Intergration cannot be done alone! We can only do it together!
Interkulturelt Center (IKC) is the oldest institution of intercultural cooperation in Denmark. The centre was founded by the leader Inge Thorning, who has been involved in projects that promote cultural meetings between Danes and immigrants since the 1970s. She founded Interkulturelt Center in 1984.
Interkulturelt Center works to strengthen and enhance Danish intercultural competency. Skills in intercultural cooperation are essential in a globalized world. It is our belief that the foundation for collaboration between different cultures is mutual respect and understanding. Integration is a two-way process!
The story of IKC can be traced back to 1972 when the first Turkish and Kurdish families arrived in Denmark. Around this time, the young artist, Inge Thorning, got a studio in the backyard of Rosengade 34 in Århus. She quickly began to take interest in the children playing in the streets, and they flocked the studio taking over paint and paper.
This was the first step towards the opening of a children’s club and later, the foundation of an association of parents: “Storbybørns vel” with Chairwoman Ebba Strange.
In 1976, after struggling for four years to get the attention of the city council, an after-school youth centre was finally approved, and the distribution of families was to be 50 % Danish and 50 % Turkish.
Working with the families was very educational. Both the Danish and Turkish families were in somewhat similar situations since they were all forced to move to the city due to increasing industrialization, although the Turkish families had travelled a longer distance than the Danish ones. With them, the Turkish families brought different customs and traditions, and this formed the basis for numerous rewarding exchanges: parties, theatres and musical and gastronomic experiences. For example, at women’s nights, Danish women learned how to cook meat balls with garlic and Turkish women learned how to make Danish brown sauce. Their husbands already knew the dish from the years they spent alone in Denmark before they brought their wifes and children to the country – children who were born two years apart, corresponding to the frequency of the husbands’ visits in Turkey.
In order to make banquets easier to organize, it was decided that pork was not on the menu, since Muslims do not eat pork.
During a reconstruction of the city centre, the association succeeded in incorporating plans to build an institution in the reconstruction plan, and parents and employees designed it themselves. Today the place is a day nursery.
Moving the families to social housing blocks
The local government wished to sell their properties in the city centre and rehouse all the residing families in empty apartments in social housing blocks in the suburbs. Many families were displaced to Gellerupplanen, a ghetto of concrete housing blocks from the late 1960s and early 1970s. In these ghettoes, there were no after-school clubs or institutions where cultural diversity was taken into consideration.
In the 1980s, “non-Danish speaking children requiring substantial resources” was a popular subject in the media – a problem unfamiliar to the children’s club due to excellent communication and cooperation between the parents.
This debate in the media triggered the start-up of IKC! It was not easy to hear the children and families we knew so well being spoken of as a problem, requiring substantial resources. In our opinion, they were to be considered bilingual rather than non-Danish speakers, and they came from resourceful homes with a strong sense of family unity. Some of the Danish families lacked this sense of unity which resulted in criminal children after the families had been rehoused to the suburbs.
Courses for childcare assistants
As the need for bilingual childcare assistants and multicultural institutions in the new concrete housing blocks became evident, The Department of Education and Science approved an application for the first course for childcare assistants in 1984. All course participants were subsequently hired and the city council granted extra money to the hiring of bilingual childcare assistants.We had another course for childcare assistants in 1985 with equal success.
Nevertheless, we did not feel it was right that the bilingual students were “just” assistants, since it would give the impression that they were inferior to the native students. Our experience was that our students put in a great deal of work in positions of great responsibility, as they held great responsibilitie sat the institutions they were hired. Consequently, Inge Thorning presented ideas of a one-year preparation plan for bilingual students to schools for childcare all over the country. Unfortunately, no one picked up the idea to begin with. Later the idea caught on, and many places of education concerning childcare established preparation classes for bilingual students.
