The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) Share & Care initiative in Huis ter Heide, Netherlands, is providing Dutch language lessons and other social activities for Afghan refugees. About 400 refugees have been sheltered in nearby Zeist. Coordinator of the volunteer team Lydia van Rhenen told how ADRA Share & Care became involved in this initiative.
ADRA has been active worldwide for thirty years as a development organization of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, but ADRA Share & Care started in 2020 with neighborhood activities to help ensure social and economic justice within the Netherlands. Since the change of government in Afghanistan, refugees leaving the country have spread out worldwide. The Netherlands has also received Afghan refugees, including those who came to Huis ter Heide.
“In August , we received a request via the neighborhood app,” van Rhenen said. “The emergency shelter is 800 meters [half a mile] away from us. We were given a tour and talked to the refugees. We heard poignant stories. For example, about a man who was on the run with his child and had to cross a bridge. That bridge was under fire, and there was shooting there. That man decided to cross the bridge with his child to reach the airport. That touches you. Some people have lost weight because of the traumatic experiences they have experienced in Afghanistan.”
Learning the Language
“Language lessons are essential to integrate,” van Rhenen said. “Fortunately, two former teachers from the Oud Zandbergen primary school were willing to provide the lessons at our location. Eventually, we started the lessons with 17 adults three times a week. These people had mastered the English language, and they are highly educated. They are now sharing their knowledge of the Dutch language with others in the emergency shelter.
“Some have worked as interpreters or for foreign development organizations and have fled, but still have family in Afghanistan. That family is not safe there. This causes stress. We are therefore careful with privacy-sensitive information. We also never ask for experiences but wait for them to tell us.
“We also offer creative activities,” van Rhenen continued. “This mainly attracts girls and older women. Fortunately, after a call, we received three sewing machines. This is very important. A woman looked quite sad, but she became very enthusiastic when we showed her the sewing machines. She turned out to have been a seamstress in Afghanistan. She can now make a dress in one afternoon.
“Many people also get cycling lessons. They can practice on the field.… ADRA Share & Care often works with other organizations. In the autumn holidays, we did children’s activities. You experience God’s blessing in this work.
“Residents like helping. They send us clothing, which we deliver to the emergency shelter. The Red Cross is looking into that further. They have a lot of experience with this and know what is needed and how to distribute it properly.
“In ADRA Share & Care we want to be there for our neighbor, for strangers, orphans, and widows. We certainly experience God’s blessings in this. It’s a great work.”