The Refugee Project Maastricht was called to life by Aurelia Streit and Arie de Fijter in early 2015 with the vision of building bridges between the newcomers from war-threatened countries, the students, and the Maastricht locals. With immense support from the Maastricht community, the University of Maastricht, the municipality, the InnBetween, and the Dutch state the RPM made its first steps in 2015 by establishing the first contact with the newcomers. Three years later, in 2018, the organisation that started with a few volunteers and big dreams now consists of eight teams and countless volunteers. Our community, our family, has given us the strength and resources to realise our dreams and assist in the empowerment and integration of refugees and asylum seekers into the Dutch community.
Our aim is to connect people from different cultures and backgrounds on a level where they can meet, connect, and become friends. We try to avoid the traditional term of 'help' which we believe creates social gaps. We opt for an approach aimed at building mutual understanding, solidarity and a sharing of our cultures. We create personal opportunities to grow, connect and challenge each other. Our organisation is not political; we do not see solidarity and care as a political stance but as a moral obligation from one human to another. In this way, by staying as neutral as possible, we aim to create a welcoming environment where everyone is accepted and encouraged to participate.
Is that enough? To try to make friends? No, and yes. No, because there is professional help needed to create viable living environments which cannot be done only by students. Yes, because that's the only way, we believe, to break down the barriers that prejudice builds and live together in harmony. We do not believe in the idea that refugees are dependent on the community in which they arrive. We are surrounded by hopeful, inventive and intelligent people that wish to develop in their own way. We do not help; we support and we encourage.
Changing our vocabulary, our daily habits, our perception; seems like a small thing to do, but we believe it changes the whole concept of having 'refugees' in our community. Instead of just calling refugees our 'friends', instead of 'helping the ones in need' we want and aim to experience new ways of living and to build meaningful and lasting relationships. That makes the difference.