”The School for Intercultural Pedagogy”and Intercultural Centre – IKC
Inge Thorning applied for funds from the EU in 1986, so that IKC could set up its own ”multicultural class” which was first housed at a college of social education in Aarhus. It turned out to be as successful as the previous courses: 60 % continued their education and 37 % got jobs – the remaining 3 % had children. The success can be attributed to two employees at the old club, Gitte Sinding and Inge Thorning who loved to work in a multicultural environment. Since there was a great need for more bilingual people in the sector of the humanities and the number of resourceful immigrants arriving in the country was increasing, we chose to move the “multicultural course” and run it as an independent institution. The Ministry of Education and Research, the local authorities and the EU continued to subsidize the project which got the name ”The School for Intercultural Pedagogy” and later “Intercultural Centre”, IKC. In our preamble it is stated that: “The object of the institution is to provide the setting for immigrants/refugees who aim at an education in the fields of pedagogy/social care/teaching”.
The social system was increasingly in need of people with intercultural competencies. First, day nurseries, kindergartens and after-school centres benefited from the skills of our course participants, then also new family day care arrangements, old people’s homes, hospitals, and local centres. Later, the police, public administration, the Post Office, Falck, departments of social services, interpreter services, the Danish Folkeskole benefitted from our students’ skills. 64 % of our students completed an education after a year at IKC and got employment afterwards. 25 % got employment immediately after attending IKC.
IKC was constantly expanding with new courses so that there were always four classes with different subject areas. The students were trained in competencies useful to society.
Our course participants came to wish for Danish fellow students. They felt isolated in the same way they had felt at language courses and refugee camps. We came up with the slogan: “Intergration cannot be done alone! We can only do it together!”
Our Danish course participants have profited greatly from our courses. Many of the Danish participants have taken the courses as a supplementary education in intercultural competencies while taking a leave of absence from their jobs. Unfortunately, a change in the laws of education meant that this opportunity was taken away from our Danish course participants. Since then, our Danish course participants have mainly been young people taking the courses before continuing their education in fields such as teaching, child care, the social sector, health, psychology or ethnography.
Daytime folk high school and property purchase
In 1995, the local authorities ordered us to become a Daytime folk high school since this structural change would be economically beneficial for the municipal government. When IKC purchased the house in Skolegade 23 of 670 sqm, it was decided, for legal reasons, that IKC should continue as an independent institution with its own executive committee, and to establish the Daytime folk high school as an association with Ebba Strange as chairwoman. When the name was changed the purpose of the association was expanded and stated to be “to broaden the intercultural aspect of society through education and cultural activities and events, and to create a forum for intercultural cooperation between Danes and ethnic minorities, and to assist and promote the hiring of ethnic minorities in the public sector.”
Political development and the shutdown of IKC
It turned out to be a brilliant idea to legally restructure into two institutions. A new government introduced financial cutbacks over a period of ten years and students could no longer attend IKCs classes in spite of their interest in the courses.
From having as many as 78 students, the number of students shrunk to 10, and in 2006 the school had to close.
Courses for school assistants and for bilingual teachers
Before the school was closed, attempts were made to change the place into more than a school.
A course for school assistants was established (funded by the EU), but it turned out to be difficult to follow through with the idea because the teacher’s union was opposed to a program with bilingual school assistants. The union viewed it as blackleg work even though the students had had great success as interns in schools. They understood their pupils’ languages and cultures and thereby, they contributed to a better classroom environment.
In cooperation with the local education authority, courses forbilingual teachers were set up simultaneously, and sometimes classes were held together with classes from the school assistant programme.
Music café, restaurant and gallery
A music café, ”The Caravan” with multicultural music and food was later opened. The café became a great success with a broad audience attending food events and concerts. Sometimes as many as 100 people showed up, and talented musicians from all over the world gave concerts. To comply with the government’s health and safety regulations, handicap facilities were improved and the building was renovated at a great cost. Unfortunately, the local government would not give permission for an emergency exit that would be going through one of the government’s buildings next door, and consequently, the place was shut down. Even though the big renovation also made room for exhibitions in the building, IKC was forced to sell the property in Skolegade 23 in 2007, and thus a long and glorious era came to an end.