ROTTERDAM WHO CARES FIELDWORK
Dernière mise à jour : 13 nov. 2021
Monday 11th january is our first day. Our adventures in Rotterdam are starting, except from one point, we are actually in Amsterdam. Working from Alice's room. Transforming it into a small office.
We do a lot of planning, a lot of talking, a lot of emails, a lot of putting up the structure in Google Drive. All the things that are part of it, that are needed to ‘really begin’. We get a soup every day, at the other side of the street – one day the girl from the soup bar gives us an extra soup, it is a leftover.
We are supposed to do what we like to call “fieldwork”, meaning going on location, talking with people, learning new skills. In Rotterdam we follow social workers. We have to adapt slightly our planning to the never ending pandemic, do a bit more online interviews, but in general we can't complain. Social workers don't stop working - social work is an essential work. They just go on. So we also go on.
On the first day we gather our expectations and projections related to being a social worker. We write words on post-its. Words linked to our own imagination: “guidance” “intimacy” “boundary” “comforting VS empowering” “naive” “transformation” ”physical” “rituals”. We also write questions: “ how does it impact your own life?” “How to deal with your judgment?” “Do you have to be self confident to help others?”
Both of us have different experiences linked to this job. Alice has the feeling that where she grew up (the suburbs of Paris) this job was very present around her. She could feel how (when given enough support and care) it literally transformed certain areas, especially through the work of what they call here “ambulante werkers” or youth workers. In some cases of course it was badly associated. There were the social workers who represented the system, employed by the government, the ones who were coming to check you up and who could “destroy” your family. But then there were also the social workers who were closer to the people, in general smaller associations led by people who knew the neighborhood very well. These are the people we will also follow here.
Lisanne is a bit more insecure about this whole topic. She grew up in a really small and ‘safe’ village, the problems that existed were hidden behind the doors. The social workers were not visible, at least not for her. Since her father is a psychologist she does relate to the topic of providing mental help to vulnerable people, and also knows how tired and frustrated a ‘care worker’ can be after a long day of work.
On the second and third day we start with the interviews. Our first interviews are with two social workers from the organisation Moeders van Rotterdam. They accompany pregnant women who are in difficult situations, and stay with them for the first years of raising their child. They help them with practical things, dealing with juridic problems, administration, cleaning, organising. They also help them in creating a connection to the coming baby: a lot of mothers are too stressed to create this connection.
We decide to have a minimum of 2 interviews with 3 of the Moeders (we call the social workers from this organisation de Moeders). The first interview is focused on their job, their relation to it, emotions linked to it, what brought them there etc. The second interview, we call the “care talk” and is focused on the relation they have through their work but also personally to the topic of care.
We first talk with Tessa. Tessa is down to earth, pragmatical, not very sentimental as she defines it herself but passionate about her work. Her mother used to have a cafe and we can't help seeing a connection there. Imagining her mother, the coffee place, the customers and how much being a bartender is also about listening and encountering people from all paths of life.
The second talk is with Imke. Imke is sweet, passionate and invested in what she does. She comes from a family of teachers and along our conversation we can feel the impact it has left on her. She shares with her parents and brother a mission. She said she was young and naive when she started this job, but by doing it she became more critical and learned how to share her opinion more.
Next week, we will really go to Rotterdam (jiij). We are very happy about that as we believe we need to be on location, in the neighborhood where the social workers we follow are working, to understand the place, meet more people and create our own connection.
We start our week with a meeting about marketing. It’s a weird combination of online and offline, but it works. We talk with Jasmina, Stefan, Jordy and Marion (the team of Rotterdams Wijktheater), Charlot (our creative producer), Vincent (our creative pr-person) and Wilma. Wilma works at the bibliotheek nearby and she is also a resident of Ijsselmonde. From our previous stay in the neighborhood we noticed already how important this bibliotheek is, it is a place where a lot of people meet and it has a very nice and welcoming vibe.
We talk about augmented reality, walks through the neighborhood, Mariah Carey being a careworker in a movie, and ways to get in touch with people in this weird time. We also talk about dropping letters in postboxes (the famous MOHA pr method ;) and Wilma will join us for this. Jasmina thinks Wilma is also a good writer so maybe she can add a personal touch to our messages. We made an appointment for care talk with her next week. We are looking forward to getting to know her better.
