Leaving the Big City Behind for a Farm
For more than a decade now, ProSiebenSat.1 has supported social institutions such as children’s and youth charity “Die Arche” (The Ark). With the proceeds of RED NOSE DAY donations, The Ark’s first children’s ranch opened in October 2016. In Schulzendorf in the state of Brandenburg, boys and girls learn responsibility by caring for animals and can wind down far from the city.
Miriam climbs gingerly into the aviary to look for quail eggs. She has to take care not to burn herself on the infrared lamp that keeps the birds warm. At first, the nine-year-old comes up empty-handed. Aaron, who searched the coop before her, made off with all the spoils. A little later, Miriam strikes it lucky after all. “I found one!” she cries, holding a tiny egg in her hand. Next, the children get to spend some time with the bunnies, stroking the babies that were born just two weeks earlier. The air rings with excited voices, exclaiming: “Aren’t they sweet?” “So cute!” and “Can I hold one?”
Miriam, Aaron, and a dozen other girls and boys from Leipzig have come to Schulzendorf in Brandenburg to spend the afternoon at The Ark’s new children’s ranch. Here, at a location about an hour’s drive north of Berlin, the Ark’s founder Bernd Siggelkow has realized his dream. Set in the heart of nature, his farm is teeming with animals and welcomes children, many from difficult backgrounds, offering them positive experiences. The pastor’s idea is to use animals as therapy to help build children’s self-confidence and encourage them to feel closeness. “It’s not just about giving the kids a good time, they also have to learn to take responsibility. That’s why we get them to help out around the farm,” explains Siggelkow.
And there’s plenty to keep the group from Leipzig busy. Fresh straw and hay must be provided for the sheep, the horses have to be tended, and the riding arena cleaned. While some of the children bounce exuberantly on straw bales in the barn, Aaron and a few friends get busy with a wheelbarrow, caring for the animals. Miriam and some of the other children are at work in the riding arena. When they have finished cleaning, the schoolgirl and her friend Lisa rest on a bench. “That was pretty tiring,” the girls agree. As a reward for their efforts, they finally get to take a ride.
All the while, newcomer farmer Siggelkow tells the kids fascinating facts about the animals and ranch. He bought the property in 2016 with donations. “Thanks to the first 100,000 euros courtesy of RED NOSE DAY, the facility was finally able to open its doors at the beginning of October,” says Siggelkow. He explains that the money went into all the necessary technology and infrastructure as well as rebuilding a barn.
The proceeds of RED NOSE DAY were donated to The Ark project.
The pastor got young people involved right from the get-go: “A group of teenagers from The Ark in Berlin’s Hellersdorf district came through each weekend. Among the many jobs they took on were clearing out the stables and putting up fences,” recalls the 53-year-old. “They loved being on the farm so much that they would have happily moved in permanently.“
Set on two hectares of land – one owned by The Ark, the other leased – the 200-square-meter farmhouse that is Siggelkow’s home includes eight beds, a playroom and living room as well as a dining room and lounge for guests. In addition to the horses, the farm’s other residents include rabbits and birds as well as sheep, chickens, dogs, and parrots. When Siggelkow doesn’t have young visitors, he cares for the animals by himself or with the help of interns before making the commute to Hellersdorf where his main job as head of The Ark awaits.
It’s there that the youth pastor founded the first of the Ark centers 20 years ago. Characterized by prefabricated housing projects, the area in eastern Berlin is regarded as a tough neighborhood with high levels of unemployment. Μany children here have troubled home lives. Siggelkow and his staff ensure that these kids don’t spend all their time on the streets or in front of screens.
“The ranch significantly improves what we can offer them,” he says confidently. “In Berlin, kids face the pressures and frantic pace of life in a big city on top of the stressful school and family life. Here in the countryside, they have the space to run free,” says the animal lover in jeans and rubber boots. He admits to often feeling himself shift down a gear, too, on the journey from the capital back to Schulzendorf.
