“I was really very shy — but now, I can show up. I don’t hide. Now, I’m very sharp.”
In Amsterdam, two strangers shared something in common: their Ugandan roots, their desire to get involved in society, and their clever sense of humor. Now, as volunteers at the organization Lokaal & Sociaal, Shalua and Jackie shop together for groceries to be delivered to the elderly and disabled in the Amsterdam Noord area — and they’ve become great friends in the process.
“It’s really a nice thing — it’s better than sitting at home,” said Shalua. Jackie agreed: “I like to be useful to society, so I wanted to do something for people that need help,” she said. “When I heard this company’s dealing with older people, I felt happy to do it. Plus, being new in the country, it polishes my Dutch. If I stay here, I must learn Dutch.”
Learning Dutch food = learning Dutch culture
Lokaal & Sociaal has been the perfect environment for Shalua and Jackie to practice integrating. They've not only learned more Dutch, but also what the Dutch like to eat: a vital aspect of the culture.
“The shopping is a great way for them to learn more Dutch,” said Bas, Lokaal & Sociaal founder, who takes the time to correct any mistakes. “Buying groceries is something everybody does, so I thought this was a great way — especially for people new to the Netherlands — to learn the language and the products. We want to help them, but they’re also very much help.”
“The team is so welcoming,” said Jackie. “They’re so willing to teach you. And they push you [to try], which is nice. If you’re new to this country, in the culture, it’s not likely to just bump into someone in a cafe and start talking, but if you join through volunteering, places where you have something to do, you’re gonna learn a lot, because they are willing to offer — if you ask. If you ask Dutch culture to Dutch people, they’re very willing to offer their information.”
The biggest change in Shalua during her time at Lokaal & Sociaal? She’s learned to speak up.
“I’m not shy anymore,” she said. “At first, I couldn’t ask people working in the supermarket, ‘where can I find this' — I would just stand stuck, but now I can do everything. Now, I just approach someone. Now, I speak up.”
Jackie (left) and Shalua (right) with Bas at the supermarket
Bas confirmed: “For the first few weeks, there was very little talking. You could see her open up more every week, and now she’s very open and happy — she’s made a 180-degree difference. Now she talks too much,” he joked. “That's the most rewarding thing.”
This newfound confidence has helped her with Dutch culture in general: ”I now know many things in the supermarket," she said. "If I would come to the supermarket for myself, I would buy only eggs, because I knew only that; but with this list [of food], I’m learning many things. Every day you are learning something new.”
“It’s better than sitting at home,” added Jackie. “It clears your mind a little bit. You wake up having a plan.”
The bigger picture
The most rewarding part for Bas? “Seeing them grow. You see them blossom more every week — learning Dutch more, opening up more, and you see them really being happy. And the friendships that start are also very nice.”
“They were both new in the country, didn’t know any people, didn’t know each other — a little bummed from sitting at home all the time, not knowing anyone — when they came, they connected instantly,” said Bas. “Those are the things that make it worthwhile.”
His advice to other organizations? “Give people a chance. If you give people a chance who normally wouldn’t get a chance, they take it with both hands; they’re so motivated. They may be home all day, not knowing anyone, so when they finally get out, in an environment where they feel welcome and not afraid to make mistakes, you see them grow every week. That’s very rewarding.”
His advice to other newcomers? “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes — especially with Dutch. We’re here to correct you, and that’s the only way you learn. When you’re too shy to speak Dutch and only speak English all the time, you don’t learn anything.”
“I’m glad I joined this group, and I don’t have any regrets,” said Jackie. “And she’s glad to meet me,” laughed Shalua — “Oh definitely," Jackie agreed.
Interested in helping newcomers like Shalua and Jackie in their journey to finding a new career in the Netherlands? Check out our website to learn more about how you can impact the lives of local newcomers.