Jasper (left) and Samer (right) at De Waalse Kerk
“It's beautiful work to help other people."
Three years ago, Amsterdam’s De Waalse Kerk, a French church dating back to 1580, embarked on a new mission: expanding their operations outside of the religious sphere. They began using the beautiful, historic space for classical concerts, conferences, lectures and, most notably, French language classes from the French Language Institute.
With so many new offerings meant a newfound need for more help. Enter: Newbees Samer, Azaad and Riham.
“With all these activities, we’re very glad to have helping hands,” said Jasper, music manager of De Waalse Kerk. “We were very pleased to have newcomers help. We first got Samer and Assad, and they’re wonderful. They’re so polite, always on time.”
Their role? Hosting the students of the French language school. Since last fall, they come before the classes to set up, prepare the classrooms, make coffee and tea, and ensure everything runs smoothly.
With a background in managing large dinners and events at a big star restaurant in Damascus, Samer enjoys being able to put his HORECA skills to use again. His volunteering began with helping with meal preparations and other things at his AZC.
“I love working with hotels, big restaurants — not small restaurants or cafes,” Samer said. “With parties, birthdays, weddings, and so on.”
“It’s really related to what he used to do before,” said Jasper. “It’s really his thing to manage it… his strength.”
From colleagues to friends
Despite being a French church, Samer’s favorite thing about volunteering is speaking to the Dutch staff members and forming new relationships. “I like it very much, the work here — speaking and having contact with friendly people.”
It started when the staff invited them to dinner and drinks with the team: “We had a nice talk and learned about their background, and the context became more intimate — more friends-like,” said Jasper. “Then Samer asked us back for an invitation to make Syrian dinner at his home, because he is really a HORECA man, used to working in 5-star hotels. It was amazing — he cooked a fantastic meal at his home, and he made us cocktails with salt and citron — it was very nice. So now, it’s our turn again to make a dinner.”
Carline, the church’s production manager, notices a clear progression in Samer over time: “When Samer came for the open day for our language school, he was already very enthusiastic from the beginning — you could tell he wanted to do something, and he was smiling the whole time. Now, he’s really owning what he’s doing. It’s very nice.”
“This is his thing,” added Jasper. “It’s like, ‘Oh, Samer’s there, it’s coming alright.’”
Learning the Dutch way
Samer knows gaining relevant experience and growing his network is vital to his new future: “Volunteering is very important," he said. "I must have contact with Dutch people. It’s important for me to find work in the future.”
“My Dutch language is better than before,” he added. “Now I can begin to speak a bit of Dutch; I can understand it on the streets.”
They’ve also noticed a progression in his cultural adaption: “They’re very good at being on time,” said Jasper. “I think they learned that the Dutch are quite strict on time. When we went to dinner at Samer’s house, we were the ones who were late.”
“And, they’re starting to pick up on our Dutch jokes,” he added. “But what struck me is that they are very serious in what they’re doing. You can have fun with them, but they take what they are doing very seriously,” he said. “That’s a really good thing.”
Teaching one another
One thing Jasper’s learned from working with Samer? “We’re all human. You overcome cultural differences by talking — by actually taking time. If you spend time with newcomers, you see they’re very brave. It’s not nothing to leave your country and start from scratch. It’s amazing. They had to deal with so many things we don’t know; they’re more flexible than we can imagine.”
“The positive vibe and energy that we get from them — it’s very nice to see. As long as they are studying Dutch here, they are welcome to stay here.”
His advice to other organizations working with newcomers? “Make time to get to know each other. If you give them the chance, you’ll see that they give a lot back to you. It’s more than only the work they do; it’s the point of view that you can overcome cultures by it. It can refresh points of view and offer new perspectives. It’s a two-way direction."
“It’s a great value that they add to the company,” added Carline. “That they’re here and not getting paid for it, and really don’t want anything for it — you really feel the intrinsic motivation. It adds something to them as well. It’s a different motivation.”
After Samer gets his Dutch diploma, he plans to do a HORECA study here. He will take his Dutch exam in a few months. In the meantime, he finds a joy in helping those around him: “In the beginning, many Netherlanders came to help at the AZC. They helped me first, so I want to help them in return.”
Interested in helping newcomers like Samer thrive in their new homes by giving them a chance to use their strengths and skills to benefit Dutch society? Check out our website to learn more about how you can impact the lives of local newcomers.