There is a great gap between theory and practice. One of the central aims of my studies program in general and the internship phase in particular, is to bridge the gap between theory: the academic world, and real life: the practice, the reality. There is no doubt that this is very important, I believe that all of us know how far theory can be removed from reality. As students, many times we ask ourselves: what can we do with all the important knowledge we gain, particularly when studying areas of research in the Humanities. How can we bring the theory to life?

These days I have a very interesting opportunity to engage with these questions, and to step out from university into the real world, where there are real people with real experiences. Working in Zaandam with Marleen Kramer has opened my eyes to new areas of conflicts and dilemmas that usually cannot be found in the theory level. Marleen is a coordinator for “De Bron”, a Christian organization which is located in a house in Zaandam, in the Poelenburg neighbourhood. The aim of this house is first of all to serve the local people in the neighbourhood and to be a space where the residents can meet, talk, and have different activities. The work in this house started last September, so everything is in the beginning of the process.

Marleen does an amazing work when trying to build up a network in the neighbourhood of people, that will advertise the place between the residents. This is not easy. Building up a network takes a lot of time, energy, and patience. Together we are trying to reach as many people as we can, and doing a lot of PR work in the online and the offline spaces. We literally distribute flyers in the neighbourhood and we are also active in social media, for example we have a new facebook page: (check it out)!

In the house there are different activities, besides the fact that everybody can walk in for a coffee, tea or just for a talk, there are also meetings for women only on Monday afternoons (Praathuis voor vrouwen). We have many ideas for the future like cooking workshops, childrens’ activities, lectures in different topics and so on and on. But… this is too early to plan. Right now the main challenge that we are facing, is how to inform the local residents about the house, and to build a network of people that will start taking part in the activities, regularly.

So the big question is HOW? How do we do this? It seems that the key word, is TRUST. How to build trust? In this area of Zaandam, most of the population are migrants. This raises some questions that I am asking myself and I am also asking you. Do you think that the Christian identity of this house, and of De Bron is problematic for the non-Christian migrants? Would you go to a community centre like this, which is organized by people from different religious background than yours? Does it matter? I must emphasize that although De Bron is founded by churches and identifies with Christian values and spirit, the work itself is inspired of course from universal values, and the space that we are trying to create is absolutely for everybody.

Besides the religious aspect, creating trust is not easy when we understand the relationships with the Dutch authorities and the migrants. From what I understood many of the migrants do not trust the Dutch government on the national level, and neither on local level (gemeente). Why would they come to a house that is ran by native Dutch? What do you think?

In addition of the trust problems, we cannot ignore the fact that in this specific area there is a high percentage of unemployment, and people are dealing with many socio-economical problems. This type of hard life, and surviving mood, doesn’t leave much time to be active in the community and to take part in activities in the neighbourhood. I can totally understand that! Who has time to come for a coffee when you need to support a family, to raise children, and on top of it, to learn Dutch and deal with many issues that migrants have?

But, nevertheless we believe that this space in the house can reduce the pressure of daily life, and can be a useful platform for a dialogue, or for sharing your daily life experiences, and maybe to make new friends from the area. Social life is very important as well, and can be very significant when trying to build up new life in a new country, and this I know myself as a migrant.

Well, it is not all negative, I must say that in the last three weeks in Zaandam, I found out that there are many Dutch residents from the neighbourhood that are very active, and above all, they care very much about the area they live in. Completely voluntary, they arrange different activities, and work many hours a week in order to create a better future for their neighbourhood, together with the migrants.

It would be interesting for me to know what you think, so please feel free to comment! I hope that in the next weeks of the internship me and Marleen will start to see some results of the hard work. What do you think?  What do you think these residents really need? can we provide it? How can we create the trust?

If you are from the area please come to visit us! Or let me know if you have any special insights about the neighbourhood! Or any tips to advertise the place!

Until next time!




Ronie Barel

verhuisde van Israël naar Nederland, activist, blogger

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