After the meeting we get some lunch and make a walk through the shopping center at the other side of the square. We love the shopping center, it has a lot of weird stores. Most of them are closed, but the candy shop is open. Candy is an essential good. There is also a store where you can make a mondkapje with a picture of your own mouth - it looks kind of creepy.
We reach out to all the new people that Stefan and Jasmina told us about. It's nice to see how good they know the neighborhood and its bewoners, and how caring they talk about them. Then we have a second interview with Tessa from Moeders van Rotterdam, a care talk. This time Tessa zooms from home, so we can see her plants. She shows how weird one of her plants grew. Tessa shares a lot of interesting stories and thoughts with us. One statement she makes is "the fact that I do social work doesn't make me better than an accountant. I also get money for it." We like this straight forward side of her. We ask her what care smells like, she says: the sea.
We also ask her what kind of music she listens to as a comfort. She shares with us some songs from her Spotify list, she finds it very personal. This is one of the songs:
After this long day we go to our hotel. We had low expectations, because Stefan made a joke about it, but is actually fine.
Today is a big day. We have three talks planned. We start by meeting with Reena. Reena is a dear resident whom we met in our care office in october. She came to visit us several times and shared with us many of her stories. Sha had a tough life and is now in her process of recovery. Today Reena shows us some places she associates to care in the neighborhood. She shows us a spot where you can charge your phone and your scootmobiel, but she mostly talks about the police station, the UWV and the gemeente. All of them are in the same building.
We go inside to get warm. We reflect about all what has been said. Reena talked a lot about the different layers of care. She mentioned the team of strong women who are collaboratively working on her recovery including specialists and friends. She said that they work hard to help her, she also had to work hard herself. It makes us think of care as a collective effort and a responsibility that we all have towards each other.
After that we go for a walk in the neighborhood. We find it fascinating that there are a lot of different types of houses: from big blocks of buildings to small older houses, all really close to each other. When dropping letters we want to reach out to the residents of these different architecture styles.
When back at the office we prepare for our next two interviews with Beniam and Sam. They both work as ‘ambulante werker’ for Jong op Zuid. Their mission is to keep a close contact with the youth of the neighborhood, to take care of them and to reduce the disturbance in certain areas. First Beniam comes. We offer him tea, but he already has redbull. Beniam works for six years at JOZ and is really passionate about his work. He is used to giving interviews about it and has really clear thoughts about working with youth: he says it is really important to reach out and to be present, because the youth won’t just come to you.
He also says that humor is very important in his work, to make first contact. Music is a really good communication tool too. Beniam has a studio at home where he records. This passion for music he shares with Sam, they work as a team together. They both mention their concerns about drill rap which is a very popular, very aggressive type of music with the youth they are working with. They think it is important to offer activities to these kids instead of just telling them to stop making problems. They for instance make music with them and try to get them in touch with different music genres.
Sam is the last social worker we talk to today. He wanted to become a superstar as a kid, now he still makes music: a combination of funk, soul and hip hop. In this music he really tries to give a message of love. He started the work only four months ago. He seems to be very happy about it and feels comfortable with the job. Part of his work is at the neighborhood school. He says that street culture is taking over the schools, and teachers don’t always know how to deal with it. At the school he gives presentations for the students and teaches. He says that he and Beniam play the role of “big brother” in the neighborhood. They try to be different role models for the kids.
At the end of our talk, we all seem enthusiastic and we feel very sad about the fact that we can’t join all these activities because of covid. We decide nevertheless to stay connected. Sam has 4 different instagram accounts which we now all follow. One for his work, one is with poems and spoken words, one for his music and one personal. We are impressed. We leave each other fantasising of involving his music in our work.
When checking his instagram called @poethics we find some similarities with one of our project: views on words and definitions (we are developing a dictionary with terms we encounter on the way). We find interesting some of sam's definitions as well.
We are back in Alice's room again. We feel loaded with stories and information. Inspired. It was great in this matter to be able to stay longer in Rotterdam.
This morning we start at 9.30 with a first interview with one of the moeders: Julia. Julia is the first contact we made with social workers in Ijsselmonde. When talking with her we notice again how different all the ‘moeders’ are. They each have their own approaches and energy. Julia says that she always knew she would work with people. She says she has the ability to communicate with her eyes. When we ask her what she finds frustrating about her job she starts with bureaucracy and institutions that don’t take their clients seriously. That makes her angry.
