CUCULA is an association, a workshop and an educational program all in one. It is for and together with refugees in Berlin. In contrast to the theoretical debate about the situation of refugees in Germany, the initiators strive for a pragmatic, immediate and action-oriented approach. The aim and object is to achieve something “together with” the refugees and not simply “for them”.
Loukas Koubouris Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
Jessy Medernach My name is Jessy and I'm one of the founders of CUCULA. We have a team of designers and I'm the pedagog and social worker from the initiative. I'm also putting together an education program, I'm dealing with finding shared flats for refugees to stay and I'm in charge a professional training placement. Also a big part of my job in CUCULA is the legal procedures, l go to the lawyers, to the foreign office for asylum applications and I'm helping the refugees deal with the German bureaucracy.
Loukas Koubouris What CUCULA is about?
Jessy Medernach CUCULA is a design manufacture, we are selling design furniture built by refugees and with the money we gain, we are a non-profit organization, refugees can pay themselves their education. So our goal is to create possibilities for refugees to get a job, professional training or only to have an access to society. Our target group are mostly people that came via Italy or Spain and so there they get asylum but they have no possibilities. They sleep on the streets, they have no job so they continue to Germany, but in Germany they have a tourist status. They can't work or get formal education, so we're helping them to get professional training and to organize their legal matters.
Loukas Koubouris How CUCULA works?
Jessy Medernach Our core is the workshop. We build the furniture but it's also a place to learn. We teach school classes, like mathematics, but it's also practical training like dealing with machines and with tools but the most important is for these people to achieve again some kind of routine, you know to get up in the morning, have something to do, a goal in your life, to work in a team. In general the goal is for them to achieve these skills that they need even after CUCULA, when they find a proper job.
Loukas Koubouris As I understand, CUCULA is not only about making, but also about integrating in the society. How you can see this develops?
Jessy Medernach In fact the furniture workshops are only the medium to do all these staff around it, such as legalize people, train them and get them into society. We have one program with young people from Berlin who are giving classes but also making tours in the city and this direct contact is very important in both directions, for the society, to get to know the people who are coming, to learn something new, also to reflect about your own thoughts and values. On the other side for the newcomers to understand the society that they're living in now. It's the same as with the shared flat concept that I mentioned. Refugees who live together with German people integrate better. They learn the language more easily, they understand the bureaucracy better etc.
Loukas Koubouris What's the general process of building the furniture?
Jessy Medernach We promoting our idea by the website but we 're also going to design fairs and selling there. There 're also organizations or companies or artists who come with special orders, for example we built a pavilion for a hostel and now we are building boats for an exhibition. So it's not only the chair production but also special orders. The main design for chair is from Enzo Mari an interior designer who published a book with DIY plans in the 70's. His vision was to get the people access to design, so everybody can build himself qualitative design furniture in a way that you can't see the social background in the furniture. So, he gave us the license to sell if it's built by refugees and if they profit from the income, because normally you cant sell them, you can only build them for personal use. His designs are very interesting because you can develop them further and together with the trainees, we have some special CUCULA Enzo Marie furniture. For example one limited edition has a piece of wood from a refugee boat.
Loukas Koubouris Can you any see cultural aspects emerge through the furniture designs?
Jessy Medernach What is really interesting is their approach to design or to building something. Here designers first they make a research then they make some drawings and a plan, but the trainees they just go into workshop they take some wood and they start building it. So it's a changing in the process, it gets some form, a special design which is created during the process. And this is really interesting. For example a trainee, Mussa, is a really tall guy so all of his chairs are really big, even the children ones, he's putting a lot of himself inside. It's interesting to see different forms, different colors etc.
Loukas Koubouris How you can see the project develop in the future?
Jessy Medernach Well, we have a lot of ideas right now, but firstly we need to stabilize what we have because the legal issue is not clear. The first thing we 're going to do is to work with new designs and new designers. Also, we have a first contact to Mali to work together with countries that refugees came from and maybe to have one part of the production over there. Lastly, we counsel other initiatives who are doing similar actions in other cities or countries.