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From a global problem to a local solution

By Florence Leijen & Hannah Venderbos.

“Refugees are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, with the same hopes and ambitions as us – except that a twist of fate has bound their lives to a global refugee crisis on an unprecedented scale.”

- Khaled Hosseini

During the autumn semester we have gotten the opportunity to work together around a complex social issue that is related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Our journey started with creating a team and identifying a complex issue. In June 2019, we went to Greece together to work with refugees and ever since this topic has been close to our hearts. The passion to help others has therefore been the biggest driver for us throughout our VC process. What was at first far away from us, we have brought close to home over the years and during this semester became the biggest part of our daily lives.


Soon we knew that we wanted to focus on refugees, however, which part of the refugee journey was not clear yet. To clarify this, we organized brainstorm sessions, co-creation sessions, and we played the 4E-Model Game from Windesheim Honours College. Focusing on the integration of newcomers in Zwolle was eventually most interesting to us. During this decision-making process, we have also looked at the practical side of the issue, knowing that we simply could not change existing (political) systems and asylum procedures overnight.


In order to better understand the complex issue, we focused on both global, national and local sources. We then began to identify which stakeholders were open to sharing their knowledge and many interesting conversations arose from this. We have spoken with, among others, the UAF (University Asylum Fund), Salvation Army, Justice & Peace, Municipality of Zwolle, and other local organizations who work with refugees. Next to that we have spoken with newcomers in Zwolle who have a refugee background. During this process we have even gotten the opportunity to become volunteers at Klets & Koek (Chat & Cookie), a language group in Zwolle. Besides that, we have undertaken other activities for Present Zwolle, such as welcoming a newcomer in the city and providing this person with practical help. All this information and experience shaped our perspective on the current global response to refugee integration.


This was decided in collaboration with Present Zwolle and compiled on the basis of input from various perspectives, such as Saeed Zwolle, an NT2 lecturer at Windesheim and people with a former refugee background who are therefore in a good position to assess whether the guide is useful for the target group. The Welcome Guide includes a lot of information about Zwolle and is divided into the following sections: education, health care, leisure, children, living, work, money, religion, clothes, transport, food & drinks and a section called additional. A link to this Welcome Guide can be found here. Eventually, the Welcome Guide will be made available in Dutch, English, Arabic and Tigrinya.


Over the past few months, we have learned a lot and gained lots of new information regarding the topic of refugee integration in The Netherlands. We have decided to collaborate with Present Zwolle next semester as well and thereby extend our project until the end of this academic year. During the upcoming six months we will start with conducting research, followed by implementing our main findings, which will help with the integration of new refugees in Zwolle who arrive in 2021. We are very much looking forward to this collaboration.

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