In Aleppo, the 37-year old Syrian Día owned a textile factory for children’s clothing. Now his days consist of eating, sleeping and learning Dutch. On Saturday, 26 March he repaired a turtleneck sweater in Repair Café Groningen.
At the lunch table, one hour before the Repair Café was set to open, regular volunteer Wilma Vergeer already knew it was going to be a very nice day. “You hear so much about refugees through the media, but really we didn’t know anything about them. We were talking casually over lunch and it took off from there,” she explains.
Wilma was having her sandwich with eight refugees and three interpreters: two from the Dutch Central Body for Asylum Seekers and one sign language interpreter of the Institute for the Deaf where the Repair Café is located once every two months. After lunch the repair tables quickly filled up. The regular volunteers took on the job of assistants and the refugees the role of repairers.
Happy to be able to do something
Behind the sewing machine is Batol from Syria, she is 21 years old. Sieta from Groningen is helping her repair a shirt. Batol is happy she is able to do something. She is terribly bored at the refugee centre. “Although there was a war on in Syria, life continued regardless.”
Dia, from the textile factory, comes to take a look. Beside him is a happy-looking guy with two different-coloured eyes and a quiff. “Like David Bowie,” he smiles. Bashar was studying in Damascus: one more year and he would have been a lawyer. “I repaired an espresso machine,” says the almost-lawyer.
Before this, in Tirol, Austria, and Bussum, the Netherlands, Syrian refugees made repairs together with volunteers at the Repair Café. According to Petra Olgers from the Repair Café in Bussum it is quite easy to involve refugees in a meeting. To have them help every week or every month is more complicated, she explains. “Their situation can change rapidly.” They may have to move to a different location, or they are no longer allowed to volunteer. “However,” Petra says: “Even repairing together just once can be quite valuable”.