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Mannar : from Aleppo to Bern

  • Isaline Mülhauser

An Asylum Seeker Syrian woman who had to start with babysteps all over again in Switzerland. Read how she started working with us.

I met Mannar the first time last summer in our Bern office. She is one of our trainee from the Powercoders program.
I get the chance to discuss with her over a coffee when I travel to Bern. It’s time you get to know her too. She is pretty inspiring to me, we are lucky to have her among us!
Thank you Mannar for sharing your experience and being so sincere !

NB: Header picture credit: Marco Zanoni

How did you end up with us?

Mannar: The journey to Switzerland in short, from Syria i escaped to Turkey then from Turkey by land all the way to Switzerland with several transportation methods, a truck container was one of them.
I first entered Switzerland on the last days of Dec 2015, i applied for asylum in Canton Waadt, after which i was transferred to Niedergösgen in canton Solothurn where i still live at the moment, there through more than one person i heard about a Coding bootcamp for refugees taking place in Bern (called Powercoders), i immediately applied, got accepted, then went through the 3 months program, through Powercoders i was introduced to several IT companies in Bern, LIIP was one of them.

Why Bern?

Mannar: I like Pandas, so i thought i must go to the city of bears maybe raising a little Panda at home is legal there, haha .. a joke! Because the first bootcamp of Powercoders was in Bern :)

Did you already speak German?

Mannar: Nope, i invested the last 2 years in Switzerland to study it, i’m currently doing B2 German course. And by the way i’d love to learn French one day, i’ll have to find a sponsor first :)

What it is like to arrive here and apply for asylum?

Mannar: It was a new country, new culture, it’s natural one would feel the unknown and overwhelmed all over, especially those who can not speak a mutual language, luckily i already spoke English, it didn’t take me long to orient myself and figure out my way around how things work in Switzerland. For my luck as well i already knew how to use technology as i have studied computer engineering back in Syria. Which was a huge plus in a land where almost everything is digitalized.
I’m here since 2 years, i still hold the Permit N, which means i’m still an asylum seeker, chances that the N holder get a job is impossible, same applies for getting an apprentice, here came Powercoders again and plead SEM for an exception to enable me to start my internship at LIIP, it was successfully issued.

Thank you Christian Hirsig, Sunita Asnani, Hannes Gassert, Marco Jakob, and all the teachers who were so kind and patient with out late attendance and poor concentration, sometimes :)

Why did you apply to powercoders?

Mannar: Back in Syria, after high school i studied 2 years computer engineering, after graduation i developed my graphic design knowledge and could do some freelancing works, as for coding i studied the basics of programming in the college, but never had the chance to go beyond that or to write codes myself. Powercoders came in the right time, they offered to teach web development, with all computers, teachers, projects, support, networking food cookies all for free, and most importantly a chance for internships later. Who would say No to all of these? I would just say yes just for the cookies! Just kidding :)
My goal was to be independent as soon as possible from the social help, to get a job (a cool exciting one that i enjoy doing and could be creative at), earn money enough to stand on my own feet.

A part of Powercoders program is to get us (the student who done the bootcamp) chances to do internship at IT companies in Bern, which i think was the greatest gift ever.
Through a “Career day” where companies met students, i was introduced to several IT companies, eventually i settled down for LIIP.

How did it go?

Mannar: At first learning coding was overwhelming, lots of web technologies to learn, my German was not as good as now, i lacked team integration as well.
But then after the German course was out of the way, my concentration was set and things started to have a pattern, goals were defined and evaluated weekly with my onboarding coach. during the weeks i was learning and applying what i learnt on small tasks my colleagues gave me. Once the task is finished, it gets evaluated then i move to the next one, and so on.
Did you have an onboarding buddy? Yes I have an onboarding buddy/coach who still helps me on the vocational level and on the integrational level. Simone Wegelin is a irreplaceable support during this journey. All of the work colleagues are friendly and generous. They’ve become a second family to me.

Did you feel shy?

Mannar: Not shy, rather disconnected at first, specially I had to visit a German course every morning before work, and the fact that I travel daily from my village to Bern (1.5 hour). All of it was new and tiring.

How does it go with coding?

