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African Diaspora: Education and Career Challenges in the Netherlands

The Great Lakes Working Group Meeting Summary: Education and Career Advancement – September 29th, 2017

The Great Lakes Diaspora Working Group is one group within The Hague Peace Projects. Recently, the group came together for its monthly meeting. This meeting’s aim was to hear about the experiences of young Dutch people with African migrant or refugee roots with education in the Netherlands.

Attendees were guided by two questions: How have you used education to achieve your goals? What are the challenges of finding your place in the Netherlands as an African migrant?

From there, participants were asked the following questions:

  1. Were you able to study in the Netherlands?
  2. Did you study what you wanted to study?
  3. Were your diplomas/ certificates acknowledged in the Netherlands?
  4. Do you have a job? Do you have the job you want?
  5. Are you working in the same field as you would have in your country of origin?
  6. Do you feel at home in the Netherlands?
  7. What is holding you back from reaching your life goals in the Netherlands?

Speakers: Julius and Deo

Next, two guests were invited to speak before the audience and share their stories. The first, Julius, an expert in law and criminality, is originally from Uganda and is now based in the Netherlands. He talked about how different the experiences of an immigrant from Africa to the Netherlands versus an immigrant from Europe to the Netherlands may be, though they are both new to Dutch culture. Julius went on to say that “whatever you see in this world is not an accident but a precedent. He believes that immigrants are getting an education to find a job rather than to grow as people. If you have a skill, you want to succeed, and you have an education, then you can find a job. Julius concluded by saying that education needs to be seen as a form of liberation for self-determination rather than merely job training.

The second speaker was Deo, who comes from Burundi. In Burundi, Deo worked as an air traffic controller before he was forced to flee to the Netherlands to find safety. Once in the Netherlands, Deo obtained an NT2 Diploma in the Dutch language. He then tried to find a job in the aviation industry with his international air traffic controller diploma, but was told that his Dutch language level was not good enough, so he went back to school to improve his Dutch. Eventually, Deo returned to the agency to try to prove his skills in Dutch but was turned away, so Deo went back to school, retrained in a logistics course, and got a job in the flower industry. Deo told the audience that as immigrants, many doors are closed to us, but remain positive, think smart, and find your way to success, however small.

Group Session: Challenges in Career, Education, and Beyond

After hearing Julius and Deo speak, the audience broke off into three groups to identify the primary challenges in work, education, and life overall as an African migrant in the Netherlands.

In the category of work, participants identified the lack of Dutch language knowledge as an oft-named reason for job rejection—even if they have earned language diplomas. Those who have found jobs often get short-term contracts, which only makes an unstable life as a refugee less secure. With these temporary contracts, career opportunities like promotions are limited at best. Networking is also difficult, since most immigrants have few connections in a new country. Cultural differences are hard to reconcile, as it is difficult to learn Dutch do’s and don’ts without being told or working in the Netherlands.

As for education, not knowing Dutch well enough can keep immigrants from taking the course of study that they would prefer. Foreign degrees, diplomas, and certificates are difficult to accredit. The Dutch system does not always support people in difficult situations, like a single mother trying to pay for her schooling and take care of her kids at the same time.

Beyond this, some found that being black and having a foreign name feels like a liability that separates them from their colleagues. Despite being integrated into Dutch culture and having attended school in the Netherlands, at work, people will still ask, “Where are you from?” Many attendees cited bureaucratic demands for paperwork and official documents as a legal oversight, since refugees must frequently flee their countries without the documents that they are later asked to supply.

Conclusion

Following this meeting, the group intends to compile a report to help inform and lobby the Dutch government on behalf of Dutch citizens and refugees with African roots. This open discussion night was helpful as many were able to share their stories and opinions. As one participant said, “it is difficult to do what you love as an immigrant. Instead of not doing what you love, be pragmatic, and do what you like.”

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Report: ‘On the way to school’ – Festival Anatolië

Not everything can be said solely through verbal communication. This lesson has been learnt by the children starring the documentary ´On the way to school´. Özgür Dogan and Orhan Eskiköy captured the complexity of cultural identity in Turkey, where Kurds compose between 15-20% of the population. Entry-level Turkish teachers needing to gain experience are sent to regions (often remote) with a larger proportion of Kurdish population. Their mission is to ensure children are able to communicate in Turkish and memorize the national student oath praising the benefits of being part of the Turkish community.

In the small rural school located in the region of Anatolia portrayed in the movie, the young professor struggles to ensure kids do not communicate in Kurdish as it is the only language they are able to speak while it is completely unknown for him. School attendance is always at stake in this rural area as kids have a wider range of responsibilities that go beyond solely learning at school. All age ranges were represented in this single-classroom school, yet reading and writing were still major obstacles for the vast majority of kids.

