Who’s on the receiving end of your Reversed Advent box? This thought may have crossed you mind while grabbing the ingredients from the calendar over the past few weeks. There are roughly 30.000 undocumented Amsterdammers who are, after being forced to free their country, committed to building a new life in the Netherlands. Often with very limited access to resources and support. Marlene Nascimento pours her heart and soul into supporting undocumented Brazilians and South Americans and can tell you from first-hand experience how much of a difference your contribution makes.
It all started six years ago when Marlene learned through her church about the struggles of some undocumented families in the community. ‘While waiting on their official paperwork, which is a difficult and long process to get, families had questions about things like healthcare and education
. It all started with one family, which quickly become two. Before COVID-19, there were maybe 30, max 40 families who needed help. Now it’s about 900.’ In addition to answering WhatsApp messages, Marlene also organises a monthly food drive. And thanks to Serve the City, she’s been able to do a little extra in December.
A heartfelt thank you
The families who’ve received a Reversed Advent box couldn’t be happier, according to Marlene. ‘The feedback is always so positive. They were able to have a nice Christmas with food on their
plates and little gifts for their kids. They’re just so happy.’ Marlene divides the available boxes amongst families who need it the most and she herself takes care of helping the others. ‘Last year I collected 700 euros with an open Tikkie, which I used to buy more supplies so everyone could have a nice Christmas.’
Practical and emotional support
Taking care of 900 families is something Marlene does almost entirely on her own. ‘I have another girl supporting me but that’s it. I don’t operate under an official foundation. But maybe one day I will! I always say that helping people is my hobby. It just gives me so much energy.’ But Marlene’s support goes beyond the monthly food drive and answering practical questions. ‘There is a growing prejudice against this community. Many people question why they left their home countries, claiming that things can’t be that bad. However, they simply don’t understand the political situation and continuous, daily violence.’
Someone to trust
When you become aware of the gravity of their situation, it’s a no-brainer that they took the opportunity to leave. ‘They can finally feel safe here. You can go outside without having to worry, your kids can go to school without the risk of being harmed. Some people have to leave their kids behind, sometimes for years. They’re happy to have escaped but it’s also bittersweet if you are separated from those you love.’ But with the rising scepticism, Marlene sees that the undocumented she supports, find it hard to trust people. ‘I’m one of the few they trust. They’re very vulnerable and afraid.’ One thing she thinks could help them feel more safe and secure, is if she’d have her own place. ‘I operate from a church near Lelylaan but it’s my dream to one day have my own space where I can welcome and support them.’
Christmas on 22 December
Marlene celebrates Christmas on the day that she hands out the boxes from the Reversed Advent Calendar. ‘That’s the real celebration to me. It embodies the meaning and spirit of Christmas: to come together, give back to others and have a nice meal together.’
Inspired to join? You can still sign up and make a Christmas Parcel, sign up here.