This frustration keeps coming back in our conversations. One suggestion we invent together is a “compulsory social internship” for people over 30. The reason why we choose this age is because this is the moment people think they understand the world and settle down, which makes them a bit more stiff in their beliefs. It connects to something we have been interested in with MOHA linked to integrative learning. Julia had differents interns as well, coming from different kind of studies: nursing economics or juridic studies. She believes this internships helps them understand the situations they will have to deal with in the future. When someone doesn’t call back, it’s not always because they forgot or don’t feel like it, sometimes they just don’t have any money left on their phone.
We finish our interview series for the week with another “moeder”, Imke. It is our second interview. The care talk. For her care tastes like cucumber, because it is a natural watery taste. It smells like a hospital or dentist clinic, and it sounds neutral.
This week Biljana, our third collaborator, is joining us in Rotterdam. After a little mess with missing the train she finds her way to Ijsselmonde. It is the first time she comes here, she only knows the space through our stories. We talked a lot about the square, the shopping mall, the gemeente, the bibliotheek and the UWV. When she arrives she asks: is this the famous square? It is.
Last week we had a lot of input, so it feels good to have a first day only with the three of us. No interviews. A time to look back at all the discussions we had. It is a bit of a weird exercise to pass on the stories of others. The stories were first told to us and now we tell them to Biljana, adding our own understanding, questions and projections. We introduce her to the social workers from “Moeders van Rotterdam”, Tessa, Imke and Julia, and the ones from JOZ: Beniam and Sam. Biljana asks to see bits of the recording, just to have an idea what they look like.
We fish back in our memories and share anecdotes, details and concepts. Sometimes just a short personal story, like the one of Imke taking care of her rabbits after they lost their babies. Sometimes we share our first impressions, in overgeneralized sentences like: she is like a melancholic angel. We also introduce Biljana to the Drill rap-issue which came back through some of our discussions. Alice shows a bit of a small reportage she found about it.
The stories of Beniam and Sam are a bit more fresh in our head. There is a lot to be said. The work of the “moeders” is more linked to the domestic, what happens inside the house, inside the belly. The work of Sam and Beniam takes place in the public spaces, the relations between youth and other public entities and residents. We talk a lot about these different spaces: the street, the school and social media.
In parallel to our research Lisanne explains to us, “the non informed non-dutch people”, what is happening with riots in the country. It happens everywhere, but Rotterdam is one of the hotspots. We wonder if Beniam and Sam have a lot of work linked to this. Alice makes the connection to the riots in the suburbs of France some time ago. She tells about the importance of the youth workers and street coaches in her neighborhood to keep things calmer. She remembers they talked a lot about the despair people had, despair from years of being pushed out of the system, not being listened to. Violence felt like the only option for a lot of them. There is a similarity with what is happening now.
In the evening we go back to our Easy hotel, our heads full of stories. We are all pretty exhausted so we split up. Some of us do some extra research, some kill their brains with series, some keep checking the news for all the updates about the riots.
We wake up and the riots stories are still in the air. We take the tram to Ijsselmonde. If there was no news, we would have no idea about everything that happened. Ijsselmonde remains as it is, this week even with some sun.
Last night Biljana got herself a bit more into the world of drill rap. She tells us she is intrigued by the aesthetic of the big knives. There is something personal about it. It demands a certain proximity. We wonder what it represents or stand for?
We go back to the interview with Sam. He talked a lot about knowledge and we feel the need to listen to this whole part again. How knowledge is perceived by society is something that through MOHA we are often confronted with. Sam seems to have the same concerns. Why is knowledge often perceived as something far away? Why is the knowledge we get through life experience often less valued? Sam says that the youth he works with often associate knowledge to school and books, they find it boring and ‘not for them’. This is a problem.
When Sam talks about knowledge he becomes a bit philosophical. He says: to me knowledge is everything, knowledge makes you conscious. This consciousness leads to the will to change your life, to make it better.
We debate for some time on this topic, each of us understands it slightly differently. We talk about the personal example Sam gave us. When he was young he first thought he was really bad at math, he hated it. His teacher didn’t motivate him at all and had no faith in him, he mostly saw Sam as this annoying kid, disturbing the lessons. The teacher never asked him: why are you so annoying, is there something wrong? Then at one point Sam changed schools, to his new teacher he said: I’m really bad at math. This teacher answered: “no one is bad at math. The question is always the same, you just have to change the numbers. It’s all about: wanting to understand.” At this new school Sam started to get really good grades. His whole vision of knowledge changed.
