Laughing children ran inside under the balloon arch and through the gold tinsel curtain; they formed a circle with the drama teacher. “Okay, you’re all going to be my statues in a moment”, she called out. “Every time I look at you, you have to freeze.” The soundtrack from the movie Edward Scissorhands started playing, and the children began moving about theatrically, freezing – and giggling – whenever the teacher looked at them.

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Children play at the entrance with a shiny curtain. Image credit: Kim Casamitjana

Poverty

The theatre workshop was just one of the workshops at the Middenstip playground that was provided free of charge last Tuesday, on the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, for kids in Feijenoord, a district in Rotterdam with a relatively large number of people living in poverty. The playground was filled with kids taking a boxing class, while others took part in a podcasting workshop in an old-fashioned yellow school bus and some kids danced to hip-hop music indoors. A free meal was provided for all attendees and participants in the evening.

The activities were provided by Stem zonder Gezicht, a foundation for children in poverty based in Rotterdam, in partnership with students from the university. “We believe it is vital to encourage whatever talent children have, because that’s a way of escaping poverty and developing yourself at an emotional level”, explained Vanessa Umboh, the founder of the foundation. Umboh spent the whole afternoon caring for and speaking to parents. “I know from personal experience that poverty has a paralysing effect. You lose your self-confidence and start isolating yourself. At our events, people have the opportunity to enjoy a meaningful day out again.”

Commitment

Nina Gideonse (24), a third-year Public Administration student, was posted at a bar table with her fellow students, next to a poster that read ‘Gehoord in Feijenoord’ (Voices of Feijenoord). Gideonse contributed to the programme as part of the group assignment ‘in the district’ of the Public Health: the Healthy Metropolis minor.

She put up decorations and got snacks and drawing supplies ready. She was also there to talk to residents about what social and economic security means to them. Through these conversations, the students tried to find out what residents feel their neighbourhood is lacking, which will ultimately be the subject of a documentary created by the students.   Nina: “I lived in Rotterdam until I was twelve. It’s great that I get to reconnect with the city in this way.”

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Outside, there is a boxing workshop. Image credit: Kim Casamitjana

Forgotten district

It took a while for residents to come in for a chat. In the meantime, the students watched the children who were taking part in a drama class. “Yes, yes, yes!”, they shouted, jumping up and down. “So cute”, said Nina, laughing.

Richie Dors (37) was one of the local residents who came to the playground with his four children, all of whom were so happily engrossed in the sand and water equipment that they hardly noticed the workshops.  The event had come as a surprise to him; he had not heard about it. “I think it’s great that people put this together, only it would have been nice to know it was happening sooner”, he said. “I feel like people often forget about our neighbourhood. I’d really love to see more things around for the kids. There is really very little for them here.”

Practical

Nina is pleased that this minor has such a practical bent, which is exactly what the minor aims for. Previously, Nina was placed at the HefHouse with a group of fellow students, which is a venue in Rotterdam-Zuid which bridges the gap between the world of academia and local residents and which was born out of a partnership between ErasmusX, Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences and the Albeda College Rotterdam. “At a certain point, you have to step away from the theory – especially if you want to go on to make policy”, says Nina, who is very interested in healthcare policy in particular. “You need to know the people you’re talking about.”