Study Visit Report - Meevaart Community Centre Amsterdam
The Study visit started after the project’s kick-off meeting has finished. The Meevaart Community Centre was introduced by Nooshi Forozesh, who is one of the responsible persons working in the centre.
Firstly Nooshi Forozesh presented the centre’s history and its activities. She informed that the building was empty for two years, being then rebuilt and after given to the neighbourhood. This was used by social organisations that then decided to involve the people in the process, because these type of organisations “do things for you not with you”. Nooshi Forozesh informed that the organisation is subsidized, giving circa 80% to 90% to the community and doing “everything for the profit of the community”.
For Nooshi Forozesh one of the successes lies on the division of responsibilities based on equality. They have around 30 functions, a Board with two paid jobs and 70 volunteers working in every needed task. Nooshi Forozesh remembered that “everyone is equal” and respected. This equality relies on the equity among the staff where both sexes are represented evenly as well as the more than 30 nationalities. Being so diverse there is a concern of overrepresentation, nevertheless this issue is overcome with the effort to maintain a fair distribution of people from different origins. This diversity is also reflected on the various backgrounds and realities, where everyone can work, being illiterate, having disabilities or being in an irregular position. This allows for the organisation to be open to new ideas and not be rigid. Also people that work and use the centre create a feeling of ownership towards the space, where they feel they are “the owners of their own thing”.
The multifaceted element of Meevaart allows a wide number of entities interested in its work and services. A lot of organisations seek this space for their various activities. In 2017 Meevaart counted with 204 organisations using the space under a rent agreement. In total it’s estimated that around 50.000 people used the centre that same year. This is beneficial for the organisations that lack infrastructures and for the community that thrive under this thrill.
Nooshi Forozesh informed that the organisation has 26 Dutch students at the moment. This is due to the enforcement of learning the language, having special programs for volunteers and the community as a whole. This facilitates communication, due to the great variety of national languages, as well as social inclusion. In this regard some examples of success stories were told.
When posed the question related to Meevaart success, Saskia Moerbeek from Stichting BMP took the task to answer. Being very familiar with the centre and its activities she brought some light on the success of Meevaart. For Saskia the friendliness and cleanliness of the space are of extreme importance. The fact that by entering the place you are welcome by the people that work there is very comforting. Also, the amount of activities held and its variety is very inspiring and makes one feel like the space is your own.
Nooshi Forozesh was very pleased to hear this an added that the diversity is a great element that contributes to the centre’s flexibility, because the organization changes every day depending on who is working there. For Nooshi Forozesh this also fosters respect and compassion, which together with love are some of the “hardest things to do”. Nooshi Forozesh then recalled a moment when the organisation asked some of their workers to make an exercise. First they had to go outside and walk through the neighbourhood with and angry face, then they should do the same but with an happy face, the differences on how people treated them and looked at them proved the “effect of a smile” and the hidden moral that your actions and attitudes trigger identical reactions.
When posed the question relating to the fact that the organization is somewhat bending the rules regarding the situation of some workers, Nooshi V consented on this issue and informed on the current regulations in order to get social welfare, where you cannot study for two years. This is a new conduct that came to put an end on the program that Meevaart started, where people could attend a language course and as soon as they had the diploma, they could do a training for two years in Meevaart. This training consisted on a first year working in facilitation and a second year working with the elder or keep facilitating. Now the authorities don’t ask for a diploma anymore, instead they perform tests regarding social and language skills. This has forced Meevaart to come up with another strategy in the name of inclusion, so they argued with the responsible entity that training from inside the organization would be more beneficial. This allow Meevaart to accomplish an agreement where the Department offers two people for free to coach them and then the trainees can go to other organisations to learn more.
The commitment of Meevaart is evident in the support this organization gives to their community and its people. Besides providing with a space that welcomes and shelters, the work this organization does with the people is admirable. The neighbours work together for a common goal, fostering knowledge, respect and familiarity. In addition to providing these experiences Meevaart pays for everything regarding their students, like the school, laptops and all necessary supplies.
After the explanation of the centre, the group made a brief tour around the space. Meevaart has one restaurant, where everyone can eat, one kitchen that can be rented, one open space opened to everyone and a garden. Also it has two indoor playgrounds that can also be used as gym and a theatre hall where plays and concerts are held. Meevaart offers workspaces to rent, as well as studios and a conference room. These workspaces can be small (with the maximum capacity for four people) or big (with the maximum capacity for 24 people) and they can be used for all sorts of activities like workshops, classes, meetings, presentations or conferences. It was also possible to see the commitment of Meevaart to the community through the engagement with the elderly people, the sewing workshops for Turkish women, the sports activities with children or the art sessions destined to the entire community.
The Meevaart community centre and all the work done towards and with the community, by engaging both locals and migrants and everyone despite their background, age, sex and abilities is definitely a good practice to be consider under the project as well as to be replicate in the name of inclusion and empowerment.