We meet Wilma who works at the bibliotheek. Wilma is a colourful woman who loves to dress up. She has lived in Ijsselmonde since 1997 so she knows the neighborhood very well. She talks to us about her work at the bibliotheek. The library is one of the last remaining public places where you can stay for very long without having to consume anything. It is also a place where it is ok to be alone. There are a lot of loners coming to hang on the computers for the whole day. There is a lot of diversity. When talking about Ijsselmonde she says that it became poorer and harsher over the years, but she thinks that it is the case everywhere. If she could change one thing she would invite people to look for the beauty of things. Small things or things connected to art and nature. Wilma will take us for a walk next week.
After talking to Wilma we come back to our little office. We realise that for now a lot of information seems to be floating in the air. We get a lot of input, but things don’t land yet. Alice is confident that it eventually will, we just need time. We allow ourselves to be a bit sad not to be able to have real internships with the social workers. It is a different experience than only having interviews. It is also a physical experience. It contains things you can’t measure. We talk about the complexity of our subject. Its vastness. We are looking forward to our walk with Sam and Beniam tomorrow.
Lisanne brings in a reference from a text of Hanna Arendt about “new beginning”. It is a point that came back in many of our discussions. The possibility to restart, to haven a clean page. The possibility to escape what you think you are. It is something both social workers and the people they work with experience.
In the evening we decide to order Pizza and beers and to watch an animal documentary in one of our little rooms. We think it could connect to some of our topics, but we don’t know how yet. First we watch one about the forest, then one about canadian cat show.
We have the desire today to digest a bit more. We cover the table with colourful post-its. Move them around, connect them with each other. They all contain words that stay with us: role models, possibility of a new beginning, hierarchy of knowledge, listening, the need to claim identity and the risk to lock oneself in it, being judged/not judging, how others perceive you, political correctness, music, beauty of small things, difficulty of measuring, the field VS bureaucracy, different roles, layers, different hats, etcetera.
Some baby fantasies slowly start to appear. Like wearing a backpack with the weight of words inside. Giving the audience members a clear role in the beginning, that later transforms into something else without them noticing. We’re trying not to be scared to bring our audience to a more uncomfortable situation.
In the afternoon we get a tour of Islemunda by Robert, the technician of RWT. There are a lot of studios and equipment, a lot of possibilities. Biljana’s eyes are sparkling when smoke machines and live editing green screen video are mentioned. It is nice to be reminded of this side of the work as well.
At 17.00 we have our meeting with Sam and Beniam. We go a few tram stations further to Beverwaard, another part of Ijsselmonde. We wait for them in front of a neighborhood house, the place where they usually work and where they have their music studio. Before going for our walk, they introduce us to Michael who works for “Leger des Heils”. Beniam thinks it would be nice if we also interview him. “Leger des Heils: is very active and appreciated in the neighborhood, they hand out food packages amongst others. Beniam repeats a few times that they really make a difference.
Then our walk starts. We walk together for more than an hour. It is a quiet evening, they show us places that they cover: the football field where they organise competitions, the “overlastlocaties” where residents complain a lot about, the skate park that has a lot of potential as ‘hang out spot’, but that is simply too far away for the youth. All these places are ‘marked’ with empty cans of energy drink and beer, and cigarette buds.
Beniam mentions again the problems he encounters with the “new politics” linked to youth and social working. First there was a ‘verzorgingsstaat’, now there is a ‘participatiestaat’. This means that nowadays youth is supposed to take initiative themselves, in order to make them more responsible for their neighborhood and their own life. Beniam says that this sounds great on paper but in reality it doesn’t work. You can’t ask those young boys to organize a whole football competition, they already have enough on their mind. You have to offer it, and then they will come – they have nothing else to do. In the end the youth workers still do the organization, but sometimes they make it seem as an initiative of the youth to get the right subsidy. Again: bureaucracy.
Beniam tells us how insecure most of these kids are. Most of them are in the lowest level in school and are ashamed about it. He believes they all have amazing skills, but they are often unaware of them. They are for instance often very handy: a few years ago cycling was a huge trend, and now a lot of them can dismantle a bike and bring it back together. Not many people see this, because they focus on the stealing of the bikes. It comes back to the discussion about perception and how knowledge is valued.
