‘A smile or simple conversation is worth so much’

A few years ago, Marc Speijers (53) got to know Welkom in Utrecht in a particularly interesting way. By going winter swimming with Katinka, one of the founders of Welkom in Utrecht, he heard about the many interesting projects that the foundation is involved in. He started working as a permanent volunteer to help refugees.

His desire to contribute something concrete and to work with refugees brought Marc here. ‘At Welkom in Utrecht they really think along with people. I really like the freedom I get. And as a volunteer I have some extra leeway to make a difference for someone. If a refugee has a problem with a gym, for example because there is a lack of clarity about his subscription, I will go with him to mediate. That does not fall under the tasks of Welkom in Utrecht, but it can influence someone’. He likes to contribute something small. ‘A chat with someone in the Kanaalstraat, exchanging a smile with someone at the AZC, it always motivates and stimulates me in my volunteer work. A simple conversation, a smile or a look of recognition, it is worth so much.’

At the moment Marc is mainly involved in registering asylum center residents for the U-pass and finding volunteer work for residents of the asylum center and status holders who live independently. ‘Many of the children and younger asylum center residents benefit greatly from a bicycle that they can buy with the U-pass credit. Because their school can be anywhere in Utrecht, travel time by public transport is sometimes long; then a bicycle is useful. I sometimes go with a resident to the bicycle shop to arrange a good bicycle together. Adults often use the U-pass to exercise. It is of course nice to be able to go to the gym for instance, and not to have to sit in the asylum center for some time.’

Volunteering also helps to get out of the rut of life in ‘the camp’ as the asylum center is also called by the residents. But there are more good reasons to volunteer, Marc knows. ‘It helps, for example, with learning Dutch. For many, this does not go fast enough, despite the compulsory integration and the language cafes they attend. Furthermore, by volunteering, people can get a better picture of Dutch society. As an example, several asylum seekers have already worked as assistant caretakers at various schools in the city. Doing so, they build their own network and relieve the caretakers who are often busy and happy that there is someone to help them. The knife cuts both ways. Also, shorter-term volunteering is popular. We had many contacts with festivals. Asylum seekers helped with the construction for example at the 5th of May festival, Tweetakt, the Film festival, but also with the marathon.’

Marc does not sit still during the Corona period either, so he and his colleagues Frank and Ghedamdeveloped a walk around the AZC. ‘Here, too, the aim is to allow residents of the asylum center to be more into contact with the surrounding in which they live. I sometimes try to imagine what it is like to have to completely rebuild your life in a new country. I always decide that learning the language and having contacts with people in the surroundings are important to be able to connect. I am therefore very happy that the activities of Welkom in Utrecht are aimed at this. And that I can make a small contribution to that myself.‘

Text: Sofie Croonenberg