Leaving Syria in 2013 changed Amer Alomari (1992) in a positive way. In Jordan’s huge Zaatari Refugee Camp he found a new meaning to his life: helping people. In Zaatari he has started a couple of successful projects to give refugees hope for a better future. He has continued to help countless refugees after his arrival in The Netherlands.
Q: You were a student Civil Engineering when you left Syria. How did you turn into an activist and life coach?
“Because I was active in the revolution, I had to leave Syria. I went to Jordan with the intention to continue my education, but before I left for Europe in 2014 my life had taken another turn. I lived not to far away from Zaatari and I wanted to help people there.
I became project manager at International Relief and Development (IRD) and they gave me the opportunity to work at amazing projects to improve the quality of life of thousands of refugees in the camp.
The projects were all different. As the program coordinator for the Fountain of Youth project I organized a lot of creative activities and cultural events. Music, movies and theatre. We created our own shows and we painted the camp in bright colors. I wanted to help people who also lost their hope of a good future and remind them that they were talented. I didn’t want to continue my education as a Civil Engineer. In Zaatari I found my calling: helping people. I am not an engineer. I am a life coach.”
Q: How did you continue your work in The Netherlands?
“When I was in the Asylum Seekers Center, I started the Peace and Friendship workgroup. I did the same as I did in Zaatari, I organized cultural activities for youth and I organized an open day, so people could visit the Center and see how we lived. I also continued to coach people and started a Facebook Group where I share information for Syrian refugees about The Netherlands.
The Netherlands is an amazing country to live, but there are a lot of rules and regulations. I get information from the government and translate it to Arabic. I also give advice to people about how they can be happy here and build a new future. With over 33.000 members, I spend a lot of time on Facebook answering questions and coaching people. I travel through the entire country to help as many people as I can.”
Q: There are a lot of negative stereotypes about refugees. What are you doing to change that?
“In 2015 I got a place to live in Utrecht. In that time, refugees had a bad reputation. I was very thankful for my house and all the help I received, so I organized a special project to thank the Dutch people. With 1000 other refugees, we gave 10.000 flowers to Dutch people in 80 different cities. I also gave flowers to Lodewijk Asscher, who was minister of Social Affairs and Employment at the time. We got a lot of media attention and the Dutch people loved the gesture.
These small things help with the representation of refugees, but at the same time I don’t want to be called a refugee. Forget the name “refugee”. I am human. I am Amer. You can call me a newcomer, new Netherlander, new Utrechter.”
A lot of newcomers are waiting for someone else to change their lives. But you need to change yourself. Your own life. Create your own change, your own happiness.Amer Alomari
Q: What advice can you give newcomers?
“Be patient, but don’t sit around and wait. Fight for yourself and stay positive. I encounter a lot of negativity in the Syrian community. People bring each other down, because it can be so hard to believe that it is possible to be successful here. I keep telling them to focus on learning the language and find a job. When you sit at home, you have too much time for negativity.
A lot of newcomers are waiting for someone else to change their lives. But you need to change yourself. Your own life. Create your own change, your own happiness. Do you want to go to school? Sure, you can wait for the municipality or other organizations to help you. Or you can make arrangements for yourself. Go to schools, ask them how you can apply, find the correct information.
All the information you need is available, but you have to look for it yourself. Go to the source. Do you need information about your residence permit? Ask the Immigration and Naturalisation Service. Use social media to build a network. When you live in a small town it is hard to make friends. But online you can get connected with thousands of people. Talk to people who have a good life here. Learn from them.
Without good information, you can’t make a good decision.
You need to do something. It is hard to get out of your comfort zone, but to achieve your goals you need to get in an active zone.”
Q: Do you consider yourself successful?
“It is my goal to help other people, not myself. Every day I’m helping people to find a solution for their problems and this gives me joy. But sometimes it also takes a lot of energy. I feel very responsible for the people who come to me.
The last two years I’ve been volunteering and working as an intern. Helping people was never about the money for me. But I had to save up money to pay for transportation and the organization of activities. This year I will start working for the municipality Utrecht, so I can help more newcomers here to achieve their goals and I’ll have more financial resources. I am happy about that.
But right now, I am not satisfied. I feel that I have wasted time. When I came here I had a lot of goals, but I haven’t achieved all of them yet. Some people took advantage of me and my network, which was difficult to deal with. But I’m more positive now, because I will start my job soon.”
Q: How do you stay positive?
“If you find your way, you find yourself. I have found my way. When I volunteer, I work from my heart. I want to connect with as many people as possible, I want to now how I can genuinely help them.
When I feel bad, I go on Facebook and help newcomers solve their problems. That gives me energy. I don’t look at their name, background, politics, I only look at their request for help and the solution. And that makes it very easy for me to stay positive. I am making a change.”