Student Chloë Polman and refugee Amani Faour are buddies: they meet every week to share a meal, practise Dutch or go shopping. Radboud University hopes to form more pairs like this one.
The differences between Amani Faour (22) and Chloë Polman could hardly be greater. Faour has been in the Netherlands for five months, having fled the war Syria in the hope of one day being able to resume her degree programme in Architecture. Chloë Polman (24) lives with her boyfriend in Nijmegen, works at Radboud in’to Languages three days a week and hopes to complete her Master’s degree in Law soon.
And yet these two young women arrange to meet every single week. They eat together, go to the park or walk into town to browse the shops. It’s a great way for Faour to learn Dutch and get to grips with Dutch culture. Polman on the other hand is learning what it’s like to be a stranger in an unfamiliar culture.
‘I’m always so glad when Chloë comes’, says Faour. She smiles apologetically about her stilted Dutch. ‘She’s a great friend.’
Her room on the first floor of the former Tax Administration office on Stieltjesstraat looks out onto the bus station of Nijmegen. Faour sleeps in a room with her mother and two other women. Her father, brothers and sister also live in the building, which has been a temporary home for three hundred refugees since February.
Polman and Faour met each other last summer through a buddy project for refugees being run by Radboud University. The idea came from a special working group of Radboud staff (including former Rector Magnificus Bas Kortmann), which was set up to represent the interests of refugees when the emergency shelter opened in Heumensoord in 2015. Now that Heumensoord has closed, the group is concentrating on the refugees housed in the old tax office. Twenty pairs have been formed through the buddy project.
Students of the Radboud Honours Academy were asked to make an inventory of what was needed for the buddy project, and work out exactly what these needs entailed. According to manager Annemarie Hinten, the demand for buddies is overwhelming. ‘People have very diverse needs: from learning the language to going to a concert or simply cooking together.’ To Hinten’s mind, the time and effort invested by the Honours Academy is a way of giving something back to society.
Staff members or students commit themselves to ‘buddyship’ for a minimum of six months, or until the refugee has been allocated a house elsewhere in the country. For Faour and her family this is about to become reality, as they are moving to Arnhem later this month. ‘But we’ll stay friends’, Polman assures her.
Would you like to become a buddy to a refugee in Stieltjesstraat? Students and staff can apply by contacting Eline Spek at In’to Languages: firstname.lastname@example.org, +31 (0)24 361 2159. Age is taken into account when people are paired. Older buddies (over 30) are in the greatest demand at the moment.