By Inga Springe
NETHERLANDS. This June, children from Amsterdam’s IMC Weekendschool acted out a crisis situation: what would they do if Amsterdam were flooded? As a big surprise for the children, the mayor of Amsterdam – with the city’s symbolic chain around his neck – suddenly arrived to resolve the emergency with them!
The chance of meeting famous people is one of the ways in which IMC Weekendschools try to encourage immigrant children to fulfil their dreams.
“Love! Love! Love!”, 12-year-old Ayman is shouting, sticking his head out of the train window. The couple on the platform stops kissing and looks confused. Ayman seems very satisfied with the result. More self-possessed is Ayman’s twin sister, Imane. She is watching me with an inquiring look and smiling such that you can see the dental plates on her teeth.
The twins, together with 22 other pupils and class coordinator, Lise ten Holder (31), are going to the Netherlands’ biggest magazine publishing house: ‘Sanoma’, in Hoofddorp, outside Amsterdam. For the last five weeks they have been working on their own magazine project.
Imane is working in the group which is preparing articles about friendship and internships at secondary school. Other children are making stories about fashion, comic book figures and relationships.
At the beginning of the magazine project, the kids came up also with such “nasty” items as cancer treatment, suicides, “lover boys” and shooting on the street. Coordinator Lise says she was “quite shocked” about these topics. After discussion with the pupils, she discovered that some of them were linked with the kids’ own experience.
One girl told how her friend sometimes thinks about suicide. Another remembered the shootings this year in which in total three people were killed. On being asked why people are shooting so much, one girl answered that “it is because so many immigrants live around there.”
Twins Ayman and Imane are Moroccans. They live in Amsterdam’s South East, in Bylmermeer, which has a large immigrant population from Surinam, Algeria, Ghana, Bolivia and Indonesia.
Youths from deprived neighbourhoods are the target audience for a total of nine IMC Weekendschools in the Netherlands. In each school are around 100 pupils. The school’s essential aim is to broaden the horizons of immigrant children. For three years, children have had the opportunity to meet professionals from such fields as medicine, law, journalism, philosophy, science and expressive art. The schools are supported only by private companies (mostly insurance and finance firms), therefore all “teachers” work with kids as volunteers.
Only for motivated kids
For Ayman and Imane this is their third year in the IMC weekend school. To get there, the twins took part in a relatively tough competition. “It is good that both the twins are here. Imane is more focused so she motivates her brother, too”, Lise thinks.
She regularly tries to visit the children’s families and to see their backgrounds, too. In the near future she plans to visit the twins’ parents’ house. “They asked me to warn them before arriving for dinner. The twins’ mother wants to cook a national meal of couscous in the Moroccan way,” Lise laughs.
Not all parents are so welcoming. Lots of them have little education and are poor. It is common practice that at the end of the month some parents are impossible to reach by telephone: they have been cut off because of unpaid bills. According to Weekendschool research conducted in 2008, parents’ support is very significant. It showed that those children whose parents are not supporting their kids, could loose their interest about weekend school quicker than others.
Shame about parents’ jobs
Cute Imane and energetic Ayman already know what they would like to do in the future. Imane is interested in medicine, but Ayman would prefer a job related to “some technical things”. Weekendschool research shows that 46% of alumni (17 students) acknowledged that the guest teacher had an impact on their choice of career. Numbers also demonstrate that weekend school children develop broader perspectives and feel more connected to mainstream society.
Still unachieved is the third aim, to strengthen self-confidence. Lise says it is hard to compare ten-year-old boys’ self-confidence with that of fourteen-year-olds, because “the teenage world seems so big” and self-assurance diminishes. Journalist and education expert Anja Vink is more sceptical. “What I see a lot in my work is that the expectations of the results with this sort of project are too high.”
Despite this, coordinator Lise strongly believes that she can offer a wider view to the world for kids like Ayman and Imane. She remembers that in one class the kids didn’t even want to say what their parents do. Lise asked them to write down their parents’ occupation if they feel ashamed to say it out loud, but some of the children didn’t even want to do that.