by Stefanie Sapountzi
When you see this intense smile on people’s faces, the joy in their eyes – you know that good things happen here. During the Serve The City event on 26th May, I had the pleasure to observe two projects and talk to volunteers and participants. For expats, the often unsuccessful search for volunteering projects in Amsterdam that do not require fluency in Dutch can be a little discouraging. The solution? Serve the City – a unique project uniting locals and expats with the aim and power to make a real difference!
Beauty Day at Kinkerstraat is a regularly organised and quite popular project. Mentally disabled and elderly participants enjoy having their nails polished in flashy colours, getting facial or hair treatments and having their makeup done.
Melisa, a voluntary project coordinator originally from Indonesia, has been joining STC events for years and continues doing so despite the fact that she now lives in Southern Holland. “I am very passionate about the projects and especially about being involved in their coordination, so I don’t mind the 1.5-hour drive once in a while!”. Euneen, a mentally challenged participant waiting for her freshly painted nails to dry, smiles happily. “I come here for every Beauty Day with Melisa”, she tells me. “We shared our stories and now we are friends!”
While Melisa proceeds to combing Euneen’s hair, Jeanne, an elderly Dutch lady, enjoys a beauty treatment by Jessica, a British kindergarten teacher who’s been living in Amsterdam for 6 years.
Lil, a Dutch volunteer with Azeri roots, documents the happy moments with her camera. “I’ve always been involved in volunteering. During my studies in medicine, I volunteered as a student researcher in South Africa – an amazing experience. Besides Serve the City events, I also participate in Amnesty projects here in the Netherlands.”
My next station is Zorgcentrum De Buitenhof, a care home for elderly people suffering from all stages of dementia in the South of Amsterdam. The part of the building where Marlies, the activity responsible of the Buitenhof, welcomes the volunteers, is functionally yet beautifully built. With its tall glass ceiling, light chains and tasteful decoration, the well-lit hall creates a welcoming feeling.
Marlies has been working for the Buitenhof for 8 years now. Her previous job as a caretaker required her to be quick and efficient and didn’t allow her to spend as much time on the elderly’s personal needs as she would have liked. As an activity coordinator at the Buitenhof, she is now fully dedicated to ensuring the inhabitants’ well-being by organising all kinds of special projects and experiences. “With fashion shows, music evenings or decoration workshops, we manage to break the monotony and give our inhabitations something to look forward to. When they are happy, I am happy”, she says. Heavy budget cuts in recent years have made the care home more dependent on volunteers than ever. “Medical care is obviously assured by our highly qualified core staff; for entertainment however, budget is scarce”, Marlies explains. “We work with several organisations in Amsterdam, and the support from Serve The City is so incredibly valuable for us!”
Debarati, a young Indian lady who moved to Amsterdam only three months ago, nods smilingly. “I am really excited to be here! I already did a lot of volunteering back home in India and joined STC for the very first time right after my arrival here in Amsterdam. What I love most about the program is that while there is a structured approach, it offers a lot of flexibility and diversity”, she tells me. During her second STC event, Debarati has already assumed the role of a project coordinator.
After a short introduction, Marlies explains that volunteers are asked to visit a group of inhabitants in their apartments, chat with them and invite them to join for an afternoon tea with a music performance. Non-Dutch speaking volunteers are being coupled with locals to avoid any language barriers – and then the gathering begins! Just half an hour later, the entertainment area is packed. The smile on the faces of elderly ladies and gentlemen struggling with dementia and other health issues shows how the mere presence of the young volunteers makes them forget their problems for a little while. Marlies grabs one of the ladies’ hand for a dance, while another inhabitant tied to a wheelchair enjoys a snack prepared by the STC supporters.
But not only the elderly participants leave the entertainment area with a big smile – the volunteers’ lively exchange on the interaction with participants at the end of the day confirms that “happiness doesn’t result from what we get, but from what we give”. I talk to Debarati again, who tells me about “amazing happy vibes” throughout the afternoon. She will definitely come back. And so will many others.
Are you ready to make a difference? Join us for the next STC event!