Oesterreich: Ute Bock

It is not wise to establish a group of underprivileged people. Even if these people can, or are forced to, move back to their homeland, it is better that they learn something here.

— Ute Bock

Ute Bock worked professionally for many years as a social worker and educator. In the early 1990s, she started to take care of teenage immigrants. She also took in underage refugees from countries at war, who came to Austria on their own looking for asylum. Ute Bock was the last hope for many teenage immigrants for whom nobody else cared. Her small project has grown into a community of 50 apartments where over 200 people find a home. She has also provided a legal address and legal aid for more than 1000 immigrants so that they can pursue their asylum procedures.

A note on the door, written with highlighter, announces: “This way to Mama Bock.” Two dozen Africans are squeezed into the tiny storefront quarters on Zollergasse in Vienna. Some are at computers surfing the Internet while others are sitting around shooting the breeze. “Mama Bock” is an address for them, a place where they hope to find refuge, shelter, or where they have already been given help. Ute Bock was a social worker even before such a word had been coined. In those days, they were called something like “tutor.” Nearly a hundred homeless people seeking asylum, by far most from Africa, have been given shelter in apartments that Ute Bock has rented at her own personal expense. The majority of those seeking asylum in Austria receive neither room nor board, nor medical care from the state, not to mention work permits. Ute Bock, a spirited retiree, has rented apartments for them. Each and every month, she pays on average 10,000 euros for rent, gas, and electricity. Not that Ute Bock ever wanted to become what she is now! “Mama Africa” is what TV-broadcasters call her. “Grande Dame of the Outcasts” is one of the other names the media uses. She often is not so kindly received when, for instance, she is riding the streetcar, for it is not very seldom that she hears herself being cursed at as “Niggermama” by some of her fellow Viennese. And that for someone who cannot stand reggae! But now she hears African rhythm on and on in the little storefront headquarters. She jests, “You are upping the penalty!” when a group of young Africans join in and chant along to Bob Marley’s “Get Up! Stand Up!” African cuisine? “Never tried it.” She has also missed some other things: “I never got around to starting a family.” No, but what she does have are about a thousand men who call her “Mama.”