With a permanent feeling of being out of place and lonely in this remote rural area, the energetic teacher managed to connect with the students despite not being able to properly communicate verbally. Little by little the children started to understand Turkish and were able to give simple answers to the desperate professor. However, when they spoke or wrote Kurdish, they were punished and had to stand on one leg in front of the classroom.

His presence also had an influence at the community level, as he had regular contact with the parents and tried to raise awareness about the importance of education for any child, regardless of his age or gender. After the academic year was over, all kids got their final grades and a personal assessment regarding their development. Minutes after saying goodbye to the professor at the school gate and wishing him a safe journey back to the big city, children ran to the nearest puddle and swam naked while laughing out of joy. A nice metaphor explaining that they were finally able to communicate and play again in Kurdish, getting rid of the imposed language and culture they learned from this unusual professor that came from a far land named Turkey.

After the movie was screened a passionate Q&A session was moderated by Tayfun Balcik and Bedel Baayrak (The Hague Peace Projects). The audience was extremely engaged in the discussion, expressing their points of view and challenging each other. Overall there was a consensus regarding the unacceptable situation of the Kurdish culture, which has been systematically jeopardized and downgraded by the Turkish political system. A more inclusive regional economic development and educational system should be a priority in Erdogan’s agenda, yet this might be unlikely to become effective. Kurdish identity could be reaffirmed if the population go through a self-determination process. Many challenges arise in terms of enabling Kurdish population residing in Turkey to have a say at a national level, yet international awareness regarding their culture and identity is picking up due to the recent independence referendum held by the Kurds residing in Iraq. A window of opportunity might open for the Kurds living in Turkey, which could steer the national political agenda in their own benefit.

Interested in our next event? Join our dialogue event In gesprek met “de vijand” op 24 november in Rotterdam.

Festival Anatolië – On the way to school

Op zaterdag 28 en zondag 29 oktober is de film On the way to school  te zien in het Filmhuis Den Haag, tijdens het Festival Anatolië. Op zaterdag wordt het nagesprek verzorgt door Tayfun Balcik en Bedel Bayrak van The Hague Peace Projects, op zondag door Tayfun Balcik en Zeynep Cesin (oprichtster van Stichting Children of the Sun).

De met prijzen overladen documentaire On the way to school gaat over de jonge Turkse onderwijzer Emre Aydin die in opdracht van de overheid een jaar les moet geven op een school in een afgelegen Koerdisch dorp in Zuidoost-Turkije.

Bij aankomst in het dorp en bij het schooltje staat onderwijzer Emre voor een aantal onplezierige verrassingen: er is geen stromend water en de leerlingen spreken geen Turks. Zonder commentaar krijgen we een inkijk in het leven van de gedreven leraar en zien we hoe moeilijk het is om kinderen Turks te leren terwijl ze thuis alleen Koerdisch spreken. Een gevoelig onderwerp dat onderdeel is van de gespannen relatie tussen Koerden en de Turkse staat. Maar langzamerhand wint Emre het vertrouwen van de kinderen en de dorpsbewoners.

De documentaire On the way to school viel in 2009 verschillende keren in de prijzen: de film werd bekroond met de Black Pearl Award voor beste film tijdens het International Middle East Film Festival, de Golden Orange voor beste film tijdens het Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival en tenslotte met de Yılmaz Güney Grand Jury Prize en de SİYAD Best Film Award tijdens het Golden Boll Film Festival.

Wanneer: 28 (18:45) en 29 oktober (16:00)
Waar: Filmhuis Den Haag
Tickets: Filmhuis Den Haag

29-9 African Diaspora, Youth and Education in The Netherlands

This event is organised by the Great Lakes Region group of The Hague Peace Projects. Every month we organise an event with a topic related to peace and social change, here in the Netherlands as well as our countries of origin.

The topic of this meeting will be the youthful Dutch citizens of African migrant roots & refugees and their use of education to achieve life ambitions. What are challenges of finding your place in the Netherlands, as an African migrant?

Testimonies:
‘’I Came to the Netherlands as a small girl, was able to do study to the highest level but now I can’t find a job that matches my qualifications.’’
‘’ I was an educated and experienced middle aged man when I came to the Netherlands, but my qualification were not honored.’’
‘’By my request for education in my preferred field I was directed towards another profession.’’

Join us for an interactive discussion on this interesting topic!
When: 29 September 2017
Where: Paviljoensgracht 20 2512 BP Den Haag
Time: 7pm
The Hague Peace Projects