulash and some other surprises,” Gagliardi adds.
And they are looking for more students willing to donate personal items, from clothes to electronics.
The group will use money raised at Thanksgiving and the bake sale to buy Christmas presents, as the organization itself hasn’t got the money to spend on gifts this year. No child should go without at least one present, says Klaric. “It would be nice to place some gifts under the tree,” she adds.
The contrast between Freunde Schützen Haus and Webster University couldn’t be any bigger, but yet the two communities have something strong they can relate to, which is cultural diversity.
“Raising money and collecting gifts for these children and their families would be a nice thing to do during Christmas time. I think us students at Webster are very lucky and it can surely do us no harm,” says Gagliardi, who visited the home and has seen the great need of help, as the organization depends solely on private donations.