From refugee to volunteer


Aland Ali (22) fled 15 years ago from the Kurdish part of Iraq to the Netherlands. He made the trip with his mother and uncle. His father had already preceded them. At that time he was six years old and although still small, he remembers how hard the journey was. “It was a long journey and we had to be patient with everything. We always hoped that there would not be another setback. In the Netherlands he spent a year in azc Doetinchem. “In a kind of camping in the woods.” Aland thought it was all a bit scary. “I still remember being picked up by the schoolbus from the azc. I didn’t dare to do that at all, alone on that bus, away from my parents. ” He laughs, says in perfect Dutch: “I was really a mother’s child then”. Only when his uncle took him by bike he did dare to go to school .

There were no activities at the asylum center, no meetings with Dutch people. “We only had ourselves.” How different is the situation at the asylum seekers’ center in Utrecht, where Aland has been doing an internship at Welkom in Utrecht for two months now for his Social Work study at the Hogeschool Utrecht. Aland had already visited the asylum seekers’ center a few times with his father. “I thought: I want to help there.” On Facebook he came across the stories of Welkom in Utrecht and sent an email. WiU paired him with a young man who, like Aland, is from Kurdish Iraq and speaks Kurmanji. After a first cup of coffee at the WiU office, it turned out to be a click and now the two regularly go out together. They talk about everything in Kurmanji, but Aland also teaches him Dutch. “Last Saturday we walked a whole day on the Hoge Veluwe. He now knows a lot of new Dutch words. ‘Pauw’ – peacock, for example. “Aland also helps with difficult letters and issues that his buddy does not fully understand. He knows how complicated it is for refugees to understand Dutch society. “Most refugees come from a country with completely different culture, norms, values ​​and customs.”

He points to some facts, like that in The Netherlands men and women often undertake activities together. “Many refugees are not used to that.” It is precisely because of these differences that meetings with the Dutch and Dutch culture are so incredibly important, says Aland. “By allowing asylum seekers and refugees to participate in activities together with the Dutch, they can form their own view of The Netherlands.” Aland does indirectly give advice. “Understanding Dutch society takes a lot of time. It goes step by step. So be careful, make sure that refugees feel at ease.” The student, well integrated himself, also gets satisfaction from being a buddy. “When I get back into the car after an appointment, I think: I’m so glad I can help him.”