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.
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”.
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.
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.