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13 December 2006

"I was brought up that way …"

Students Salma Kessler and Raphael Ane Kum awarded prizes for academic achievement and social commitment

Proudly the man from Cameroon surveys the audience gathered in his honour in the "bel étage", the Rector's reception rooms on the first floor of the Old University. Alongside him, smiling broadly, stands Salma Kessler. Kum had been selected to receive the student award for social commitment donated by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). On the same occasion Kessler was presented with a special prize from the Department of German as a Foreign Language (SDF).

According to the selection criteria for the DAAD prize, awarded once a year at every German university, only non-German students are eligible for the distinction. Kessler's parents come from are Tunisia, where she has spent a great deal of time. Also, she has been a committed member of the Fachschaft, the departmental student organisation of the SDF. Reason enough for the department to single her out for a "special" prize this year.

The two students have received these awards, worth 1,000 euros each, for their "outstanding academic achievement and social and intercultural commitment". Kum has been a member of the Protestant Student Community (ESG) since 2002, where he was a key figure in organising an inter-religious and intercultural commemoration service for the victims of the 2005 tsunami disaster. He is also a founder member and former chairman of the Society of African Students at the University of Heidelberg and has been actively involved in the Society of Cameroonian Students and Academics in Heidelberg.

Raphael Kum was born in 1971 in Bafoussam (Cameroon) and came to Germany in 1997. He learned German at the Max Weber House, commencing his university at the (then) Institute of Translation and Interpreting in 2000. Kum has already written his diploma thesis, which has been proposed for publication. "The prize money is very welcome," Kum disclosed after his speech of thanks in the Old University, after all he has a little daughter to look after. And he has some new projects in mind. "Around Christmas time we intend to visit the homes for asylum-seekers in the region," he added, announcing his intention to invest part of the prize money in presents for them.

Unlike Kum, Salmna Kessler is a German national, born in the Spandau district of Berlin in 1975. When family problems cropped up in 1989, she went to Tunisia where she did her Abitur and began studying German at the Faculté de Lettres in Tunis. In 2002 she returned to Germany and enrolled at the University of Heidelberg to study German as a Foreign Language, receiving a scholarship for the purpose as the best student in her year. At present she is working on her doctorate. "In the student organisation I look after the first years, hold office hours and help wherever I can," she says. She finds the German higher-education system a little confusing even for Germans, so a helping hand can be very valuable for international students.

Why this commitment to the welfare of her fellow students? "I was brought up that way," she answers. "It was like that at home and it has stayed the same at the university." Her family still lives in Berlin but she likes to get out of the country from time to time. "My husband and I would like to spend some time abroad," she tells us. The award is a source of immense pride for her parents. "I shall donate part of the prize money to a good cause," she says. "That is customary in Islam." She also intends to use some of it to help her mother fulfil a long-held desire: a pilgrimage to Mecca.

Paul Heesch

Please address any inquiries to:
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317

Irene Thewalt
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 542317

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