Target Group

Mereyim G.

Teilnehmerinnen der Frauenschwimmgruppe

Participant of the BIG project:

“It is the most ordinary thing to know how to swim, to visit the swimming pool, or to work out. This is what you think! But for me, being a Muslim woman, it is impossible … because due to religious reasons I cannot visit a swimming pool that is used by men and women. One year ago, that was my statement. Today I say: ‘Nonsense!’ I can work out and learn how to swim and visit the swimming pool ? thanks to BIG …. Every week, I can hardly wait to visit the women-only indoor pool hours.”

Project Offices

STATEMENT:  My Experience with the BIG Project

Erlangen, 30 November 2006

Isabel Klein, head of the BIG project office in the Anger neighborhood

How I learned about and became involved in BIG | The first meeting: The adventure playground | Meeting of the three “settings” at the university | The first meeting of the cooperative planning group at the university | Steering group sessions | The taster courses | The physical activity classes | The questionnaires for the scientific evaluation | Women-only indoor pool hours | Running the project office | The future | Conclusion

How I learned about and became involved in BIG

I used to attend the mother-child group on Hertlein Straße in Erlangen with my son. This institution is free of charge for the mothers of small children living in the Anger neighborhood. The institution offers support to women like me in our everyday lives, and it helps us socialize with other women from the neighborhood.
One morning about a year and a half ago, Mrs. Seidenstücker came to my mother-child group looking for women who would like to work on the BIG project. I was immediately interested because the project she was describing was exactly what was missing in my neighborhood: affordable exercise programs for women.


The first meeting: The adventure playground

At the first meeting I was surprised at the project’s professional approach, and I liked it.
There were microphones recording the discussions, they offered food and drinks for the women and children, had people to watch the children while we talked about the project, and they paid 25EUR to each woman for participating.
At the time I had no idea about how big and complicated the project was. During the first session I wondered how a person could spend two hours trying to answer three questions.  They asked me “Where were the sports facilities in the area?  Which places was I already familiar with?  Where would I like to exercise?” and asked for the answers using maps of my city and neighborhood.  Later on I understood the project better and the reasons why they wanted such complete answers: there was lots of planning to do.


Meeting of the three “settings” at the university

Unfortunately, many women did not attend the second meeting. Of those who came back, most were there, I knew, because they needed the 25EUR. As time passed, it turned out that the women who stayed on were those who were interested in the project itself. They looked at the money as recognition for the time and effort they were putting into the project.
It turned out that people from three different “settings” would be at this meeting, although I had no idea what that meant at the time. People introduced themselves, got to know each other and exchanged experiences. I learned a lot about the background and context of BIG and realized that I was not alone in what I lived.
As I was told later, I was to introduce our setting to the other two groups together with councilwoman Niclas. I did not know anything about all those people’s positions and tasks yet, and I didn’t really care at the time either.


The first meeting of the cooperative planning group at the university

At the next meeting I saw that the BIG project had quite a lot of connections in my neighborhood. During the workshop, I saw familiar faces from various neighborhood facilities and associations.  Every once in a while things got a little disorganized and I could see that the project was “still in the making”, but it was fun to be there, to learn about the BIG project, and to learn from all the different organizations that were there.
It was also nice because I also got to know the other women involved in the project.  There were a lot of Muslim women that I met or had a chance to talk with more, as well as German women.  We organized car pools to get to meetings together and I liked the feeling of community that we experienced as women, without the separation between Muslim and German because we were all women.
In my opinion, the meetings were successful because the children were taken care of so well during the discussions. The nannies were very kind and there was always something to eat for the kids. My children always enjoyed the meetings and made new friends there. They would even ask me: “When do we go to the BIG project again?”  It also helped a lot that the university offered to take care of the children in the gym, where the children could run around and play while we discussed.


Steering group sessions

The next level of meetings was the steering group sessions.  All of a sudden I was sitting at the same table with the mayor of Erlangen, Gerd Lohwasser, the managers of local sports clubs, staff members of the Bavarian Sports Association (BLSV), and others. They were all very interesting and important people…and right in between: me! the small fry from the Anger neighborhood.  Wow!
During the meeting I realized how important it was to represent the interests of the women from the Anger neighborhood.  Everybody had their own point of view, but some of the people quite forgot that the project was all about the women. I started to understand why I was at the table with them.
Many participants in those meetings did not have my experience when it came to daily grass-roots work. As a single parent, I think I have a good understanding of the concerns and needs of the so-called “underclass”. I tried to share my own experience with the other participants and was nicely surprised when I saw that they listened to what I had to say.

I also felt that I was taken seriously by the project coordinators. They supported my opinion during the meeting  – the opinion that the main goal of this kind of project is to bring women out of the house and to help them participate in social activities and public life again. I was glad for the support because the sports clubs, for example, had different ideas about the project: they wanted to take all kinds of medical tests on the women before and after exercise and didn’t consider what we wanted and needed.  The discussion made everyone think twice about their own views.


The taster courses

I had plenty of fun with the other women during these courses.  We tried out different kinds of sports, and learned more about healthy nutrition and cosmetics. Unfortunately, there were not as many women as I expected there. What a pity, those two days were really exciting. A complete success!