Biljana speaks with Sam about sexuality and the roles of gender. The group Sam and Beniam work with are mostly boys, cliché on genders are very present. An expression that comes back is “women are headaches”. Sam mentions the influence of porn and how women are represented there. He tries to talk and change their ideas about this but it is a difficult and delicate subject.
At the end of our walk we come back to the shoppingcenter. We finally see Sam and Beniam ‘in action’, as the professional big brothers of the neighborhood. One boy comes on his bike to give Sam a ‘boks’ and makes fun of his shoes. Beniam introduces us to a boy that he already knows for three years. We might do an interview with him, to also see the perspective of the youth.
Last day of work. The three of us kept a strong feeling about our walk the day before.
It was also an important moment for Biljana to experience directly what we talked about a lot in the last few days.
First ideas about the performance and the performative fieldwork are starting to appear. We are filled with joy and excitement, and start to fantasize. We’re getting more and more critical about the dutch government approach on this subject (and a lot of others...).
Rough start. It is raining and we get stuck in a small station in Den Haag. There seems to be a big electricity bugg in Rotterdam. It is cold. There is nothing to do. Alice is tired and goes to the Etos to entertain herself but the line is too big so she gives up. Lisanne gives up on her principles and buys a coffee at Starbucks.
Three hours later: we finally reach Rotterdam. We miss the tram, but we are used to it - we always miss every tram.
As the day passes, we gain a bit more energy and are ready for our second interview with Julia from de Moeders. We started the conversation a bit awkward. We always ask the person with whom we have the care talk to pick a card from a word game we have to reflect on their relation to it. The card she picks is “orgasmic”. We pretend that it is not awkward at all and just start the conversation as it was a word like another.
We ask Julia how she thinks other people perceive her when they first meet her. People always think she is older, because she seems really serious and calm. Sometimes they overestimate her because of that: they think she knows everything and don’t see her vulnerabilities. She says that she sometimes locks herself into this ‘serious role’, but that she also has a fun side. When she needs some cheer up, she loves to listen to African hits:
At the end of the talk Alice finally comes back to the card and asks how she thinks it connects to care. We all laugh about it. Julia sees no direct connection, she admits she thought it was a bit weird. Later we, between each other, develop a whole analysis on the link between “orgasmic” and “care”. We do find some connections.
Today is a marathon of talks.
We start by meeting Wilma again, this time with her friend Ellen. Last time we saw Wilma she said that Ellen is the embodiment of care, we had to meet her. We were supposed to go for a walk but the weather is so bad that we decide to drink tea instead. Wilma and Ellen are friends for a very long time. Ellen used to be the teacher of Wilma’s kids. She worked at the rainbow school in Beverwaard. The same school we saw during our walk with Sam and Beniam.
Ellen is a born teacher. When she was young she always played the teacher for her dolls. She recently retired. She is still struggling with this change but is also happy to finally have more time to take care of herself and her close ones. Reflecting on the dutch school system she shares her frustration about the growing focus on results and measuring. This focus doesn’t leave enough space for the emotional and social dimension of the kids: some carry huge baggage, like a tough situation at home.
Lisanne asks them if they watched the documentary series Klassen from Human. None of them have seen it but they will check it out. Lisanne keeps coming back to this documentary, so Alice will do the same:
It’s really nice to see Ellen and Wilma together. You can see they are really good friends and admire each other. They live in the same street. They are both realistic about their neighborhood but when they hear other people judging it they get a bit angry. They think a neighborhood is made by the people who live there everyday and can’t be judged from the outside. There is a dutch expression which sticks to us: onbekend maakt onbemind. It means that when you don’t know something it is almost impossible to love it. We both can relate to this feeling when the place where you come from is judged by others who never were there. It is a mixed feeling of pride and frustration.
It is raining like crazy and we are back on the road. We go to the next door neighborhood (lombardijen) to meet Rachel and Sarina. On the way we see a sad teddy bear sitting in the rain. It is a bit how we feel while walking in the cold.
Rachel and Sarina are both from ijsselmonde and talk with great passion about their work in the neighborhood. They run two organisations: Talentzkool and Chance to Influence. Both use culture as a tool to empower vulnerable youth. They find it really important that the youth tell their own stories, instead of other people speculating about what they need or want. When Rachel was young she experienced the power of art herself. She got the main role in the musical of her primary school. She was really surprised because she was a shy girl, she loved the experience that she could be someone else on stage: be really loud and bold.
