Besides the work she does in the An-Nahl Foundation, Yasmine is keen to show others that you don’t need any special skills to make a positive impact on the world. She does this by trying to set a good example to others. In photos, you never see her full face. Anywhere. So, not here either. This is partly due to her faith, but also because she wants attention to focus firmly on the message she wants to communicate: everyone can do something good for someone else.

You set up your own foundation. How did that come about?

“It started off as a very abstract idea that some ladies came up with as a way of bringing about change and promoting equality. I’m a real ‘doer’. Whenever there’s anyone who needs help and I think I could help, I have to do everything I can to make it happen. Our foundation is committed to orphans. We deeply believe that children’s development should be key in every aspect of life. We build playgrounds at orphanages. Playtime is very important for children. Not just for their mental well-being but also for the connections they make while playing and the associations it creates with being outdoors. The injustice I saw when people found themselves on the receiving end of inequality of opportunity affected me so much that I just had to try to make a difference.

“We also ensure that children are able to grow up carefree by providing them with things like clothes and school supplies. Making sure that children have a safe, loving and stimulating environment as they grow up enables you to fight inequality of opportunity at its very core.”

What motivates you?

“Ultimately, I’m motivated by the belief that change starts with the individual and that’s where my own strengths lie. I’ve come up against obstacle after obstacle ever since I was a child. In the school system, for example. At primary school, I was wrongly given a MAVO (pre-vocational secondary education) advice. It wasn’t the right place for me. At secondary school, I tried really hard to do better than I had the year before. So, from the pre-vocational school, I went to senior general secondary education (HAVO) and, after my third year there, I started Year 4 of pre-university education (VWO). I heard the word ‘no’ so many times, every time I was getting closer to the finish line. It felt like I’d never make it. But then I asked myself: why am I actually waiting for the approval of others? I’m going to create the opportunity for myself. Well, this approach has led to me now doing three bachelor degrees at the university. I’ve had to fight very hard against various systems to get where I am now and to be seen. I don’t want other people to have to fight the way I have.

“I still remember someone making a joke when I was getting closer to starting pre-university education. He said: ‘If you keep going like this, you might actually make it.’ That joke had a negative connotation that I didn’t understand because getting to that level was a really positive development. That’s when I decided that I wanted to help others rather than shooting them down.”

What has stayed with you most about your work for the foundation?

“A 17-year-old boy told me that he had written his name on his stomach when he left his homeland, so that his parents would be able to identify him if he did not survive the crossing. That brought a lump to my throat. At the end of the day, he came to me and said: ‘I haven’t had this much fun in a long time, thank you very much.’ On that particular day, the foundation and I had given young male refugees the chance to go skating. It was a cold winter’s day, so we’d brought along scarves, hats and gloves for the boys. For me it was such a small act to go skating with him, but he experienced so much happiness through it. You can’t help feeling great when you see how much people appreciate what you’re doing for them. It’s really priceless.”

How do you feel about your nomination?

“When I was called about my nomination, I thought they had the wrong person. I’m really honoured, but the first thing I thought was that the nomination isn’t about me at all. It’s about the message I’m trying to get across: you don’t need any special talent, just a genuine dedication to helping others.

“I would like to take part anonymously. Because anyone could have been nominated. We all have the power to do the right thing, whether you’re the student of the year or the neighbour who lives around the corner.”

Tell us something that no-one knows about you

“When I was at secondary school, I really wanted to join the forces. But that career choice ended for me when I started wearing a headscarf. Although my ambitions are different now, it did help to get me where I am today. I am now doing three degree programmes and I’m very happy about that.”

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