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Eindhoven and the house that Jiaak built 

Our visit to Eindhoven was orchestrated by the wonderful Ingrid Van Der Wacht who put us in touch with Bron Van Doen, the coordinators of the Vreemdland programme - social design on migration, diversity and empowerment - at Dutch Design Week.

After the first night sleeping in a car park out of town – we have an insider’s view of life on the road -  for the next ten days we found ourselves parked outside Jongerenhuis – the Youth House – and their brilliant project De Huiskamer “the living room”.

Fifteen years ago a visionary man called Jiaak started this project. As he moved into accommodation for older people, he decided to invite two students and two refugees to share the house with him. His idea was that the students would pay enough rent so the refugees who could not afford to did not have to and everyone could be involved in supporting each other.

This concept was based on the belief that every young person in the Netherlands has the right to be able to develop into a responsible, involved, self-reliant and self-sufficient person. This reasoning also includes young people residing in the Netherlands who are newcomers, regardless of their status. The contact they have together allows the students and guests to develop together on an equal footing by broadening each others horizons and providing help to the local community.

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The project has increased now to include two accommodation buildings and extended recently into the “living room” of the residence, opening the doors to newcomers to access a range of educational and social opportunities in the heart of the community. For us, this was the exact place we hoped to visit with The Welcome Tent, people thinking creatively about our existing resources and pushing at the boundaries of what is possible.

A warm welcome takes absolute priority by the staff, residents and volunteers managing the space, although on paper many people accessing the building do not yet have a legally recognized future in the Netherlands. However, as Dawit reminded us the words of Elie Weisel: “no human being is illegal”.

Vreemdland

The Vreemland Exhibition was a collaborative cultural programme between the community at Jongerenhuis and connected projects Refu-Bikes and Buurtfabrik and wider partners - De Voorkamer, Hans Sauer Stiftung and The Welcome Tent. We were very glad to be part of this international community at Dutch Design Week, learning together and from each other during a serious of labs and cultural events.

With a little head-scratching and a lot of help from Netherlands, Ethiopia and Angola, The Welcome Tent was put up inside for the first time, taking over the room usually reserved for Dutch lessons.  As De Huiskamer was transformed into an Exhibition space, The Welcome Tent became an informal social and learning space, housing the piano and much of the comfy furniture from the rest of the building, a place for us to get to know each other and build new friendships. 

a true celebration of humanity by letting visitors experience through creative interventions how sharing our cultural values enriches us all
— Ingrid Van Der Wacht, Dutch Design Foundation
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One evening we co-hosted an inspirational evening with guests and volunteer activists Merel Graeve from The Netherlands and Jony Haj Younes and Hussein Parkour from Kurdistan, hearing about their journeys to Europe and their experiences setting up Bê Sînor Sinatex Cultural Centre in Greece in response to the needs of hundreds of displaced children stuck in refugee camps in Greece. Another evening we organised and prepared a ‘recipes of HOPE’ Angolan meal for eighty people to accompany the De Voorkamer Cultural Evening. This was the first time many of the volunteers had worked in a professional kitchen setting, preparing and serving food to members of the public.

Throughout the ten day exhibition we shared our experiences with Dutch Design Week visitors about our experiences in Calais and our journey so far, facilitating group discussions accompanied by Sudanese Chai tea and Doughnuts. We had piano performances, the reciting of poetry and spontaneous musical and artistic collaborations. People shared stories about their grandparents during the second world war, stories about fleeing their own homes due to conflict and war and the importance of peace in this ever more turbulent world. One of the most memorable moments was the reading of Ben Ali Libi, by Marcio from Angola, a poem about a magician in Concentration Camp in the second world war, shared with us by Dick who founded RefuBikes in Eindhoven.

What we learned

We learned a huge amount during this ten day period. We were reminded how important it is to have a collective understanding of shared aims where diverse groups and projects use a shared space. There was significant learning about the extent of the emotional strength and resilience needed to live day to day with an uncertain future. We were reminded that humanitarian standards must reach beyond merely needs, to enable people to achieve their “dreams”.

Our experience in Eindhoven reaffirmed our understanding that when new and culturally diverse groups come together, we must remove judgement and expectation, so that people can be themselves, explore, learn and share experiences together at their own pace, rebuilding relationships organically. Whether someone chose to sit quietly and charge their mobile for an hour or play the piano - they were both deemed a success, because it demonstrated that people felt “welcome” enough to be able to do this. We found that Jongerenhuis worked to similar values as The Welcome Tent, created by the incredible dedicated and warm staff and volunteers that ran the building. This was a community that welcomed everyone, regardless of status, who walked in the front door.

As Jiaak described, this is a house that “fell from heaven”, a 'home’, albeit temporarily, for many who have been displaced from their own.

