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Harriet, overcoming miscommunication between refugee parents and schools

Interview by Nienke Kehrer

“My goal is that people will be more open towards each other’s perspective, that they will learn from each other and – eventually – understand each other.”

Whenever she saw that a refugee family was feeling excluded at the school where she was working, Harriet felt that she had to do something. It is indeed often difficult for newcomer families to communicate with the schools their children attend. They are not familiar with Dutch culture, and the schools are not familiar with theirs. This is why Harriet started her project in which she pairs off Dutch volunteers with refugee families.

With this project, Harriet hopes to make a difference for the better. She does this next to her ‘normal’ job. In total, she works about sixty hours a week.

“Even though family, friends and sports are also very important to me, if I weren’t able to do this work, I would be unhappy.

While working at schools to improve cooperation with parents, Harriet was also volunteering for refugees. “That is when the idea came up. Two of the schools I was working at had a lot of newcomers. They had problems communicating with the parents – not just because of the language, but also because of differences in cultural habits.” That is when she started the project ‘Schoolmaatjes Ouderbetrokkenheid voor Nieuwkomers’ (buddy system to increase new parents’ involvement), through her own company Ouderbetrokkenheid-PLUS, in which eleven newcomer families were paired off with Dutch volunteers.

They get to know each other on a more personal level. In addition, the Dutch volunteers help the families with communicating with the school. Because the volunteers and families interact on a more personal level, problems that are caused by traumas, cultural barriers and social barriers are tackled more easily. The project is a success and  will probably be implemented in the rest of the country.

Harriet is not only striving for better understanding between school and parents, but for general better understanding of one another. That is why she also organised a play about refugees. Everyone could come up on stage and tell about their own experience: refugees about their journey here, or Dutch people about their encounters with the refugees. The Theater Boven Water then gave an improvisational performance based on these stories. “This benefits the connection between the people, and hopefully the mutual understanding. We will also see the dilemmas at hand.”

Harriet Marseille participated in the organisation of the Welkom Hier festival in Leidschendam-Voorburg through the platform Welkom in LV, which she founded with others.

Have a look at Harriet’s projects www.zenpeacemakers.nl