With the idea that a good neighbor is better than a faraway friend, some enthusiastic members of the JCI Amstelland decided in 2015 to start a ‘connections dinner.’ Their aim was to bring people in the local community together to help combat the loneliness that unfortunately afflicts more people than we as ‘average JCI members’ might expect. Press releases were sent to the local media and flyers delivered door-to-door to reach out to people. After the success of that first dinner with 25 guests, we quite literally had a taste for more.
It is September 2016: The European refugee crisis has reached its height and the papers are full of nothing else, and community centers and town hall meetings are tense and angry. JCI Amstelland decides to go against the rising negativity and organize another connections dinner, coordinated with the help of the City of Amstelveen, several neighborhood mentors, the Open Hof community center in Amstelveen, and a Syrian family. This time, it wasn’t just about helping people out of their loneliness; it was about reducing inequalities between social groups (SDG #10). The theme for the evening was ‘Middle-Eastern,’ and this time the 25 mostly elderly ‘lonely’ people shared a table with families from Syria.
These are the people they call ‘fortune seekers’ on TV; it’s horrible!
The original plan was to have one Syrian family help with ingredients and cooking, but it quickly became apparent that cooking and eating is something everyone does together in the Syrian culture! We didn’t keep an exact count, but in the end, there were at least 10 households preparing food, some of them starting two days in advance. The result was an incredible amount of incredibly delicious food. There was much too much food for all the guests. But a solution was quickly found when one of the chamber members went for ‘doggy bags’ at a nearby supermarket, which also helped us contribute – nearly by accident – to SDG #12: Responsible Consumption.
“It is amazing to see how different cultures come together and how both groups have something to offer the other,” said Amstelveen city council member Jeroen Brandes. The senior citizens from Amstelveen were visibly moved by the children who had been in the Netherlands for only nine months telling in fluent Dutch how their football club had won their match 10-0 that Saturday morning. One lady of 80-plus years said incredulously, “These are the people they call ‘fortune seekers’ on TV; it’s horrible!”
The Syrian refugee families were themselves happy to have found a way to thank the community in Amstelveen for its hospitality, even topping this off with a song of thanks sung in Dutch by the Syrian children. It was a perfect end to the evening.
RTV Amstelveen also attended the connections dinner and recorded the festive atmosphere in this video: