Abdul with owners Roel and Linda at the Fronik Buurtboerderij
“Every week is different. It’s not your typical, boring 9-5 job. I’m doing something new each day, and that makes it a lot of fun.”
As a chicken farmer in his hometown of Idlib, Syria, Abdul handled over 10,000 chickens each day — and he loved his work. When war forced him to flee, he found a little slice of home in Zaandam’s Fronik Buurtboerderij.
“I feel like I’m back in Syria, going from the city to the farm,” he said.
Each week, he spends a day volunteering at the local neighborhood farm, doing everything from feeding animals (chickens, goats, donkeys) and collecting eggs to making things with an electric table saw.
Abdul recently got a paid job as a traffic controller, but his favorite work is still helping on the farm. While it’s much smaller than his Syrian farm, it’s a welcome environment — in a completely new and unfamiliar culture, he loves the familiarity and universality of farming.
Abdul sought volunteer work in the Netherlands to solidify his Dutch language skills, but he also wanted to get to know locals on a more personal level. “Drinking coffee together, talking to the other Dutch volunteers… it’s inclusive,” he said.
One difference between Abdul and the 25 other volunteers? He’s much younger than most (ranging in age from 7 to 70s). “He has great strength and energy — he’s been a great addition to our team,” said Fronik Buurtboerderij owners Roel Kreeft and Linda Bloem. They’ve observed Abdul evolve over time: “He began taking more initiative and standing up for himself more — it’s a really good thing."
Abdul was initially surprised at the amount of responsibility he received at the farm. “I expected to do small jobs like, ‘this is broken, can you fix it,’ and so on, but there was so much that I was able to do. Sometimes it feels like there’s nothing I’m ‘not allowed’ to do,” he said jokingly.
One example? When the street by the farm was being repaved, Abdul jumped right in — and helped pave the road himself. He learned as he went, apreciating the opportunity to learn something new.
“Every week is different,” he said. “It’s not your typical, boring 9-5 job. I’m doing something new each day, and that makes it a lot of fun.”
Advice he’d give other newcomers about volunteering? “Go do some voluntary work somewhere. To truly integrate, you must keep using, using the language. To get to know Dutch people, you have to speak Dutch with them. At school, you learn a lot of words, but if you just go home and sit after school until the next lesson, you forget them. You must actually use the new words — it’s much more effective than school alone.”
One thing he wishes more Dutchies realized about newcomers? “People came because they were forced by the war to leave; they couldn’t stay there — they didn’t come here to just live somewhere else. They want to build a new life here.”
As for stereotypes? “Of course, not everyone is the same. It’s not just ‘all refugees are good people’ or ‘all refugees are bad people,’ but you should look at the individual person, see what kind of person they are, and judge from that — not from the fact that they’re a refugee.”
One thing he wished more newcomers realized about integrating into Dutch society? “Refugees are guests in the Netherlands, so we should show respect to the country and the people living here. We’re the image of Syria, so we should behave in a way that shows the best of our home — and represent it well.”
His hopes for full-time work in the future? “Chicken farming. It doesn’t have to be a chicken farm, but just living and working on a farm — that’s my ideal situation.”
To support newcomers like Abdul, check out our contribution page to learn about how you can make a difference in the lives of local newcomers.