visited asylum seekers’ centres frequently for my work. Each time
my fingers itched to do something. One out of every three residents
in asylum seekers’ centres is a child. We seem to forget this
because they are asylum seekers. You often see them hanging around
outside. We know that it is important for children who have lived
through shocking experiences to be heard. But somehow we don’t
apply this knowledge to these children. We are only concerned about
whether they are allowed to stay here or not.
felt it was time for some pragmatism, just doing something, making
sure in any case that the children were given more space and
opportunity. From pre-vious experience I knew that art, theatre and
other creative activities are highly suitable for this. Earlier I
worked for VluchtelingenWerk [working with refugees]. I worked with
children on drama projects in both the Netherlands and in refugee
camps in the Philippines. Initially
I tried to persuade other organisations to incorporate my plan. But
wherever I went there were always good reasons why this was not
possible. There was only one option: set up an organisation myself.
I sought two other people and we set up Vrolijkheid [Happiness]. A
positive name indeed, our starting point is the natural resilience
that children have and we reinforce this.
DOEN Foundation took on the risk, they were the first financers. In
the first year we did as many different things as possible with
music, theatre, dance and visual arts, for a variety of age groups
and always together with artists with a refugee background. Our aim
was to discover which form had the best impact on the children. We
began with a franchise model, but that didn’t work. You need to be
particularly well-motivated to persevere with that work. It is very
demanding and financially unrewarding. This is often a problem for
organisations, but not for people, which is why we quickly, and once
again with DOEN’s -support, changed our approach.
organisation based on the -commitment that already exists. If there
are at least five people wanting to establish Vrolijkheid in an
asylum seekers’ centre we give support in the form of money and
training. We work according to five key concepts: trust, story,
reliance, -happiness and safety. If
you say you are going to do something, you must actually do it. The
children must be able to depend on you. With the activities, there
has to be room for the story. It is not therapy, we believe in
children’s own strength to cope with difficult situations such as
parting, loss and uncertainty, as long as they have the space, the
tools and the opportunities. The concept of happiness speaks for
itself. And finally, it must always be completely safe for
children.There must always be one supervisor for every five
children, so that there is a safety-buffer if a child becomes upset,
for example, and this of course does happen.
is not ours. Anyone who wants to join in can do so. Within the five
key concepts, of course, and with contracts and a certificate of
moral conduct. Guarantees that it is safe. Furthermore, people at
the local level may and should be involved as the occasion requires
and as and when ne-cessary. Every situation is different. We are
here in the office to offer support. Like the spider in the web. We
set Vrolijkheid up as a network organisation and it has remained so.
This means that, at our head office, we repeatedly discuss letting
go. I have always said that we must stop if we become superfluous.
That is ultimately our goal. But at the moment that’s not yet
possible. For example, you don’t apply for national subsidies
individually but collectively. In
the past years we have reached more than 30,000 children and
youngsters. We are currently organising weekly activities in 40
centres and, at some, on a daily basis. Ideally, every day
everywhere. In the meantime we are developing new projects, projects
with parents and children, collaboration with local museums and
orchestras, and our own youngsters’ communities.
has been able to make a genuine difference in the lives of many
people. Youngsters, who we worked with as children, now help the
next generation of children. Or take Ayaan, for example: Vrolijkheid
was so important for her daughter in the centre that she wanted to
do something for us once her life was in order. Ayaan is now a
member of the board. These are the gifts that we often receive now. Artists
are disconcertingly unconventional. Funny. Crazy. They don’t worry
about what asylum seekers are. I sometimes say that we are the only
‘normal’ Dutch people that visit the centres. Not that the others
don’t do good work because they do. But sometimes we do seem to be
the only ones who ignore the part of the residents’ lives that
involves being an asylum seeker, and look for and find all the other
stories, ambitions and talents. That is liberating.’This story was published in the book 20 Years of DOEN, 20 stories to mark the 20th anniversary of the Foundation. A Crown on our work!
We would like to thank Stichting DOEN for their support over the years.