Vlucht Voorwaarts takes newcomers to Assen further

Newcomers to the Netherlands often don't have it easy. They need to integrate, learn the language, get to know the culture. And that doesn't always go well. Vlucht Voorwaarts in Assen helps. The project focuses on the quality of life of the newcomer and working together for success.

Linking the new and old people of Assen together and allowing them to learn from one another: this is what Vlucht Voorwaarts does in a nutshell. “We create intercultural communities that help in finding a new way. The new residents of Assen are challenged and learn by doing in a safe environment. That works better than from books,” says Christian de Kraker. He is project leader at Vlucht Voorwaarts (Flight Forward) and researcher at the Research Group Entrepreneurship in Transition, a collaboration between the Alfa College and the Hanze University of Applied Sciences. In his PhD research, he examines the integral approach that the project utilises in cooperation with the municipality of Assen.

Christian de Kraker, Wencke Gelinck and Sanaa Oudah

New and old residents of Assen who speak together, eat together and walk together, etc. are a part of this. This includes monthly meetings with new and old ‘Assenaren’ under the guidance of a coach, personal guidance of new residents, meeting days to discuss goals and dreams, actions in the neighbourhood, and also an integration course for old Assenaren.

Syrian Sanaa is now assistant coach

The project is helping. The 20-year-old Sanaa Oudah is a telling example of this. The Syrian is busy in her second year at Vlucht Voorwaarts. She is now an assistant coach, while in her first year she was a participant herself. “I can help status holders if things aren’t going well. There are always questions and we can help.” She has successfully completed the integration process herself and is planning to study ICT.

We come from a time when newcomers were rather left to their own devices. They had duties and had to take care of it themselves. To put it bluntly. This causes problems, especially in the form of lagging integration. Loneliness lurks, separate worlds between the old and new inhabitants of a city are created, psychological and physical health is at stake.

Blueprint for other municipalities – with a scientific approach

They also saw this in Assen. A group of volunteers started Vlucht Voorwaarts a few years ago, a buddy project, precisely in order to promote integration. Vlucht Voorwaarts has meanwhile been professionalised and expanded, thanks to money from several funds and the municipality. De Kraker: “Our scientific approach is important. We do research, measure effects. We developed our concept interactively and published it in a book. It’s become a blueprint which can also be used by other municipalities.”

This is important because from 2021, municipalities will be given control over the integration of status holders. Wencke Gelinck of the municipality of Assen sees an integrated approach such as Vlucht Voorwaarts as the ideal route to that situation. “We are convinced that we need to offer a broad array to status holders, so that they can participate and integrate into society as quickly as possible.”

Natural-Born Enthusiasm

This broad array is there, just like the enthusiasm of the makers. Christian de Kraker is this enthusiasm, inherited from childhood. “I was a language volunteer at asylum seekers’ centres when I was 12 years old. Almost every week newcomers came to our house to eat because my parents thought it was important.” And now he’s not only doing Vlucht Voorwaarts, but he’s also teaching ‘Orientation on the Dutch Labour Market’ at the Alfa College in Groningen. The professorship, led by Alexander Grit, deals with addressing explorative spaces using the ‘Critical Friends’ method. Taking control is central to this approach and newcomers are challenged to take action. Christian de Kraker focuses in the project on the entrepreneurial attitude of newcomers towards activation and participation.

“I see that more is needed to give all these new people of Assen a good place, a good future. Vlucht Voorwaarts works. Also to stimulate the entrepreneurial attitude of newcomers, to help ambitious status holders to move forward faster. It would be good if this system could be rolled out in more municipalities.”


Website Vlucht Voorwaarts

Website Research Group Entrepreneurship in transition