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Rebup Foundation: Giving youngsters confidence just by listening

Some two months ago, I met Marion van der Vegt. It struck me how she talked about the enormous amount of talent there is in the 'Slachthuis' neighbourhood. Marion's mission is to create confidence in youngsters through art, culture and music.

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Some two months ago, I met Marion van der Vegt. It struck me how she talked about the enormous amount of talent there is in the 'Slachthuis' neighbourhood. The 'Slachthuisbuurt' is a beautiful working class neighbourhood from around the beginning of the 20th century situated in the city of Haarlem, Netherlands. In this neighbourhood we encounter the common problems of areas where people are unemployed and have little education. Youngsters hang around because they have nowhere to go and people feel harassed and unsafe.

Marion likes to talk about her work, she loves it. She used to work at the embassy but gave up her job to start the foundation Rebup. Rebup is an anagram for 'Puber' and kids going through puberty were the ones she wanted to reach. She opened a community space run by herself and her teenage daughter. She decided to do this when her daughter started taking home friends, friends who could benefit from some positive stimulation. 

The neighbours were not pleased at first. They couldn't even believe she paid for the rent herself and that it wasn't some program that came down on them through city council. But Marion opened her space and soon enough young people showed up. What's this? Can we help? Do something? And that's exactly what they did.

Marion's mission is to create confidence in youngsters through art, culture and music. The youngsters can go there and do stuff. There is no fixed curriculum. She told me:"kids like these can't be expected to work with an assignment. It freaks them out. So I start painting and they come up to me and ask what I'm doing. I tell them I'm painting and ask if they want to join me". And they do. She thinks it's important to mix different young people. Youngsters who are more confident help out others to grow in their confidence.

Marion has an inspiring philosophy, and that is to listen, and not to put any pressure on kids. She knows for example that these youngsters don't like drawing because then they have to take the drawing home and show it to their parents. They fear negative feedback. So she creates situations in which they don't have this problem.You can find really cool youngsters in leather jackets drawing beautiful flowers on the floor. The floor is a 'safe' place. 

She told me a story about a boy who had dropped out of school. While everyone around him was pushing him to get his act together she never once said to him: "shouldn't you be going back to school or getting a job?". She just listened. He came to the foundation to participate in the activities, and that was it. Some time later he went to see her. "I'm going back to school, because I want to", he said. Now that's inspiration.

The foundation has grown over the past years and they organize a lot of different activities. A trip by bus to Cirque du Soleil or walks where senior citizens tell stories about the war. They even opened a small theatre, the smallest theatreof Haarlem with only 15 seats. Marion says:"People who wouldn't have dreamt of ever going to a real theatre because it's so elitist and alien to them now get to know it in an accessible way. And they express interest and curiosity".

The reach of the foundation has gone beyond youngsters. Marion started the 'Green Mothers' (Groene Moeders) in order to address sustainability. In a relatively poor area like this rising energy bills pose an enormous threat. No one has the money to insulate the houses or buy solar panels. The Green Mothers collect the 'energy' of enthusiastic mothers to stimulate others. It's a start, and an important one. 

Because right now, the green movement is dominated by well educated, well paid idealistic citizens. Which is all great of course, but in order to achieve real change, it's is necessary to reach larger groups of citizens. Marion will keep on working at that.

www.rebup.nl (website in dutch)

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