The physical activity classes

At the beginning, the physical activity classes were pretty chaotic. Nobody really knew how things were supposed to work.
One problem was that the women did not use the changing rooms but would change right in the gym or walk into the gym in their outdoor shoes. Also, some of the classes were over-crowded, with up to 36 participants. Some women would bring their teenage daughters so that at times up to 45 people were sweating in one room…
Under these conditions, communication wasn’t always easy. It was a huge effort for the instructors to do the lessons for an entire hour without a microphone, since more women meant more noise.
Moreover, the nannies often had to bring children from the schoolyard or the lobby into the gym because many of the kids were not used to being separated from their mothers. Thus, there often was a group of infants playing in the same room where their mothers were exercising.
The nannies were very busy at the beginning. At times, they had to take care of up to 23 children from 0 to 12 years of age. As time passed, the number of children decreased slightly because the women taking the exercise classes brought their children only when absolutely necessary so that the classes could go on more smoothly.


The questionnaires for the scientific evaluation

The project questionnaires were quite detailed and difficult. I needed all the motivation I could find and 30 minutes of pure concentration. I had difficulty understanding many of the questions as they were sometimes posed in the negative form, and some questions appeared to be rephrased repetitions of others. I was glad when I was finished with them.
On the other hand, the questions made me think more about myself, my environment and my situation in life.  They were hard, but worth it.


Women-only indoor pool hours

This part of the project was a great success! I took part in it myself, and it was always a great experience. I had the feeling of coming to a Turkish bazaar or place of pilgrimage.
It was a great learning experience for most of us.  Many Muslim women have no experience with swimming pools. Some would leave their clothes in the changing room, while others went swimming in leggings and long-sleeved shirts. Once a woman’s clothes got so soaked that she was hardly able keep swimming and get out of the pool again!  We all had a lot of fun anyways.
Most Muslim women don’t know how to swim, so we spontaneously organized swimming lessons. Muslim women mingled with German women, creating a happy and colorful community with a truly special atmosphere that I haven’t experienced in Germany before. It was a little like being on vacation.
In the future, we also plan to have swimming lessons for children during the women-only indoor pool hours. The women will then have the opportunity to go swimming by themselves while their children are being taken care of.


Running the project office

My part-time job (7.5 hours per week) in the project office was a big step for the project. I had to figure out everything by myself (but): finding office space, negotiating contract conditions, buying furniture, having a phone line installed, setting up the computer and fax machine, getting office supplies, etc. Fortunately, Ulrike Roeger was there to help me during the first few weeks.
Only after these first steps could I really begin to work on the project. I established contacts, planned courses, talked to the city’s Adult Education Center (VHS) and to many women, too. I also made arrangements with a designer, a print shop, and various illness funds.
My work also included taking care of the office management, which took quite a lot of my time. I had to send group letters to the women, deal with the scheduling of our gym time, etc. In addition, the BIG project took part in various events: the physician’s congress in the castle of Erlangen, the congress “Living together in Erlangen” at the community center, and “Healthy Living in Bavaria” hosted by the state’s ministry of health.

Planning and organizing the courses took a lot of time. For four consecutive weeks, I attended all classes in order to answer the women’s questions, collect the course fee, fill out the attendance lists and to be there if problems came up.

I did not have nearly enough working hours to do everything, and so could only perform the most important tasks. I am therefore glad that, starting in late November, I will have a new colleague to assist me.


The future

Although things are not working out exactly the way I would like, I am pleased enough with what we have achieved in the past six months. We have established the basis and necessary contacts for the project.
We plan a BIG women’s breakfast every first Tuesday of the month to bring the women back into the project planning process.
Moreover, we want to increase public awareness of the BIG project by involving the media and by inviting policy makers to come and see what we are doing.



I am glad that I came across the BIG project as I have always wanted to contribute to the welfare of my community.  BIG provides me with an opportunity to provide lower-class women with a “moving” alternative in a field where politicians have failed.
I have confidence in those responsible for the BIG project and have a good relationship with them.  I enjoy working on the project and rising to the challenges and obstacles that we meet along the way.
In the future, I hope to be able to share my experiences with others interested in BIG as I am convinced that the concept will be successful in the long run.

Thank you BIG!!!


Klaus ProbstKlaus Probst

social worker in the neighborhood “Am Anger”:

“The concept of cooperative planning was key to the success of BIG.
Women coming from the target group participated in planning and
implementing from the very beginning onwards.”


Gisela Niclas Gisela Niclas

“The participating women were not turned into research objects; instead their interests are the central focus and they determine the process of development in the BIG project. The scientific outcomes of BIG will be groundbreaking for a municipal health policy that aims at integration and sustainability.”


Yale University/School of Public Health

Lowell Levin

Lowell Levin

Clearly, the BIG project created an exceptionally rich model promoting public health with an emphasis on meeting the challenges of health improvement for disadvantaged groups, and doing so with cultural sensitivity, equity, sustainability, and, perhaps most important, the empowerment of the target group.

BIG’s many innovations in structure and methodology, including criteria for measuring impact, are certainly worthy of application in Germany and the European region.

WHO European Office for Investment for Health and Development

Erio Ziglio

Erio Ziglio

The issues that the project is trying to address are very important surely in Germany but also in many European countries. I propose that the project becomes one of the case studies of how the health system in cooperation with other sectors can promote health and confront issues of poverty and risks of social isolation.