During our talk we see them switch between huge passion, hope and frustration. The frustration is mostly directed against the bureaucracy and the priorities of governmental institutions. They both believe the expertise and knowledge on how to solve issues related to their neighborhood lies in the hands of smaller grassroots organisations who are not sufficiently supported.
Seeing their huge engagement, we ask them: how do you take care of yourself? They start laughing. It’s hard, but stopping is not an option. That would mean that they give up on the youth, give up on the future. They can’t do that. The youth they are working with is not abstract, they are part of the community they live in.
They both dream of a future where the vulnerable youth is not vulnerable anymore, but has more chances and less boundaries.
Full of stories we leave the office. We feel a bit numb, but also look forward to our last two talks of the day. We know Sam en Beniam of JOZ enough now to feel comfortable. The last two times we saw them we focused on their work as social workers, today we will focus on their personal relation to the subject of care. We are curious to their answers, to dive a bit deeper in their own stories and struggles. To avoid huge awkwardness we take the ‘orgasmic’ card out of the deck.
First Beniam comes, his card is: letting go. As a second question we ask him to tell us his life story, with as much detail as possible, in three minutes. We laugh a bit about the absurdity of this task and then he starts telling. His parents came from Eritrea to the Netherlands and he was born at the West Kruiskade in Rotterdam. Back in the days this was a street known for its junkies, but Beniam mostly remembers the playground. The playground was his safe haven, he grew up there: playing table tennis and football, chilling. This playground and also the neighbourhood center are key places in his life story. They made him understand the importance of these shared, public places. Especially for vulnerable young people, it’s a place to grow up. To learn.
We are really touched by Beniam's openness. A lot of the things he says resonate with us. He tells about planting tiny, tiny seeds in the heads of the youth he works with. You don’t see the effect of your conversations with them immediately, but maybe it will come back to them later, when they need it. He keeps repeating that he is really ‘nuchter’, down to earth. He hears a lot of shity stories in his work, and when he was young his father was sick. These both things made him really grateful for everything he has: “I live, I breathe”.
After a hard day of work Beniam turns to music. He can always listen to Tupac and also loves reggae. When he tells us that he listens to US Drill too, we are really, really surprised. ‘Not the aggressive drill, but the happy drill’, he nuances. After all we heard about drill rap ‘happy drill’ sounds like an impossibility. A thing to dive in.
hereby an extract of his interview:
Last interview of the day: Sam. His card is ‘commitment’. We can see he likes this card, right away. We also ask him to tell us his life story in three minutes. Three minutes become easily ten minutes, we lose together the track to time. Sam talks in big words and philosophical concepts and invites us to dive into it with him. He was raised by his mother, who had to be a father at the same time, and played many more roles for him. He looks up a lot to her, she taught him selflessness a quality he tried to bring into his work as well.
When he was a teenager he got intrigued by the question: why are we here? He found different answers: first in the bible (he was raised a catholic), then in science, then in the koran. This willingness to shatter your frame is important to him. He believes it is important to study different perspectives and to keep learning.
We asked him if he could share this thought process with his friends when he was young, he said that was not easy. A lot of people are not really interested in questioning the purpose of life. When you're not in a good mood or phase, it can make you easily nihilistic. Back in the days he could be really hard about people that didn’t seem interested in developing themselves. He says he had to learn that not everybody has the same capacity. He tries not to judge them anymore: you don’t know what happens behind doors, some people live their lives in places that are really toxic for their development.
Sam is not only this ‘nerd’, he sees himself as a mix of different influences. When he was young he loved to play Zelda, when he got older his bedroom became too small for him: he got into music, into girls, into hanging with friends, discovering new things. He knows the temptations that the youth face, but he never really ended up on the wrong path. If if could talk to his younger self he would tell him to stop slacking. He would also try to help his friends more, a lot of them were in difficult situations. Sometimes he feels guilty: ‘why didn’t I help them, as much as I tried to help myself?’
When we ask Sam about how he relates ‘commitment’ to ‘care’ he says: in many ways. He is committed to the youth. To God. To his mission. To Beverwaard. He’s committed to himself, which he says doesn’t mean he is a saint.
