Continuing our series of blogs from the Community Building team I couldn't not share these two inspiring tales..... Back in April of this year I was fortunate to participate and share experiences for a couple of days with Community Builders and residents in Amsterdam. There are many great stories to share but two stories stand out; the first the wonderful transformations taking place in a residential block and the second an inspiring tale of community building.
The Kornehorst is a 360 flat residential block with mostly older people and 22 different cultures. I was lucky enough to spend an hour with Jeannette and meet many other residents to hear about the extraordinary changes they are making.
Jeannette has helped start a whole range of activities that are bringing people together - monthly bingo for 80 people, residents security (they sit 11pm to 3am each night in doorways to stop drug dealers, 'pimps' and others plying 'services'), trips out, corridor parties and more. Two years ago 33 flats were empty now there is a waiting list. But far better than my description see this 12 minute interview with Jeannette below. Update December 2016: I've added a wee bit about spome of the things that have been happening at Kornehorst in teh last six months.
2. Hearing from Dutch resident and Community Builder, Marieka Jongmans.
After sharing a meal together at the Studio K café we heard a powerful talk by Marieka (pictured with her dog on lap below), her mum and her two colleagues - they all used the word ‘colleague’ instead of support worker or other term. Marieka’s energy, sense of humour and enjoyment of bringing people together shone through in the stories we heard. Below is an inspiring taster!
Marieke is 36 years old and has been living five years on her own in a beautiful house with a little dog. Marian is Marieke’s mother and starts by telling the story of Marieke moving into a new neighbourhood. She didn’t know anyone, so first up she posted a note in every door: 'I am recently moved into the neighborhood, come and get a drink.'
A lot of people turned up and it was striking how little people knew each other. This drinks party led to another bigger party. There was however a particular neighbor, who kept himself to himself who no one really knew. To many people’s surprise he arrived and said, “A lot has happened since Marieke lives here. It’s all good." He then left but it was a start of connecting to him.
Marieke has many other stories about her full life as she continues to connect and build links in her community. At one point a child was asked at her school to do a project. She said ‘Can I do it about Marieke and the party?‘ Marieka then was invited to the school and when the children met her, they all invited her to their school race. Marieke loves children and readily went along. From relationships she has made, Marieka now does childminding and every Wednesday children come to play at her house – and the parents come along to eat!
Marieka has also been looking for other work in the neighborhood. She found it in a convenience store where she made five applications before being accepted. She and a colleague fill bags and sit behind the cash register where she can see everyone and get to know them. She also works a few hours in a garden centre with Tarik, one of her colleagues. He is a young Turkish man who also swims regularly with her, and is keen to learn Dutch. Marieka’s response was to say that when he walks along with her he can only talk in Dutch! He is learning!
It was great to hear these stories . As Marieka said, “It is all about building on what we have, not what we haven’t got or can’t do”.
Marieke used to live in a large residential home with day care but was determined to find another way. She said it “may have been safe for the rest of my life but it was about daring to leave that path”. She says that as soon as people see what is possible, they do the same thing. It is inspiring others to think differently. She certainly inspired me!
The Roles of Marieka;
-Coach of children
-colleague of neighborhood worker
-employee of e supermarket
-customer of the local shops
-Organizer of neighborhood events
-Deenemer community worker groups
-'help teacher ‘ re Dutch
Update December 2016
I recently had an update from Birgit in the Koornhorst (KH). She writes: 'Many little things, many activities, many changes. Too much to tell about all what happened.. but here are some new developments and activities’. Birgit then want on to list a couple of pages of changes; I can’t resist sharing some of those here:
Changemakersday; residents celebrating residents who have made a difference in the KH like the people who always care about neighbours when they need anything. People knew each other better at the end of the day and they ended with giving each other compliments, described as 'a really magic and joyful moment…' In May they also started with Tea & Cake-sessions on every second Friday; the first 2 times 10 people came and now there are about 30-50 people each time. People come together, just to chat, to hear more about what‘s happening in the Koornhorst, news about neighbours, about their plans, initiatives, problems they want to solve with each other or with the care organization, discussions with the new resident board, etc. It is described as a kind of ‘waterpump’ in a village and a new ritual to meet each other in an informal and cozy setting. There are many other new groups in KH; a garden group, a fishing group, new cooking groups, an excursion group and a welcome group. The group of women walkers mentioned in the blog joined a big Walkers event in the Olympisch Stadion in Amsterdam.
There have also been several other festivals about community care in the KH involving residents; one looked at everyones talents, another looked as ‘how to deal with trouble/conflict while another was about residents wishes, cultural habits and opinions. Social workers have also visited and been treated to stories and activities organised by residents.
One issue they are exploring particularly is ‘how to keep it good with each other’. As they note, community building is not a project, not about organizing working groups, but something which is really part of our daily life and demands that we are getting involved really personal. Living together, deciding things in a collective democratic way, planning and organizing things together – all that asks something we don’t really learn at school... I am sure in another six months there will be even more to report!