Service learning is a key pillar in our curriculum and a hallmark of the #ASHexperience. This past Monday, ASH hosted an evening of stories and conversations about how members of our school community are building sustainable and meaningful personal connections with others in the wider local community. The spotlight for this evening was on two student-led initiatives involving local refugee groups, sharing their stories and encouraging us all to build relationships outside the borders of ASH.
Dr. Lowe began the evening by talking about the displacement crisis we as a world are currently facing. According to figures from the UNHCR (The UN Refugee Agency), there are nearly 71 million people worldwide who have been forcibly displaced from their homes and of this number nearly 26 million are refugees. This is a crisis of unprecedented proportions. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by this and think that there is nothing we can do to help these refugees in our everyday lives. But, as Dr. Lowe pointed out, an international community such as ours at ASH is in a unique position to help, with our expertise in global and cultural mobility. So many of us are living far from our countries of origin, and we have experienced what it is like to learn about a new culture, new language and new way of life, of course, under completely different circumstances.
It is this unique position and ASH’s focus on service learning that led our two student speakers, Charlotte and Marijke, to being involved with their respective initiatives. Charlotte, who spoke first, volunteers with a group of refugee minors (under 18 years old) who are in the Netherlands without their parents. They meet once a week and Charlotte explained how the group operates an equal exchange of skills and friendship. Members of the group have taught Charlotte how to make dishes from their home countries, while she has helped to teach them Dutch and write resumes for applying for jobs. Last Tuesday, the group hosted their first-ever pop-up dinner in Wassenaar where they cooked and served dishes from their respective countries and cultures. Charlotte spoke of how this time with the refugees has impacted her life and she said, “I hope these refugees feel like they have a home, that they belong.”
Marijke shared a similar sentiment when she spoke of her experiences volunteering each Thursday at the Messias Church in Wassenaar. This weekly gathering is a chance for Wassenaar locals and refugees currently housed at Duinrell (while waiting to be permanently settled in the Netherlands) to meet, talk, enjoy each other’s company, play games and share baked goods. Marijke spoke of how she was at first nervous about going along but was immediately put at ease when one of the refugees saw how she was feeling and began speaking with her. It has been through these weekly gatherings that Marijke has learned that “a refugee can be anyone from anywhere. Anyone can become a refugee at any time.”
Working closely with the refugees housed at Duinrell is Corinne Remmen (from the Gemeente Wassenaar) and at Monday night’s event, she spoke of how much the Gemeente appreciates the support of ASH and the volunteer work our community does. Corinne highlighted how many refugees feel the stigma and negativity attached to the notion of being a refugee. Through initiatives such as the two that were highlighted at Monday evening’s event, we as a community can help make an incredibly difficult journey to integrate and begin new lives, better.
The evening concluded with alumna Roberta Enschede, Board of Trustees member Bob Drake and service-learning coordinator Bart Dankaerts all speaking to the theme of “this is what I do, what will you do.” This really challenged everyone in the room (and hopefully everyone reading this article) to consider everything they heard spoken about during the evening, and how we are all placed, individually, to help in this unprecedented displacement crisis. No matter how big or small, every effort is important and we can all lend our voices to the ongoing conversation and efforts.