Elleke, working together on a new future for refugees in The Hague

Elleke, working together on a new future for refugees in The Hague

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. Now, the couple has new ambitions, and is chasing their dreams together with the five members of their Welcome Group ‘De Zinzoekers’ (“The Sense Seakers”) – tackling every obstacle along the way. Elleke and Wael talk about it at Elleke’s dining room table.

“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. It was a hard pill to swallow for the engineer, who had agreed with his wife that they would get a degree before applying to any jobs.

“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 group members Anne-Ruthi and Swana he has updated his CV and made a LinkedIn profile. With Elleke he has searched the internet for suitable internships, and a professional photoshoot  is being planned. Wael has sent out a few application letters, but so far he has only received one response: ‘No positions available due to Corona’. Right after that, Wael received the message that he couldn’t start studying.

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.” 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.

Click here to continue reading. For the original version in Dutch click here.

Photo credit: Justice & Peace Netherlands

This interview is part of a series of impact stories that I wrote for ‘Samen Hier’, a community sponsorship program of the Dutch non-profit organisation Justice & Peace Netherlands. 

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