We leave each other inspired. Sam thanks us for making him reflect on his job and himself through the many questions we ask. We thank him for being so open with us. We finish with a nice photoshoot posing together on the empty theater chairs.
We go to the hotel, our brains fully packed. We order food. Lisanne watches the whole first season of Blown Away (a competition of glass blowers), Alice does some work and afterwards turns to her new hobby: strolling the internet for couches.
We start the day in a reflective mood. We look back to all the conversations we had and look for connections. Some things keep coming back: knowledge, perception, the desire for having more shared responsibility.
We noticed that all the social workers we talked with so far have different levels of proximity to the people they work with. Some live in the area where they work, which blurs the line between work and private life. Some grew up in similar areas, but would never want to live in the neighborhood where they work. Some come from very different backgrounds, they never faced the problems their clients faced, their work opened up new worlds. Linked to this, we reflect on the importance to acknowledge your position as a social worker but also as an artist.
In the afternoon we talk to Gitte. She works at the school nearby for youth with special needs. As we often encounter in this field, Gitte is very down to earth, she helps the students to integrate in society, especially the working field. One topic that comes back in our discussion and that we can relate to is: realistic dreaming. Gitte says it is important for her students to dream, but also to place it within a certain, reachable context. Having dreams that can never be fulfilled can be very frustrating. Often kids want to become footballers or pilots. She doesn’t want to shatter these dreams, but tries to identify what in these jobs attracts them. Maybe they can’t be pilotes, but they can work in an airport?
Gitte in general tries to think in possibilities, instead of limitations. This is a little bit how MOHA was born as well. There was not much happening for us at the beginning, so we decided to look into what we had already instead of focusing on the impossibilities. Maybe we were not always full time artists, but we did side jobs which took us to unexpected spaces. In the end these side roads were really meaningful.
When we ask her what part of her work is art, Gitte comes up with some really beautiful images. She says that in her work you have to keep moving, sometimes the surface is really slippery so it is a bit like ice skating. It is a lot of improvising and if she had to choose a form for it it would be like spoken word.
Working from Amsterdam. Happy to be home, which sounds a bit weird in this covid times. We are aware of our privilege to experience adventures, but we also long for some time to ground.
[Still under construction]
The fieldwork is getting more and more hardcore, now we also encounter snow. We can’t go to Rotterdam, but maybe it is a blessing in disguise: we are tired, it is good to be home, to recharge a little. Alice just moved to a new home and had to do this whole in the snowstorm. Lisanne tried to dive in the world of drill rap and found this album: Jongetjes uit Zuid. They rap about getting a ‘buurthuis’(neighborhood house). Just a place to come together. As simple as that.
Only sprinters go to Rotterdam, but it’s fine: it’s a really nice day to look out the window. Everything white, snow. We arrive in Rotterdam, but no trams are going. We take an uber, a whole different way. Makes us think: we saw so little of Rotterdam yet.
We take a walk to Beverwaard. The snow is like a soft filter for the neighborhood: we watch birds on the ice, wonder if they think it’s weird that the water became a different form, we watch kids playing. It’s a really nice walk, we cross the highway, it gives Alice a suburby feeling. We try to visit all the places that Sam & Beniam showed us, but we get a bit lost. Everything looks different during the day. We find back the neighborhood house, the music studio, the rainbow school of Ellen, the football field where most activities take place.
Back at Keizerswaard we count the post boxes for our first letter drop. A lady starts talking to us. We think she is one of the hardcore ‘complainers’ a lot of people told us about. She lives here for 35 years, and thinks everything goes downhill. She is deeply racist. Alice with her foreigner ear can’t understand all the expressions she used but seeing the face of Lisanne change along the conversation makes it clear enough.
We go back to the buurthuis to interview Michael. Michael works for Leger des Heil (salvation army). He got introduced to us by Sam and Beniam who believe he plays an important role in the neighborhood. Both organisations, Young op zuid and Leger des Heil, complete each other’s work in the area. We understand through Michael that his organisation is the reason Sam and Beniam can have a physical space to share with the youth. As youth workers you usually only have the streets to interact. But in order to go further with people, everybody seems to agree that you need a space.
Michael is a young man, passionate about sport and passionate about his work. He grew up in Dordrecht. Faith is really important for him. It's like a value set and a way of living. His motto: love others, like you love yourself. Both of us think simultaneously that it could be reversed as well: love yourself, like you love others. It makes us think.
