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On Friday January 6th, the People for People Foundation and Young Colfield jointly organized a Rolling Aid Event at the asylum centre for unaccompanied minor refugees in Vierhouten. It was a day full of inspiration, sports, games and music. Jasper Karsten, Marketing Strategist at Young Colfield wrote below about his experience.

Humbled, inspired and touched. Those are the first words that come to mind, when looking back on last Friday’s Rolling Aid Event at the asylum centre for unaccompanied minor asylum seekers in Vierhouten. The event was organised by the People for People Foundation and Young Colfield, to connect, learn from each other’s culture, give insights into Dutch life, and make the boys that are living in the centre feel welcome.

I definitely feel grateful for the opportunity to meet around eighty authentic, warm-hearted boys. The boys are between the ages of 14 and 18, and fled without their families from Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Iran and Sudan. Boys that all brought a unique story and spirit and inspired me to be playful, cheerful and reflect on what truly matters in life. Humanity, family, and feeling safe, especially at home.

We started the day by dividing the boys and a translator into different groups based on their native language. My group consisted of seven Kurdish teenage boys who arrived in The Netherlands just months before. 

To open up the conversation, we started with short introductions and a drawing exercise. The assignment was to draw their ideal country to initiate a discussion about family, the war back home, school, and dreams for the future. At first, I felt hesitant when we took a deep-dive into the boys’ stories. To dream about reuniting with my family or being able to go to school, has fortunately never been something I had to worry about. Yet, these were all common desires that united the boys in my group. However, I quickly realized there was no need to be hesitant. Yuosef’s positive energy was infectious while he shared his hopes with us. His face lit up when he told us that he dreams of becoming an engineer and a goalkeeper for a Dutch Football club one day. Ayaz Eli jumped in on the excitement, and shared that he couldn’t wait to start school on Monday after four months of waiting at the asylum centre.

Although one of the participants was quite reserved during the introduction, he immediately knew what to do after the explanation of the exercise. After a few minutes of concentrated drawing, his paper showed a big flag of the Netherlands. Drawing the flag helped him to come out of his shell a bit more and he started explaining how his former home city was bombed during the Syrian civil war. The only thing he truly wanted was a safe home for him and his family, consisting of three siblings and his parents, who were still living in Kurdistan. The boys that drew a map of Kurdistan, told a similar story. They truly missed their family and dreamed of being reunited with them in a safe, welcoming country. 

After multiple open conversations, it was time for lunch. Or so I thought, before we could eat one of the boys grabbed my hand and pulled me into a circle they had formed. While an Arabic song was playing through a boombox, they taught me how to dance in sync with the music as we held hands tightly. Even though my Dutch sense of rhythm was different, the dancing proved to me that you don’t need language or the same background for true connection. 

Even though we could have danced for hours, there was a delicious lunch waiting for us. Zina Abboud, born and raised in Aleppo, Syria, had prepared a Syrian meal that ensured everyone grabbed seconds or thirds. Around ten years ago she fled from the war and was invited by two Dutch ladies, Liza en Jet, to celebrate New Year’s Eve at their home, when she was still staying in the AZC in Amsterdam. That night was the start of Zina’s Kitchen, which she officially opened in June 2016. A Syrian catering company, in which she offers cooking workshops, in home catering, and company catering.

With a full belly, we headed out to a nearby open field for a game of football led by sports trainer Jan. Multiple passionate matches ensued, in which the boys were flying on their brand new shoes that they had just received during the event.

After football, there was only one thing that could finish the day off in style… Of course, it was time for more dancing! Time flew by and before we knew it, we had to say goodbye. All in all, I can wholeheartedly say that it was a pleasure and an honour to spend a full day with those boys and meet the people volunteering in the asylum centre. The volunteers gave it their absolute one hundred percent to make every single kid feel at home in this foreign world. As one of the boys texted to a volunteer in almost perfect Dutch:

I had a very fun day and I really hope to repeat it. What I love the most about the day was your open mind and passion to make us happy. I would love you to send me some messages sometimes. Thanks a lot. You gave me the feeling as if you are my mother.

The event made me realise how grateful and humble I can be for the opportunities I have been given in this life and how I should not take that for granted. Life is really all about humanity, connection and looking out for each other especially those in need of extra help. In our Dutch individualistic society, I often find myself so focused on my own well-being, performance, and development. I lose sight of much more important values like helping others, family, kindness, and community. Feeling seen, heard and valued is all that matters and that is something that we can bring to the boys in Vierhouten and other asylum seekers in the Netherlands.  Sometimes, just showing others that we care and want to help is a step in the right direction!

Written by Jasper Karsten, Marketing Strategist at Young Colfield