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As we were waiting for our taxi to go to our next destination on the DDW, 2 people came up to us and asked if we wanted to go and visit another exposition nearby while we were waiting. At first we weren’t as interested because we already had another place to go to. But they offered us a free coffee if we would pay a visit to the exposition. And who says no to a free cup of coffee? As we arrived there I immediately looked around if I could find a bar were they served coffee or other beverages. A nice man came up to us and asked if we knew what this exposition was. We said no and he showed us the first exhibition from the building. It was the Welcome Tent.
Immediately as we walked in, we got a nice hello and a tennis ball from a nice dog. Me as a tremendous dog lover and owner, couldn’t resist his sweet face and decided to take a look. It was a tent filled with 3 chairs, a small table, carpet, the walls filled with pictures from people and events and next to it a small kitchen where Sparky made us some tea. Emma told us that the tent was an old army catering tent. They recycled it and decided to give a new twist to it and make it a tent of second chances and peace. Emma, Sparky and their son travel around Europe making a difference. Not only to help the people who need it and listen to their stories, but also to collect new ‘recipes of HOPE’ for their cook book. It’s not your usual cookbook, but one with recipes in it from people for example in Palestine or Africa. Because everybody loves food, right? It doesn’t matter if you live in a third world country, a first world country, if you are black, white or asian. Everybody is the same and deserves to have the same human rights.

I also asked Emma and Sparky a few questions about the things I would love to know about their travels and what they find the most beautiful place they have ever visited.

What made you and your husband decide to go across borders?
Our lives really changed after we volunteered in Calais in 2015. We met people who had escaped conflict in their own countries being forced to live in inhumane conditions in Northern France. This included many children: even though they had the right to apply for asylum in the UK, they were not allowed to enter the UK. This inhumane treatment of many people is still happening at many of the borders throughout Europe.

What makes your work so special?
The people that we meet. Volunteers, activists, artists, musicians, cooks, poets and so many more. We are learning from people on the move. People who have escaped conflict or refused to fight against their own people. We are collecting recipes of HOPE from the people that we meet. The journeys that many people have travelled require such strength, determination and courage that we as individuals, and as a society, can learn from.

You have traveled to a lot of countries, what would be the most beautiful/ special place you have visited?

The most special place is The Welcome Tent itself because it is a place where it doesn’t matter where you come from, or what your background is. Instead we focus on our shared interests and dreams. We had a beautiful moment in Jongerenhuis when we had a spontaneous piano concert for a couple of hours on Sunday afternoon. Everyone is welcome.

Name one thing you can never get used to during traveling?

I like a hot shower and that is not always possible on the road.

What is your opinion on how the media looks at refugees in the UK or around the world?
We have been disgusted by much of the media representation of refugee communities - there seems to be a political agenda behind many of stories. We have respect for the journalists and media organizations who present a truthful and balanced view of the current situation, which focus on the real human stories. We discussed more about discrimination in the media about refugees and that the media tends to only show the negative side of refugees. For example, when a white man hits another person and starts a riot, the media uses 9/10 times this kind of title to start their article with, “Man hits another man and starts a riot.” But when a refugee or a person of colour hits another person and the media writes about it, the title 9/10 times is: “Black man aggressively hits a man and starts an enormous riot.” See the difference? Most people notice it, but due this kind of influence by the media we tend to look in a more discriminatory way towards refugees.

I also can’t deny the fact that there are bad people that want to ruin the second chances for refugees that actually come to our country to start over again. But the people I spoke to in Eindhoven that lived in the Jongerenhuis, they came to The Netherlands because they do want to make a good chance. We all agreed that things need to change quickly in order to give all refugees a second chance.

A few refugees that live there, work in a bicycle repair store called Refu-Bikes. One of the workers showed me a project they were working on. It involved recycling old parts of bikes to make new ones, such as the steering wheel of an old rusted bike or a drive chain. They fix it up and put all of the good parts from an old bike together and create a new one. Also one of the refugees showed a new way to protect your drive chain. They covered it with a thin plastic strap to prevent it from break or getting lose. And I was actually flabbergasted that I’ve never seen that before. It was such a simple solution for a problem many people have to deal with.

After spending a good hour in the Jongerenhuis and listening to the stories everybody had to tell us, I actually didn’t want to leave. Everybody was so welcoming, cozy and cordial. You could just feel the kindness spreading through the tent and the building. Also the way everybody told us about their stories and jobs gave you the hope that there are still people out there that are willing to change the world with every little bit they’ve got to offer. And it’s just a very pleasant feeling when you go somewhere just for a free cup of coffee and end up with prodigious stories and a great cup of tea, that’s not your usual English blend.
— Nina K, Media Student, Eindhoven