Young visitors from The Ark in Berlin's Hellersdorf arrive once a week, but he has also welcomed children from the charity’s various other centers. What’s more, the ranch is open to children and families from the surrounding areas. Siggelkow works with schools in Berlin and takes children with behavioral problems to the countryside. “We take on elementary school children who get suspended from classes for a whole week because the teachers don’t know how else to deal with them,” explains the pastor. “When they arrive, they are often aggressive and think they’re incredibly tough, although in reality they are fragile and vulnerable,” he adds. After their time on the farm, many of them are completely changed. “Working with animals teaches them that making an effort has its rewards.” As a result, their attitude to school also shifts. “Suspensions don’t help children. Here, we can achieve a lot with very little.” In his experience, “these young people come to realize it’s worthwhile working at school rather than just being a nuisance.”
Born in Hamburg in 1964, Bernd Siggelkow also grew up in difficult circumstances. After his mother abandoned the family while he was still a child, he was raised by his grandmother and sick father. He has a business qualification and completed his theological training with the Salvation Army. For several years, including after he came to Berlin, he served as a youth pastor. In 1995, he set up The Ark, a Christian charity that opens doors for underprivileged children and teens, in Berlin’s Hellersdorf district.
Today, there are 22 centers across Germany. Some 180 staff members and interns in addition to roughly the same number of volunteers serve 4,000 children and teens warm meals, help with their homework, and encourage them to participate in sports and music as well as other beneficial recreational activities. The Ark’s offerings also extend to vacation camps, parent liaisons, and assistance finding training positions. The aim is to help boys and girls – often from difficult backgrounds – to not only gain self-confidence and social skills but also reach their full potential and broaden their educational horizons.
The Ark is financed by donations. Bernd Siggelkow has already published a number of books on the subject of child poverty as well as an autobiography entitled Papa Bernd. He has received the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany and Order of Merit of Berlin in recognition of his work.
The group of children from Leipzig come from Eutritzsch, a socially mixed neighborhood. “Our facility is attended by both underprivileged children and those from good homes,” says Adrienn Schmidt, head of The Ark in Leipzig, who accompanies the group. All of them benefit from getting out of the city for a day and spending time in nature together with animals. “This is a rare opportunity for most of them. “Many children never get to experience the peace that the countryside offers,” emphasizes Schmidt. For some of the kids from The Ark in Berlin, this is their first excursion ever, adds Siggelkow. “The hour-and-a-half journey seems like a world tour to them.”
For the group from Leipzig, the journey home is twice as long. Later Adrienn Schmidt reports that, the moment they got home, many of the children signed up for the next trip to Schulzendorf in summer: “They’ll be talking about visiting the farm for weeks to come.”
RED NOSE DAY
ProSieben has already collected more than 12 million euros in donations in honor of RED NOSE DAY. With this initiative, the broadcaster has demonstrated its enduring commitment to social responsibility. For years, the proceeds have helped needy children in Germany and throughout the world. Beneficiaries of the ProSieben drive include The Ark centers, a shelter operated by the Off Road Kids Foundation, a soccer-focused boarding school in Haiti opened after an earthquake as well as schools in Syrian refugee camps.
The charitable campaign originated in the UK and was introduced to Germany by the broadcaster in 2003. From its beginnings as a daylong comedy event, the initiative has grown into a donation drive lasting several weeks. Many celebrities get involved and wear a red nose for a good cause.
2015 marked the first year that all proceeds went to just one project: the Ark’s new facility in Berlin’s Treptow neighborhood. In 2016, The Ark’s children’s ranch in the Brandenburg village of Schulzendorf was able to open its doors thanks to a check for the RED NOSE DAY money. At the farm, children and families have the chance to experience nature and animals up close. The RED NOSE DAY donation drive in May 2017 focused on The Ark’s plans for a new center in Herne.