Before I write this I want you to know I take no credit for this. Had not someone else mentioned the idea nothing of what follows would have happened. My sole accomplishment would be not vetoing it.
With the current influx of refugees an old refugee center, approximately a mile or two from our offices, has been re-opened. About two weeks ago, during lunch at our offices, one of our employees asked "Is there something we should or can do for the refugees?" Of course a discussion developed and ideas were shared but until someone said: "Why don't we ask them?" it wasn't really going anywhere.
In the end a committee of three was formed who would do the necessary groundwork, like contacting the 'Central Organization for Refugees' (COR), to asses what was possible and we allowed them to do this, within reason, during work hours.
As a result a meeting with a group of twenty refugees was arranged for yesterday. Due to the make up of our company and information from the COR it was decided it would be better to focus on female refugees. You can expect refugees to adapt to the country the fled to but you can't nor shouldn't expect that to be the case from day one. The COR was worried male refugees would have trouble with our female staff and even though I'm usually a "So what, suck it up." kind of guy I could see the problems it would cause and accepted focusing on the female refugees.
And then Paris happened.
Yesterday morning we (five) met for breakfast at a local coffee shop and you can imagine what the topic of discussion was and how it affected what we were planning to do. In the end it is quite simple. We all know and knew Paris would and probably will happen. It is a choice we as a society made. We are open. We live life. It will be dealt with by others but for us normal people the best reaction is to remain open and live life. Do not react but just go on living is in my opinion the best resistance we can show.
When we arrived at the center a coordinator met us at the gate and expressed his concern that we would not have come after the events is Paris. I guess the collective "Why not?" settled that. We were led to an area where the twenty ladies were waiting for us. It took some time to break the ice and explain to them there was no need for apologies about Paris and that we were well aware that things like Paris were one of the reasons we and they were where we were at this moment. All in all we spend about four hours at the center talking to the women and fielding a variety of questions. Some of them didn't want to talk to me, the sole male, but others didn't seem to mind.
We talked about their expectations coming to The Netherlands which resulted mostly in explaining that the freedom we enjoy is set in an enormous quantity of rules and laws we have to follow. In itself a contradiction, so hard to explain. We talked about their wish to work and learn the Dutch language. I was asked the question "Will they touch me?" when talking about the equality of men and woman came to the topic of gays and lesbians. I explained that no one was allowed to touch them uninvited. Hetero, gay or lesbian and if such a thing happened that they should report it. We talked about the weather and pointed out that they should brace themselves if they felt today was a cold day. We tried to explain The Netherlands to them and hope some of it made sense to them.
Beforehand we had some ideas about what we could offer but these people have come a long way and have a long way still ahead of them. Of course in time we can help them find jobs or start businesses but at this moment what they need is interaction. Just a simple conversation about life. Just an explanation about what's done and not done. Just a little help filling out forms.
Just someone to make them laugh or cry with them.
I think we learned as much if not more from them as they did from us. We've made arrangements to have representatives of our firm go back there every week. Just for a talk or lending a hand. We'll see what the future brings.