TeamUp: an escape from uncertainty
Sara is now 14 years old and a head taller but the smile on her face remains. When we meet her, she has just returned from school and proudly tells us about a presentation she gave about Philips that day. Her mother jokes that Sara was a bit nervous, but her daughter is quick to deny it. "It wasn't that difficult and it went very well," she responds in fluent Dutch.
Sara has been living in the Netherlands with her parents and four brothers and sisters for more than four years now. "I was born in Afghanistan," she says. Yet she struggles to remember much more about the country the family fled when she was very young.
The journey wasn’t easy. Following a long stopover in Iran, they eventually made it to Europe.
The Power of Play
From the very first moment Sara reached the Netherlands, she began to participate in the TeamUp programme. Activities focus on the challenges and emotions that children in Asylum Reception Centres face, including stress, fear and making new friends. Over time, the children develop resilience. They learn to make contact, confide in others and deal with their feelings.
For Sara, the activities offer distraction from the uncertain situation in which she finds herself. Her head is totally in the game. "The activity I like most is dodgeball,” she grins. “Then I have fun and feel happy again."
Sara in 2016 during the TeamUp-activities.
Photo: Merijn Roubroeks
The activities help her to deal with stress, fear and uncertainty.
Photo: Merijn Roubroeks
An Uphill Battle
And that distraction is desperately needed. Her hopes and dreams for the future - that we talked about with Sara three years ago - have been hampered by feelings of sadness and fear. The family recently received a letter stating that they must prepare for their return to Afghanistan.
The news comes with a great deal of stress. After fighting to start afresh in a new country, they are visibly tired. "My children sleep badly, they lie awake and often experience nightmares,” says her father.
Yet the family try to stay positive. Sara’s mother and father are volunteers at a local retirement home and he also gives swimming lessons. When her mother is at home she tries to clear her head by cleaning and tidying up. Staying busy.
Sara’s mother is happy that the children can go to TeamUp every week, so that they can let release their feelings. The activities offer her children something to depend on during a time of great uncertainty.
A moment of escape
And so they arrive at TeamUp. Sara’s father attends the activities with Sara, her two sisters and her little brother. He is beaming from ear to ear when he sees his children enjoying themselves. The children start the activities full of enthusiasm. A moment to escape and become absorbed in a game. They laugh, play and encourage each other. No matter what team they are in or which language they speak.
Sara is completely absorbed by the TeamUp-activities and participates full of enthousiasm.
Photo: Michael Jessurun
Sara has lived in several places in the Netherlands. "Everywhere we’ve lived there is a TeamUp”, she says. “I am so happy about that.” The fact that TeamUp is available at multiple locations helps to provide some structure and stability in the lives of the children taking part - children who otherwise live in an uncertain situation.
Sara finds a sense of release from taking part in TeamUp. “Sometimes others say that I am too old for these activities,” she says. “No, I'm not. I enjoy it too much!" Her big smile speaks volumes.
The session flies by and before they know it the children have to go and get ready for their school Halloween party. The masks come out and new friendships begin to form.