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Choosing a Different Path: Muhabet and an Alternative Approach to Recovery. By Trine Grønborg and Sarah Brajtbord. 2011

Mentally ill refugees and immigrants are a marginalized and invisible group and the percentage of this group who are admitted into hospital is still increasing. Many are traumatized-suffering from PTSD due to war-flight –etc. while others are suffering from a mental illness after a long life in Denmark. Very often they are extremely lonely and isolated have no contact at all with their local community due to language barriers as well as cultural ones.

That is why Najib and Emine in the spring of 2003 started Muhabet in order to give this forgotten group some where to come – find peace - meet others in the same situation but also to make the outside world aware of them. The large windows of the drop-in center are symbolized by the fact that the world can look in and the guests can look out.

Muhabet is designed like a café, with sofas, chairs, tables and an open kitchen. There is a rather big cellar where children can play and use the computers, a another room is for praying and bellydancing. Everything is painted in warm colours reminding the guests of home. During the opening hours the guests meet the volunteers over a cup of tea or coffee talking about everything. It is possible to be advised about small matters, like how to call the municipality, translating a letter etc. Or you can be left alone.

Be yourself and yet be part of a group without feeling like an outsider and if you like - take a nap. You are not registered and we meet you like you are: A human being. There is no hidden agenda, no religious party and no political party is involved. A lot of the guests have a very bad economy and don’t have the strength to cook. That is why we offer them a daily hot meal consisting of vegetables and meat [ halal ] which is donated by various businesses. Many of the guests come either through their contactperson from the District psychiatry, by positive hearsay or through the municipality. They may have been accompanied several times- and then they come by themselves. When that happens it will mean that we have obtained what we aimed for, they feel secure -safe and at ease with the surroundings. No money is involved between the guest and Muhabet.

Everyday life in dignity
Muhabet is offering individual orientated care by trying to improve the quality of life of each guest so that he or she will be able to administer his or her life in order to establish an everyday life in dignity. This is obtainable by offering them an open drop-in center.

The emotional attention and social self-esteem are fundamental for the development of the human being, and if this recognition is not present, the individual is at risk of losing the positive relationship with itself which has a decisive meaning for the individual. Muhabet is working on creating settings which can facilitate and develop the self confidence and the self-esteem of the individual.

Muhabet is focused on respect and recognition of the resources instead of problem orientated ways.We recognize that mental illness influences the whole family, and that is why the whole family is drawn in to participate.

The processes
We are experienced in handling mentally ill persons in a multicultural context. We are experienced in creating an alternative and outreaching work with the target group and involving volunteers in order to help expanding the network and Recovery. In this process we are working on several levels:
-facilitate the language and social isolation for the guests and create a network for the individual
-try to avoid attacks of depression and anxiety and make them function in spite of these.
- support the person and the family in question to build a network and getting to know the possibilities of the area.

The tools
We use different ways in order to obtain contact with the guests.

Host-guest relationship
Muhabet is offering the guest tea-coffee and a daily hot meal.
As a guest you don’t speak loudly- so there is always a polite tone among the guests.

The senses
We are working consciously with taste, odeur -sound and emotions

The food
Everything that is served reminds them of the meals ’at home’ but there is a possibility of positive feelings. Special teas and coffees are served.

We are playing recognizable music which stimulates positive emotions and memories.

Cafe evenings
Once a month we are gathered to make things more festive and a big buffet is served. Music and dance are part of this. Guests-their families –volunteers and invited guests are participating in these events.
The mentally ill persons-singles as well as those with families experience something which they are not capable of creating for themselves and for their children. We are also able to help children with their homework if so needed.

During the month of the Ramadan we do a couple of things the patients in hospital receive a small package with special cookies, figs. dates and other things so they don’t feel forgotten.
Twice a week we celebrate the Estar with the guests at Muhabet.

Translated by Nina M. Cold


Najib Haddar
Emine Ayyildizoglu Haddar

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