Home Away From Home, a project funded by Erasmus +, has been looking for good examples of projects and initiatives that contribute to the integration of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants in European societies and are executed with the involvement of young people. Home Away From Home aims to support young people, bring together and share knowledge and expertise and stimulate peer learning. Five organizations, from five European countries, participate in Home Away From Home. These are Tumult, from Belgium, the World of NGOs from Austria, the Centre for Peace, Nonviolence and Human Rights from Croatia, forumZFD from Germany and the University of Westminster from the UK.

Researchers from these countries searched for inspirational practices. The project takes place over a period of two years (2017-2019). A training week and two study visits are part of the research. For the second study visit the researchers traveled to Mechelen and got to know inspirational practices from Belgium. Here we met the enthusiastic Ilse. She is the organizer of the initiative ‘Zidde gij oek van Sinnekloas?’. The event is named after the title of an old Flemish song “Are you also from Sint-Niklaas?”, sung in the strong accent in which the locals of this town speak.

Ilse organized a benefit where she collected 2800 euros and a lot of clothes. She donated the proceeds to VLOS (Vluchtelingen Ondersteuning Sint-Niklaas), a local organization that supports refugees.

For her post graduate in sustainable development Ilse choose to do an internship at Flemish Refugee Action. Here she worked on their campaign Gastvrije Gemeente.

“Many students of the post graduate went abroad. But I thought: you don’t have to go abroad to help people. I can do that here as well.’”

The Gastvrije Gemeente campaign collects and shares projects and initiatives by, for and with refugees. Ilse decided she also wanted to organize an initiative in her city. What could she do? And for whom? “My idea: bringing refugees and locals from Sint-Niklaas together.” This is good for both parties. It broadens the social networks of newcomers and it changes perceptions and prejudices of locals by personally getting to know newcomers.
Ilse already knew that she wanted to do something to support VLOS. VLOS does a lot of good work and is completely dependent of volunteers. She had a clear idea of the benefit she wanted to organize. What did her idea look like?

A day on which all citizens of Sint-Niklaas get together and get to know each other. Newcomers and locals, sitting at one table, chatting with one another.

She wanted to focus on getting to know each other and each other’s cultures. Flemish and Afghan food, old Flemish games, live music, a game for the children, a cloths swap and in the evening a campfire.

Ilse called VLOS with the message that she wanted to host a benefit for them. She asked their opinion about her ideas. VLOS was enthusiastic and offered her their support. “I followed some of the advice I got, but some I choose to ignore. I had my own ideas and it was going to be my event. I wanted to keep most aspects of my original idea.”

Due to her enthusiasm and flexibility and with the help of her network in Sint-Niklaas, Ilse made sure her benefit took place in the way she wanted it to. VLOS provided support in the form of ingredients for the food, a chief cook and communication to the beneficiaries of VLOS. Ilse could make use of the location and material of the local Scouts. She could also use their firewood to build a campfire in the evening.

During the benefit a cloths swap took place. Many people swapped their cloths, but even more people just brought cloths and donated them.

Which factors played a role in the success of the benefit?
Ilse knows the town where she organized the benefit very well. She has a local network which contributed to making her benefit successful. Many people who came to the benefit where friends, family, acquaintances, neighbors, volunteers and beneficiaries of VLOS. She also received support from local organisations in the form of material and advice. Moreover, Ilse is very decisive and has great communication skills.

The advice Ilse would give to others who would like to organize a similar event in their hometown or city?
“1. Find enough people with whom you can cooperate well.
2. Find partners that can support you with material and location. This way you do not have to spend a lot of money.
3. Keep everyone posted on what you expect from them.
4. Promote your event well.”

This year Ilse will organize a benefit once more. The lessons she learned she will take with her to the second edition of the event. This time she will plan the event before or after Ramadan. This way more newcomers will attend. One last advice: reflect on your ideas. Find the right partners and hear their advice, but in the end make decisions you feel good about.

Do you want to organize an initiative or project? Get inspired at www.hafh.eu. Also have a look if you want to support already existing projects.


Photos by: Ilse Dullaert
Text by: Roos Bastiaan

March 26, 2019