Salar was doing his usual search on Facebook for work opportunities when he came across an advert for a course in online marketing with Make IT Here.
“I had no idea what was it gonna be like,” explains the 35-year-old refugee from Iran. “But I always liked IT and computers, so it was interesting for me.” He applied, did a few tests and an interview, and eventually was one of a handful of new arrivals in the country picked for a free, eight-week training program covering online marketing on key platforms such as Facebook, Google and LinkedIn. “Everything on the course was new to me,” says Salar, a wiry man with a soft voice. “Some parts were difficult, but they taught us in a very friendly way. It was a new world and I really liked that.” Now, Salar works as an intern for Make IT Here, learning the tricks of the trade in preparation for getting a proper job. “I don’t want to take benefits any more,” he explains. “I want to be independent, it’s the most important part of my goal.”
And that’s exactly what the Make IT Here team are hoping for. In line with the whole philosophy behind Lola Lik, Nick Aldewereld and Jan Hlobil set up the project to empower newcomers by teaching them practical skills that will make them employable with almost any company in the Netherlands. “It’s important because that’s where the jobs are here,” says Aldewereld, an energetic internet entrepreneur. “Small- and medium-sized business often don’t yet have a proper job position for online marketing but they always want to do more of it. All the future jobs are there.”
Their first course in April/May ran for eight weeks and was a success, with several of the eight participants going on to do internships in Dutch companies and the others opting to study for a related bachelors degree at university. Bolstered by how well it had gone, the pair ran another course in July/August and saw similar results, with all eight trainees going on to either work or study with their newly learned skills.
Most recently they ran a one-day workshop focused on the importance of LinkedIn, including an opportunity to get a professional head shot done to use on the professional networking platform. Having run all the courses out of their own pockets, they are now applying for funding to continue the project in the new year. Aldewereld says it could never have happened without Lola Lik. “Lola Lik facilitates the meeting in a unique environment,” he says. “This location is very important to make things happen that have never happened before. Plus we got a room for free.”
“They call it a broedplaats, a breeding ground, and that’s exactly what it is for us and our students. It also lowers the barrier for people who want to do something with refugees. That’s really good.” For Salar, the course is a high-point since escaping from Iran in the spring of 2014. “It was very, very difficult to get out,” he explains, clenching his hands as he speaks. “I went over the mountains by foot to Turkey first, and then by boat to Greece. I then came in a van to the Netherlands.”
Salar comes from a Kurdish region of Iran, and says he left for political reasons. He has worked all of his life in various jobs and was dismayed to find himself unable to work for so long after arriving in the Netherlands in mid-2015. “In the second camp I stayed in, there was no activity or anything,” he says. “It was several kilometres from the nearest city. Sometimes my friends and I would volunteer to clean the roads or something, and we learned Dutch by ourselves because the tiny language classes there were always full.” Although it took seven months and three camps to be granted asylum, he had to stay another four months in a camp while waiting to be given somewhere to live. When he finally moved into a place in Amsterdam in July 2016, he got straight to work building a new life for himself.
“I took Dutch classes and because I didn’t know anyone here when I first moved, I also got involved with Boost, which helps newcomers integrate together,” he says with a smile. “I found a lot of friends from there and got some volunteer jobs. I’ve now worked for them as a photographer and also volunteered at a cinema.” His goal for next year is to get a job in digital marketing, anything that will allow him to come off benefits, and to learn to speak Dutch like a local, although he admits this might take some time. Regardless, he’s starting to feel at home for the first time since arriving in the Netherlands.
“When I came here to Amsterdam, I couldn’t imagine that after one year I would have a lot of friends and find an internship,” he explains with a smile. “I was thinking about it, but I didn’t know how to do it. Now I am comfortable, my life has completely changed.”