(Helen Tummers, 16 Oct 2017)
As a volunteer, I have been active in a Dutch ‘asielzoekersentrum’, or ‘azc’ for short, for over a year. An exact translation for this institute would be an ‘asylum seekers centre’, a centre where people seeking asylum in The Netherlands, such as refugees, are being housed. In this centre, they stay while they potentially wait for a residence permit and a place of their own. The organisation that is in control of these centres and the housing of asylum seekers is ‘Centraal Orgaan opvang asielzoekers’ (COA for short).
The matter of refugees and asylum seekers is a delicate one that we hear a lot about in the media. I always felt a strong sense of empathy when hearing about the issue. I felt like I wanted to help, not by indirect efforts but by directly working with the people involved. On top of that I wanted to learn more about the concern and people myself and not base my perception on what I saw and heard in the media. Furthermore, I had always been passionate about working with children. Thus, the idea to start working with the children in the centre was born.
I decided to take the plunge and contact the centre near my hometown. Immediately, they were enthusiastic and I could join an on-going project called ‘de Kunstfabriek’. This means that within the centre, another girl and I organise weekly activities for the children living there. We for example do arts and crafts, drawing, painting or play outside. On certain holidays we do themed activities, such as painting the children’s faces during Halloween.
The work we do at the centre gives me great pleasure. It is a diverse group of children we’re working with, but at the moment the vast majority of the children living at the centre are Syrian. Many of these children have been through a lot. In my opinion, it is important to make them feel like carefree children again and give them a fun time. In return, they make me laugh and have a fun time as well. Of course, the children can be a hand-full at times, but we have a lot of fun together. It is a wonderful feeling to see them smiling and enjoying themselves during activities. Also, we are often surprised by their creativity and skills!
My work at the centre is one of the main reasons I started realising that I wanted to further increase my academic knowledge in the humanitarian field, to be of more help to people. When I came across the programme of Public Policy and Human Development, I knew this would be the perfect way to achieve this.