What makes us human? Keeping an open mind towards integration of refugees

Marlou and I gathered with a diverse group of volunteers and employees of a housing corporation to kick off our project "Common Ground" in a new neighborhood in Amsterdam.

In one street of this neighborbood, one out of three households came to the Netherlands recently as refugees. They obtained a temporary residence permit and the local government provided housing to them. They come from Nigeria, Libia, China, Eritrea, Syria and other countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

The participants of this project will make home visits to these new residents of Amsterdam. We would like to make them feel welcome in a new environment, to hear what they think about their new neighborhood, to learn from them and find out what they would like to contribute to their new neighborhood. They will do these home visits in pairs: one is a former refugee and the other one was born and raised in the Netherlands.

All participants care about inclusion and living together in diversity.
We talked about how Amsterdam has always been a city of diversity, how it is part of the DNA of the city. What we all shared in our group was having parents or ancestors that migrated, or children that migrated.

The main purpose of our first gathering with the participants was to prepare the visits and to that means we did the exercise “What makes us human?”
The purpose of this exercise is to bring forth a dialogue on what we share in our common humanity. Raising awareness to what is universally true about being human. So that we will stress our commonality with the people we will visit instead of hiding behind a professional mask.

People came up with phrases and words like "love", "feelings", "intelligence" and "heart". And then somebody came with the words "similarities" and "differences", and someone else added: "open mind".

In our debrief we shared the understanding that it is not only what we share that makes us appreciate each other as fellow humans, but also the importance of acknowledging our differences. And stating that we sometimes have the same values and needs but we also have at times different needs.

Back to our project: the intention is to "foster integration" of the new residents from abroad. These new residents arrived here after hardship, they survived a lot of challenges before getting here.

Yesterday, in our group dialogue, we reached the understanding that we got to keep in mind that "integration" might mean many different things to people, and that we need to realize also that some people maybe even want to isolate themselves.

Even though belonging and connecting are universal needs, we got to acknowledge and accept that NOT wanting to connect, not being eager to chat with neighbors or accept well intended help is ALSO what makes us human.

We talked about this topic in our Blended Learning class. What I love so much about our learning journey together in this class, is how we help each other deeply explore the world we live in, including our own inner worlds and blind spots.

It seems to me - being involved with community building - I hold a strong intention and value around connecting and collaborating. But I do have to keep in mind that people have their own pace and their own needs. And that the value of sharing and collaborating is not always present (in the same way).

It is only through acknowledging the wide range of human expression that we can understand and facilitate processes in communities.  Keeping an open mind!

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