Brazilian volunteers are helping the Dutch brighten up run-down neighbourhoods in the Dutch capital Amsterdam. You would think it would be the other way around. But Amsterdam invited them over. Meanwhile, everyone has become infected by the Brazilian help-yourself mentality. Dutch moaning has been replaced by South American optimism.
Nieuwendam is a run-down neighbourhood just inside the Dutch capital’s ring road. With its endless blocks of flats and few amenities, it is infamous for being boring. But today, people are busy, making goal posts and painting an area for young people to hang around in, even the mosque’s overgrown garden is being spruced up.
“We are making a playground from stuff that we have found, we have also made a football pitch and a swing. The atmosphere in the neighbourhood was bad. Recently there was a stabbing and a shooting. There is not much to do here and people are moving away to live in other neighbourhoods. It is actually a really nice place, but nobody realises it.”
Rodrigo Alonso, a young architect from Brazil, is the brains behind the idea. He has been invited to Amsterdam because of his experience of working in the favelas or slums. That is where he learnt how much fun it can be to realise a dream together which benefits everyone: creating beautiful and safe neighbourhoods. People do not want to wait until the government comes along to improve their lives. We will do it ourselves, they concluded, just using stuff off the streets.
Why would a solution from a Brazilian slum work in the Netherlands? Rodrigo Alonso is optimistic about this unlikely form of development aid:
“Dutch people are often so well-off that they no longer need their neighbours and they have forgotten how to get things done with each other’s help. We can’t teach the Dutch how to build better houses, we cannot help them out with money, but human warmth, the joy of working together and giving each other a hug now and then, we can teach the Dutch that, that could be a gift from Brazil.”
But what will happen once the cheerful Brazilians have gone home, will Nieuwendam go back to being a boring run-down neighbourhood again? After asking around it seems not. Young and old, black and white, everyone seems to be infected by the Brazilian optimism. A tall Moroccan pulling a tree stump out of the ground says, the men from the mosque will look after the garden. A Dutch woman with green fingers will take charge of the new greenhouse.
A little further along, a man in a blue tracksuit sticks both thumbs up. It is just what the neighbourhood needed a bit of Brazilian encouragement.
'I think you always need someone to inspire you, someone who says ‘Come on, let’s get on with it.’ You need to have a bit of courage. We Dutch are too shy to work together, but the more you work together, the less you notice the differences between us. And a lot of people are a little afraid of foreigners.'
The job is almost done, and now it is time to party. And of course, that is done the Brazilian way. People dance and sing in a large circle on the street. Nieuwendam has caught the Brazilian fever.
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