Photo: The participants of the All Women Aboard SALT-CLCP training guide us in how the training is shaped. As we were sharing thoughts and feelings, a participant proposed to sit on the floor, just as it is done in Syria. This picture shows how the atmosphere within the group allows the women to feel safe to share feelings and propose ideas. Photo courtesy of Rosa Watjer.
In collaboration with municipalities, the Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs & Employment initiated a programme in 2019 to support refugees in their integration process in the Netherlands. Our partner organisation, Implacement, began, in September 2020, a 9 months course for two groups of refugee women from Syria and Eritrea with 3 facilitators, supported by a The Constellation coach (Birgitta Schomaker). Navigating around the lockdown, they ran eleven face to face sessions in the months of September through December, every two weeks. Sessions in 2021 will continue in a format of 1 hour to 1.5hour weekly Zoom calls.
Goal: To support women refugees in “making home” in their new country and in taking charge of their future (incorporating their family members’ dreams), stimulating them to balance care for others with self-care. Career goals are considered equally valid as goals related to their roles as caretakers (mother and spouse).
Participants of the course: Women from Eritrea and Syria who had arrived in the Netherlands (with their children) to reunify with their husband who had received a residence permit. Two parallel groups with approximately 10 participants each were run, one group of Syrian women and one group of Eritrean women.
Facilitation team: The Dutch facilitator facilitates both groups, together with a Syrian colleague for the Syrian group, and an Eritrean colleague for the Eritrean group. Both groups are being run bilingually, where the Syrian and Eritrean facilitators are not only translating but also taking up their facilitation role. Joined by The Constellation coach in regular meetings, the facilitators design and practise elements of the course. The facilitation team is involved in continuous learning and tweaking of themes, topics, exercises. The three facilitators were new to their role and new to the SALT approach. They built trust by being friendly to everyone (not favouring anybody), by listening from the heart, and by establishing an atmosphere where it is safe to express feelings and personal stories.
Photo: May 2021 – After nine months of regular meet ups (at first offline and then online), eight Eritrean-Dutch women proudly present their dreams and plans for a future in the Netherlands. Photo courtesy of Rosa Watjer.
September – December 2020 The programme started with a focus on familiarizing oneself with the Dutch society, discussing differences and commonalities with the country of origin. This exploration helped to build a bridge between the past and the future. Guest speakers provided information on health care, law enforcement, women’s rights, the school system, etc. As much as possible, we invited female speakers who share a refugee background and/or the same country of origin. We made sure to create a space of sharing and dialogue rather than lecturing. Some of the guest speakers functioned as inspiring role models.
Step by step, we established a strengths-based participatory approach. We always started with an informal check-in, and we closed sessions with a check-out to invite feedback and suggestions for the following meetings. This informal approach, inviting personal thoughts and feelings, was at first new and unusual for some. However, consistently welcoming and valuing everyone’s unique voice, created mutual understanding and comradery.
We used storytelling to uncover and appreciate individual strengths. Gradually, the programme evolved from an educational approach to envisioning dreams, a desirable future for themselves and their families.
January – May 2021 The original plan for the second stage was to visit public spaces, like a public library, a visit to a school for professional education, explore options for volunteer work, etc. Due to the covid lockdown, we had to drop this plan. After consultation with the women, we transitioned to Zoom calls. This transition created an opportunity to learn new computer skills. Women stimulated each other to translate their dreams into small and bigger steps in their current lives. This resulted in initiatives to organise extra Dutch language classes as well as computer skills classes.
End of May 2021 The program ended with a festive final presentation of dreams and plans to friends, family members and social workers. Participants’ outlook on the future has become more clear, and the women approach the future with increased confidence.
Becoming a hairdresser, working in elderly care, working as a cook or in a shop… some of these dreams had come true already by the end of the program!
What participants said about the course
“The program helped us to express what is alive within us and to explore what is possible in this new country. It helped us not to despair (…). I want to challenge myself. The program has encouraged me, it challenged me, and that was great. We enjoyed the classes.”
“I have no extended family here or friends, and sometimes I feel down and lonely. But then I had the course to look forward to. Then I saw the women, we drank coffee together, we laughed and talked, and sometimes we learned something.
“Some women used to say that the (Dutch) language is too complicated and that they couldn’t do anything (here). However, the facilitator convinced us that we can indeed do something!”
What the facilitators said about the course
“When we asked the women what they would like to do (here), in the beginning they could only talk about their kids and housekeeping. They didn’t think of their own future, a job or a goal. This completely shifted. They would like to get a job now, do a course or a professional training.”
“The women became aware of what is possible here (in terms of jobs and education). They were not used to talking about themselves. The significance of the course is that the topics that were covered and the atmosphere during the classes really emerged from the participants. There was a sense of shared responsibility. This is how the course made a difference: instead of forcing people to become active, they are following their own motivation.”
Supporting refugees in their integration process in the Netherlands
Community: 2 groups of each 8 participants from Syria and Eritrea
Facilitators: 3 SALT facilitators-in-training
The Constellation coach: Birgitta Schomaker
Contract with Implacement
Period: September 2020 – May 2021