By Isabella Wells, 1st year BACY student
I didn’t have any idea of what Rotterdam would be like, all I knew was that the Dutch have a friendly reputation and their educational system has been rated positively. When I arrived in Rotterdam I was surprised by how modern the city is, everywhere you look you will be mesmerized by a structure or building. The exchange University fulfilled their reputation by making us feel welcome, always making sure we have a tea and coffee in our hand and generally making sure we were ok.
I’m going to speak about one of the two work places that I experienced with Nikki and Ollie, as this day was the most eye opening for me. In the morning we commuted to an area just outside of Rotterdam, this is where we met Mirjam. Mirjam is a social pedagogy student at the university but she is also a social worker for people with a ‘low IQ’ or individuals who are mentally disabled. Mirjam explained to us how every social worker has a specific role for example one social worker is dedicated to families who can’t pay their bills and may potentially lose their house. This team of specific social workers is led by a physiologist who supports the team emotionally and also helps the public. The team’s dynamics are generally better compared to England, they are all in the same building and can go to each other’s tables to ask questions which means the communication between services for each family is really effective. Every social worker has a key area in which they do their social work. Mirjam explained that every social worker’s aim is to be known around that area and she barely spends any time in the office. Her job is to ‘make sure her job doesn’t exist in 40 years’ time.
Mirjam drove us to a free shop to meet a lady she works with closely. This lady set up a free shop in an old derelict Aldi building to support the community close by. The customers who come to this shop are put on the data base and given a certain amount of stars they can spend in the shop based on their financial needs. They can then spend these stas on whatever they want from the shop – for example a t-shirt may be 5 stars. The presentation of the shop really struck me, it was perfectly laid out. There were toys, clothes, shoes and prams. Everything you could need. The items were immaculate and washed with washing powder which was donated by a big laundry company.
The lady explained that if a single mum had no money, when she gave birth they would set up a care package with everything she needs and deliver it to her house. Behind the shop they had an area in which they organised items depending on whether they are useable again. They then organise them into different sizes and genders. Volunteers work in the shop, they train women who have never had experience working in a job, this way the women can use their experience to find a paid job. The people working in this shop are really passionate about their job. Not only is the shop a place for poor families to access the items they might need to live more normal lives but it also a place for therapy, they provide families with a small café which serves tea and coffee. It’s a place where no one will ever get judged. The best thing about it is the government allow them to have the building for free because it is a non-profit organisation. Myself and the others came out the shop feeling over-whelmed and wondering why we didn’t have anything similar in England. Yes we have charity shops, clothes banks, and community centers but they don’t seem to be community focused and well respected as this project.
In Rotterdam I was struck by the massive sense of community within an area. Everyone was looking out for each other’s best interest. A lot energy and time is spent on helping the poor and integrating a community rather than segmenting the rich and poor. One interesting discovery I made about Rotterdam is that poverty is not visible. In England you would generally have a poorer area in one place and a richer area in another. In Rotterdam the rich and poor live amongst each other, you can hardly tell the difference between their houses sometimes. I did not see one homeless person living on the streets. The experience made me want to go home and find out what differences we are making in the area I live in and whether we have organisations that have the same impact.