Through the program “Joining Forces”, United Way the Netherlands is helping two vulnerable groups come together to overcome loneliness during COVID-19: on one hand, elderly citizens who are suffering amplified feelings of isolation; on the other hand, refugees who are also struggling due to social distancing, finding themselves with no support system to learn the local culture and integrate in society.
Thanks to “Joining Forces”, beneficiaries are matched and provided with tablets and training so they can regularly connect through videocalls. The result? Seniors get the social interaction they need and are encouraged to develop community-based social connections; and refugees build up confidence, practice their language skills and learn the ins and outs of Dutch culture. The program’s latest match is truly a special one: Mrs. Wertheimer, a Holocaust concentration camp survivor, and Sarah, a young migrant muslim woman who arrived in the Netherlands in 2009.
The first meeting of the pair was held in Amsterdam, where the two women immediately “clicked” and got along together. Mrs Wertheimer’s explained how hard she has been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic: “I felt completely isolated. I have no relatives here, so I had to get through lockdown all by myself.” The tablet provided to her by United Way will be her lifeline to her daughter, who lives in Colorado, USA, as well as enabling her to keep in touch with local friends.
Things are different for Sarah, who explained in perfect Dutch how her journey led her originally to Spain when she was a teenager. “This was at the height of the financial crisis. I was keen to study but in Spain there were no opportunities.” She then decided to move to the Netherlands and stay with relatives until she found a job that included accommodation. A bright young woman, Sarah is sure to benefit from Mrs Wertheimer’s grit and wisdom, while the latter will get all the help she needs to battle isolation.
What makes the match special is that Mrs Wertheimer has a Jewish background, while Sarah has been brought up a Muslim. Seeing how both women get to know each other and support each other makes the historic and political antagonism between Jews and Muslims seem very far away.