Elleke, working together on a new future for refugees in The Hague
Written by: Patrick van Wersch
Translation by: Lot Brouwer
Elleke started a Samen Hier Welcome Group together with friends and they were matched with Wael and Rana and their family. Their group consists of Elleke, Anne-Ruthi, Lisette, Jeltsje, Wael, Rana, George, and Charbel.
Chasing their dreams, together
The doorbell rings. Elleke greets Wael as if they have known each other for years. In reality, it has only been six months since the two met. This was together with the rest of the Welcome Group, as well as Wael’s wife Rana and their two boys. The start of their Samen Hier adventure only felt uncomfortable for a split second, now there is friendship and involvement in each other’s lives. A life in The Hague that is so different from that in Syria, where Wael worked as a constructional engineer and Rana as a teacher.
‘How I would describe Wael?’ Elleke Bal (34) doesn’t need a long time to think: ‘Very ambitious and welcoming, and he has a great sense of humour’. Wael Yazji (39) chuckles in agreement: ‘I make a lot of jokes. I even do this right before bedtime, so that we can go to sleep cheerfully.’ Wael has only just found out that he will not be able to start his degree in Integral Construction Management at the Hogeschool Rotterdam this year. A missing language certificate – which was not listed as mandatory – stood in the way.
Navigating the world of jobs and studies
‘We want to build a good future for our family’, Wael says. ‘And a degree will help us do just that.’ He will have to try again next year. But to sit around and wait doesn’t fit Wael’s character. He is working hard to find an internship as a BIM modeller. Together with Samen Hier group members Anne-Ruthi and Swana he has updated his CV and made a LinkedIn profile.
Elleke: ‘It was very frustrating for our group that we weren’t able to do more to help Wael start with his degree. Thankfully, he is a go-getter. Now that Rana is doing a Master’s Degree in French at Leiden University and is teaching at the Gymnasium Haganum, he has taken on the household chores and is taking care of their two sons.’ Samen Hier Group member Jeltsje, who is also a teacher, is helping Rana navigate the world of online teaching. It might be a small gesture, but it means a lot to the ambitious couple and their family.
Optimistic and realistic
‘Always try your hardest’, is what Wael and Rana tell their two boys day in day out. Both come from an entrepreneurial family, and they have learned to work hard from an early age. They try to maintain this attitude in the Netherlands. Elleke describes the family as optimistic and realistic.
‘It is very admirable to see how they deal with challenges. First their escape to Lebanon, then to the Netherlands, trying to find work, and now Corona.’
Art and language
Due to Corona, the Samen Hier group is seeing each other less, and mostly one-on-one, but the contact is warm and good. In July, they all went to the Dutch miniature parc Madurodam together. Wael and Elleke have fond memories of that day. Wael’s eldest, George, spotted a painting by Johannes Vermeer and said: ‘This is a painting by Johannes Vermeer. His most famous painting is ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’.’ Wael: ‘The kids help us to better understand the Netherlands and the Dutch language. We help each other.’
‘Now that I have gotten to know Wael and Rana, I realise that, in reality, we are the same. We all try to build up a good life. Our cultures are different, but our dreams are the same’ – said Elleke.
Elleke’s story is part of our Justice & Peace Magazine. Read the whole magazine here.