“The children are so motivated” – A recital of the Vrolijkheid in asylum seekers’ centre Almere

“A chicken, a chicken, lays an egg. A chick hatches from the egg…” The children’s choir of asylum seekers’ centre Almere sings traditional Dutch children’s songs at the top of their voices. In between the songs, several flutists show off their skills. We are attending a recital of keen and talented children in asylum seekers’ centre Almere, made possible by our partner the Vrolijkheid.

Pitch perfect notes

There is a hum of voices in the corridors, children are trickling into the room for the final rehearsal before the afternoon’s flute recital. Then the cacophony dies down, and we hear the sounds of pitch perfect flute tones echoing through the building. “That is six-year-old Hamza”, explains programme coordinator Joep of the Vrolijkheid in asylum seekers’ centre Almere. “He started taking lessons with our music teachers Servaas and Stella a year ago. Hamza is so enthusiastic and talented. Servaas was amazed at how quickly he learned new notes, often after showing him only once. In the last lockdown period Servaas taught him online every day. Hamza is now able to play Beethoven pieces.” Lessons continued as usual in the past year. Servaas and Stella found a creative loophole to deal with the coronavirus restrictions. Joep: “Aside from online activities, they taught the children private lessons standing outside their window.”

Professional works of art

A work of art made of crocheted objects measuring several metres high stands in the corner of the room. Colourful photographs taken by teenagers hang on the wall, and cheerful balls of yarn hang from the ceiling. You cannot miss it: creativity is thriving here. The Vrolijkheid is a network of artists and coordinators who work in asylum seekers’ centres all over the Netherlands. At each asylum seekers’ centre a dedicated team is responsible for organizing local programmes. The children’s pieces of art would not be out of place in an art gallery. “That’s right, these are projects in which professional artists are involved. The artists help the children work towards a final project, such as an exhibition in a library or a recital for their parents”, explains Joep. The instruments in the music corner are in tip-top condition: the guitars have all their strings and the drums are well-tightened. “Through his mother, who is also a flutist, Servaas was able to get hold of flutes for the children who want to practice at home. Our network of artists can pull together and get a lot of things done.”

Wouldn’t miss it for the world

Maressa (10) and her friends walk past us, giggling. She obtained her residence permit a short while ago and now lives at a five-minute bike ride from the asylum seekers’ centre. “She wouldn’t miss it for the world. She has practiced so hard for the recital”, says Joep. Some 20 children have left the asylum seekers’ centre recently, some of whom are soloists. Fortunately, Maressa is able to participate in the recital for her solo pieces. Joep adds: “The series of workshops is designed in such a way that children can join at any time. It’s a must, really, because we have children leaving because they got their residence permits or because they have to leave the Netherlands, and we have new children arriving at the asylum seekers’ centre every week.”

Roaring like real monsters

The recreation room, normally home to table tennis tables, has been converted into a concert hall. Parents, children and employees of the asylum seekers’ centre are taking their seats. Hamza’s parents have found a spot in the middle on the front row. They beam with pride during the six-year-old’s rendition of Vivaldi’s ‘Spring’. Maressa is radiating joy throughout her performance of ‘Sur le pont d’Avignon’, proudly smiling at the enthusiastic group of friends on the first row. As an interlude between the flute recitals, the children sing happy children songs. It is clear that ‘mini monsters’ is their favourite one. The children roar as loud as they can, like real monsters.

Motivation and discipline

After the concert musician Servaas, a permanent member of the Amsterdam Sinfonietta, regards the group of children with pride while they are putting away their flutes and tidying things up. “I teach in secondary schools and have trouble motivating my pupils to learn how to read notes. They even struggle with clapping rhythm. The children here are so different. They are highly motivated. Sometimes I start at 2 pm and don’t get home before 8 pm. They don’t have to come here, there is no obligation. But they learn to read notes quickly because of their iron discipline.” The students do not get to take home a flute right away. Servaas has developed a special action plan for that. “First they have to learn to read notes, then they receive a folder with sheet music and fun stickers. If they come here on a regular basis and keep practicing with a plastic flute, they will receive a ‘real’ flute at some point. They are overjoyed when that happens. It gives me so much energy.”

Three questions for soloist Maressa (pictured above)

  1. How did you feel about performing solo?

“I wasn’t nervous at all! I just did it. I have been taking lessons for a year now and I really enjoy making music.”

  1. What else do you want to learn?

“Pieces of music with the D in them. I still have to practice that note. At home I practice about three times a week. My mother likes it very much when I play the flute.”

  1. Will you continue now that you no longer live in the asylum seekers’ centre and can no longer attend the classes?

“Certainly! Servaas is giving me private lessons now, which makes me really happy.”

The Vrolijkheid

Participating in artistic activities of the Vrolijkheid has a positive effect on the self-image and the social and cognitive skills of children and young people in asylum seekers’ centres. Children learn skills such as cooperation, trust and respect. It helps strengthen their resilience. The activities of the Vrolijkheid give the participants perspectives for the future regardless of where they settle after their asylum procedure. Last year, despite the coronavirus restrictions, the Vrolijkheid was able to reach about 5,200 children through over 100 art projects held in asylum seekers’ centres throughout the Netherlands.

Most names in this article have been changed for privacy reasons.

The power of creativity

Adessium Foundation strives for all children and young people in asylum seekers’ centres to have access to after-school activities, such as sports, games and art. We support the efforts of the Vrolijkheid because we believe in the power of creativity. Children and young people in asylum seekers’ centres deserve the chance to express themselves and to showcase their talents, to their peers, their parents and their network. They often spend a long time in asylum seekers’ centres, sometimes even years, due to increased processing times at the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) and the limited transition to the social housing market. With the support of Adessium, the Vrolijkheid was able to initiate ArtLAB Digital again, thanks to which they are able to reach even more children and young people in asylum seekers’ centres as well as guarantee the continuation of projects even in the event of coronavirus restrictions. Moreover, an online podium allows them to present their art projects to an even wider audience.

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