Like with most social workers we talk to, the discussion is down to earth yet passionate. There is a sense of selflessness and the topic of being thankful for what we have instead of looking at what we don’t have comes back again. Michael shares a story about that: his grandmother used to tell him when his shoes were broken, that he was lucky his legs did their job to make his shoes broken. His uses the same word to describe himself than Beniam did: Nuchter (sober/down to earth/simple).
We like this word.
Michael can sometimes recognize himself in some of the youth. He tries to involve them in the work he does, give them responsibilities, pass on to them how it feels when you feel useful. Another hot topic is back on the table: the frustration with politics and the difficulty to work together with other organisations. Decisions that are being made are not serving the people but sometimes only help to sustain the organisations themselves. They want to see results, but it is not easy to measure. This sounds weirdly familiar to us. Seems like the art field struggles with the same problems.
We talk about the principle of giving without expecting back. Michael thinks it should be applied to the system as well: When you give to the youth, you don’t always receive something back. So why is it not also the logic with higher structures like the gemeente? They always expect something back. It makes everything like a transaction.
Alice is reading this book from Eric Hagoord on reciprocity. She recognizes the topic here. There is a part in the book which says “By giving without expecting anything back, you deprive the other the opportunity to take part. The other then remains captive in the position of those who can only hold up their hand along the side of the road”. It is a different but interesting analysis. Maybe reciprocity (receiving and giving back) could happen differently than by filling reports. Maybe we need a different measure system. A different type of exchange.
To finish our discussion we ask him what is art in his work? He answers that art to him is the ability to communicate. It’s this little extra, the little magic some people have and how good they can be at it. It’s not something you can learn.
In the afternoon the real business starts: Welcome to the MOHA letters PR session. Vincent our creative PR joined for the occasion and helps us set up everything. We place tables in a Covid proof way and our team of the day slowly starts to build up. We basically have to fold 1000 letters, put them in envelopes, add lavender (we could not find real lavender unfortunately so we had to replace it with lavender salt bath, not exactly the same but it will do…), close letters with a shiny sticker, and write on it “Voor jou”.
With 1000 letters, this becomes like factory work.
We start with a smaller team. John, a resident of Ijsselmonde proposed his help. He sits at the folding station and shows great dedication to the work. Along the folding he tells us a bit about his life. He has lived here for 62 years and feels very close to the Rotterdamsewijk theater. Everybody knows him here. He used to be the building keeper at a school but is now retired. From time to time he makes jokes about the folding labor: he compares it to prisoner’s work and says that he slowly is entering a trans.
Stefan, Jordy and Nelly from Rotterdams wijk theater join us on the way. We know by experience that there is a point in the process where the letters feel infinite and we wonder why on earth we came up with this idea. But as we get further we enter a meditative rhythm, everybody masters their technique, and the end comes closer.
When all letters are ready Vincent, Charlot, lisanne and Alice go out to drop them in postboxes. Ijsselmonde has a lot of big buildings so it makes it faster than for little houses.
Vincent stays for a sleep over tonight. After sharing a dinner on Alice's bed and talking about life, Lisanne goes to bed. Alice and Vincent watch a horror movie. lisanne can hear them scream from her room.
It is the last day of this first working period in Rotterdam. Sadly we did not manage to meet Sam and Beniam for a last interview. We wanted Vincent to make short PR videos with them about music. Next time. Vincent is supposed to go interview people in the shopping mall instead and ask them what is “care” to them but his newly bought equipment doesn’t work, it makes weird sounds, and he says that people will get scared if he approaches them randomly. He needs cute girls to come with him. We agree that we will do it better prepared next time.
Lisanne and Alice draw a first plan for the performative fieldwork (p-f is a new format of sharing we are developing in which we share our fieldwork and the daily stories we encounter with a small amount of audience, directly on location). We want to design a walk in the neighborhood where our audience will be walking 2 by 2. We choose to form duos because we realise that most constellations we encountered until now were duos (Sam and Beniam, the moeders, Rachel and Sarina, Jasmina and Anamaria, Alice and Lisanne). We don’t want to reveal too much here but we are both seduced by the idea of using letters as a form of communication and as a way to guide our audience. A lot can be said in a letter and it seems like it is the best way to reflect on what we have been encountering so far.
We leave feeling satisfied and inspired.
Care in the eyes of social workers is a touching subject to explore.