Mannar: I forgot to mention that I’m learning a UX design here as well, not only coding.
Coding is finding solutions to problems, it's cracking puzzles which luckily i’ve always liked, yet it was (and still is) challenging to learn to code. There are days when i feel very disappointed with myself for not being able to solve a simple exercise, or to style few elements, then I’d put myself in this tense state of mind to insist to solve it, and I fail and push to only fail again then i get more angry on myself... There is a psychological inner battle that comes with it, so it’s not only about learning to code, but also learning how to deal with failure.
On the other hands there are those moment when I feel I could be the next coding star female in town! (it’s mostly when i solve a good exercise on Codewars).

What’s the main difference between now at Liip and your previous job?

Mannar: In Syria i was employed at a governmental association, where basically i did data entry and some web content management. It wasn’t exciting for me, rather limited and outdated. I didn’t feel I belonged there, Why I got me into this boring job then, you may ask? Because it was the only job available at that time. I couldn’t take my time to do a further education and learn Web development, I had to make money fast one way or another.
Here i have to mention that there is no social help back in Syria, you don’t work, you end up in the street. Government didn’t give a shit. There was no solid health insurance system for employees, and by the end of the month the salary was only enough to get the basic life requirements, every family member must work and earn to save the ship from drowning. I worked 2 jobs to get me good income.
Syria is an enormously rich country, the textile industry, wood, iron, plastic and food was at its peak, we have incredible petrol and oil productions that could make each and every Syrian citizen live a luxurious life (assuming no corruption and monopolism was there). Yet we lived in indigence and poverty, that was one of the reason the poor people went against the dictatorship. But the rich people who didn’t want to change their lifestyle teamed up with the regime against the poor ones to shut them down. However, the political game in the area has played the biggest role. but we’re not going there now :)

On the profession level, the main differences between Switzerland and Syria go down to self-discipline, motivation and taking responsibility, those i truly embrace here, because i learnt them here, now i wake up everyday with excitement to go to work to learn and make awesome things. Because i’m doing the things i love to do, i’m not forced to do them i chose it and i enjoy doing it. That was not the case in my previous job in Syria.
I’ll have to mention that in Syria it’s not common for females to work in IT. Most female students get marry before or right after graduation, to resign from the school life and sign in into the housewife position.

What do you miss most?

Mannar: I mostly miss privacy, i’ve been living for more than 2 years in a shared house with another family who has 2 babies and lots of visitors, a shared kitchen and bathroom, I miss the quiet and solitude. I’m not allowed to change my resident place because of Permit N.
I also miss financial comfort, the Permit N salary is honestly a joke. It changed my lifestyle as I always must consider every Frank I spend, as simple as it might sound to some people, but I miss buying things that are not from Second hand shops, to buy meals from take-away, to visit a gym..etc
I just hope to get B Permit soon to be able to work and earn well. Permit B would also gives me the right to travel and see my family who I miss the most.

Mannar likes challenges and always has an objective in sight! :)

What’s your next step?

Mannar: My next step will be determined by the decision issued from SEM, either a negative decision Permit F (provisionally admitted foreigners) or a positive one B permit (Resident foreign nationals).
I must consider both possibilities, with B Permit things like employment, changing address and family reunion can be smoothly achieved, with F they could be done as well, but as slow as 5 years minimum.
So there is the highway plan (with B):
first thing I will do is to buy my own postpaid SIM card! Seriously.
then I would want to do an apprenticeship of Informatics at Liip, get a Diploma of Informatics, apply for a job, only then I can be independent from the social help. And rent of my own! finally!

And there is the bicycle track plan (F), and to fulfill my plan I must get ready to go through a long progress and bureaucratic procedures and expect refusal at any step, one should be patient and keep failing until it works.

Thank you Isaline for giving me the chance to be heard (or read), I hope someone from SEM is reading this while he or she is having a good mood. ^_^

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Update: Since we wrote this blogpost, Mannar received her Permit B ! It means that she is allowed to stay, work, study, rent in Switzerland as well as to travel. She has now the right to sign a contract (like a mobile phone). She will start her apprenticeship at Liip in August!
Follow Mannar on LinkedIn
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Check Power Coders Don't hesitate to contact them if you wish to get involved as a coach or if you want to welcome a trainee, or just if you want more information :)
The programm is currently starting in Suisse Romande too!

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