Poverty and social justice

Summer Camp for children at the Sloterplas


Written by Esther Hernández Díaz from Spain, Madrid

August 2020

Before I joined the workcamp ‘Summer Camp for children at the Sloterplas’, I ignored that more than 14,000 people of Brazilian nationals live in Amsterdam in an irregular administrative situation.

During my participation as a volunteer in the summer camp, I discovered that they migrate from impoverished areas of the interior of Brazil and from favelas of the biggest cities of the country, such as Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia. They leave their places of birth in search of a better life and a future with greater opportunities.

The Netherlands has an agreement with Brazil whereby its nationals don’t need a Visa to enter the European country for tourism stay up to three months. After this time, the administrative situation of these Brazilian people becomes irregular for the Dutch administration. They only have the identification of their Brazilian passport and don’t have options to regularize their situation. So they work in the informal labor market, mainly in the cleaning sector. They cannot have a bank account in the country, go to university, or rent a home with a legal contract. These issues leave them in a situation of high vulnerability.

Mostly, these women and men work cleaning houses on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, without a legal contract. Sacrificing themself so their children have a future with more opportunities. Children born in this Brazilian community cannot obtain Dutch nationality, so they can only study until the age of 16 and once they finish compulsory basic education they cannot continue studying or apply for a formal job. It is common that these young people have to choose between returning to Brazil and being able to access university or stay in Amsterdam and start working cleaning houses without a contract.

This year, with the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these people have been unable to access the houses and restaurants where they cleaned. This activity represented their main source of income and losing it further exacerbated their situation of vulnerability.

VIA Netherlands, SCI’s Dutch branch, was aware of the reality that the Brazilian community lives in Amsterdam because one of the veteran volunteers teaches free Dutch classes to many of these adults. With the arrival of the pandemic, the VIA Netherlands team, together with other organizations that usually collaborate with the Brazilian community, thought that in this situation of extraordinary vulnerability the children suffered the most. Without access to school and living at home in particularly precarious moments, it occurred to these committed volunteers that a summer camp for children and youth would be a way to improve the situation a bit.

After a few weeks of an accelerated organization during the lockdown, the workcamp ‘Summer Camp for children at the Sloterplas’ took place from July 25 to August 1. It was a week full of activities for 40 children between 4 and 12 years old. The participants in the workcamp were five Dutch volunteers, five international volunteers (from the Czech Republic, Portugal, Brazil, and Spain) and four Brazilian teenagers from the same community of the children.

It was an unforgettable week where we visited various Amsterdam city parks and museums, we participated in a puppet workshop, we practiced capoeira, we went to a school farm, we carried out a theater workshop, we shared funny breakfasts and lunches, we sang and danced. In short, we shared quality time, developing healthy and enriching leisure activities, and, the most important thing, it was based on SCI essence: realities exchange!

After this experience, we all know better the day-to-day reality of thousands of people with whom we share a city, neighborhood, or flat without knowing. Now, we share not only physical space but also empathy.

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