“We are Syrian people; we are working people. We love to work. We love to make our own money to support ourselves."
Why sit on your sofa waiting for new opportunities to come to you when you can sit in the driver’s seat?
That’s exactly what Esam is doing. The Damascus native chauffeured his own private bus in Syria for over 25 years — so when he was given the chance to continue his profession in a volunteer capacity with the organization Buurtbus Vereniging Zaanstreek Zuid (BVZZ) in his new hometown of Zaandam, excitement was an understatement.
“I am so happy,” he said.
Esam began searching for volunteer work in Zaandam because he’s not the type who likes sitting around with nothing to accomplish or pursue.
“Sitting at home was killing me,” he said. He wanted to go out and try new things in his new community, so he began searching for ways to contribute when he discovered NewBees, who was able to match his bus driving experience with a local public transportation organization.
Creating new paths in uncharted territory
One special thing about Esam’s bus route? It didn’t even exist before he began driving. For the two small villages lying in between Zaandam and Krommenie, it connects the two cities, making a big difference for the residents who previously had no direct way to reach either place.
“Without Esam, there is no bus connection to these villages,” said Annika Hagg, NewBees Manager in Zaandam.
Esam's bus route connecting Zaandam to Krommenie
After joining a Dutch chauffeur for a month to learn the names of each bus stop, he’s been driving the route by himself since April. He’s loved being back behind the driver's seat so much that he hopes to pick up even more hours during the week.
“I’m excited to have a chance to participate in Dutch society,” he said. “It’s been an excellent experience.”
In addition to learning his way around his new community, one of Esam’s goals, like many newcomers, was to get more Dutch language practice in a practical environment with Dutch locals. He’s now able to practice through conversations with his passengers, who now know him on a first-name basis and see him as their very own local bus driver.
“They say, ‘Esam is driving, so now we can catch the bus,’” he said.
Driving in Syria versus Holland: A firsthand experience in Dutch culture
In addition to providing opportunities to practice his Dutch, driving has helped Esam to immerse and acclimate culturally.
“It’s helping me learn the Dutch culture,” he said — especially the structured, schedule-focused aspect of Dutch society that so vastly differs from Syrian culture.
At Syrian bus stops, he explained, there is no formal timing system or schedule to follow: a bus simply comes every few minutes. In the Netherlands, however (as most Dutch people are keenly aware), bus schedules are followed precisely down to the minute. Further, while it’s normal to show up a few minutes late to an appointment in Syria, timeliness is highly-valued trait of Dutch culture.
“It’s a huge difference,” he said. “It’s important that we know the Dutch culture — how people communicate and function.”
Paving the road for a brighter tomorrow
Esam in NewBees' Zaandam office
Esam’s hope for the future? To gain back the independence he was able to enjoy with his career in Syria. His goal is to get a full-time bus-driving contract, which would allow him to stop receiving social benefits, make his own income, and live and work independently.
“We are Syrian people; we are working people,” he said. “We love to work. We love to make our own money to support ourselves. We don’t like to have to get money from the government. So we need work in order to make a living.”
But at the same time, his Islamic background also means that he, like many Syrians, enjoys helping others simply to do it — serving others without expecting anything in return.
“It’s our Islamic culture,” he said. “We do something but we don’t wait for anything in return. We just do it to be nice.”
Annika, among others, has noticed this trait in Esam: “The colleague from Buurtbus called and said, ‘We are so happy with Esam. It’s so special to give him this opportunity, and he’s a really good driver.' That’s beautiful.”
His advice for other newcomers starting a new life in the Netherlands?
“Volunteering is a good way to improve your language skills and understand the Dutch culture, but it’s also a good way to stay active and motivated for the months and even years to come. If there were more organizations like NewBees in the Netherlands, it would be just perfect.”
Want to support newcomers like Esam? Visit our contribution page to learn more about how you can make a difference today.