Once a year, Amsterdam’s canals are lit up by beautiful artworks made of light installations as part of the Amsterdam Light Festival. It is one of the city’s main winter events, very popular and very well-known. But what you might not know, is that NewBees has been matching newcomers to the festival for two years in a row now! The festival’s volunteer coordinator Norma Schiphof was first introduced to NewBees last year and was enthusiastic from the start: “It was great working with the newbees, so I decided to do so again this year.”
In Norma’s experience, the biggest challenge in working with newcomers lies before the festival actually starts. “Especially trying to explain what the festival is about, and what exactly you will be doing, can be hard if someone doesn’t know the language that well. Really the best thing to do is just start, and find out for yourself. It isn’t always easy work, being out in the cold and having to give information in a new language. But if you don’t mind the cold weather, aren’t afraid to speak up and enjoy the challenge, it can be a good experience for everyone!”
One of the newbees that was matched to Amsterdam Light Festival this year, is 34-year old Hamad from Sudan – and he sure fits the profile. In fact, Hamad has been there every Monday for the past two months. “My job is to make sure that nobody touches the art, to explain what the artworks mean, and to give information to visitors about the routes. And sometimes, to just have a chat with visitors and colleagues!”
Hamad came to NewBees because he wanted to find volunteer work as a way of practicing his language, gaining work experience and meeting new people. He has done just that, but especially his language skills have gotten better: “I was pretty shy before, because I thought I wasn’t good enough at speaking Dutch. But since I’ve been here every Monday, I gained a lot of confidence. If I’ve got something to say, I’ll say it. Of course I have to keep it a bit simple, and if I get a complicated question…well, I just find a way to make it simple!”
His colleagues are big fans of Hamad. Karlijn, one of the festival coordinators, can confirm that Hamad loves to chat with anyone and everyone: “His enthusiasm is his biggest strength. It’s not only that he likes to talk to people, but he is also genuinely interested in the artworks. Of course visitors pick up on that as well, so we are happy to have him around!”
Eventually, Hamad wants to get an education in electrical installation, and his dream is to install solar panels. But making light art works? “Oh no – I like the art, it’s beautiful, but I could never make it myself!” Of course he won’t have to: he has already enrolled himself for an education, so with a little more practice and more of his enthusiasm, Hamad should have no problem achieving his goals.
As for NewBees and Amsterdam Light Festival? It looks like this is only the beginning of a long-lasting ‘match’!