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Locals and newcomers come together around the table
In 2015, as the refugee crisis worsened and the number of displaced arrivals grew, three people came together to start an initiative called Dine With Us. “Sharing a meal is universally an important social activity, so it seemed like an obvious way to bring together newcomers and locals,” says one of the founders, Pieter Duysburgh.
Also, he says, “cooking together as a joint activity can break the ice and help to bridge language differences”.
While Duysburgh lives in Ghent, some of the other co-founders live in Brussels. The service is available across the country.
Both those who want to cook and those who want to be their guests sign up online, and the organisers match them up on the basis of their age, location and what language they’d like to speak: Dutch, French or English. Dine With Us then connects the local and newcomer and helps facilitate a date and place.
You’ve got a match
Since its launch, over 300 people have registered and about 50 “welcome dinners” have been arranged. One of the newcomers is Layla Faraj, a Syrian refugee who’s been living in Flanders for about 18 months.
She fled the war in Syria and arrived knowing very little Dutch and not a single person. “When I arrived, I began to learn the language,” she says. “But then I went through a very dark period because I left my children in my country.”
As Faraj started to learn the language, a friend told her about the Dine With Us initiative. She has now participated multiple times.
She says local people can be difficult to get to know but that the initiative has changed that for her and helped her integrate into society. “Dine With Us has illuminated my dark period in Belgium,” she says. “It seems like the sun is shining in my life again.”
Faraj is a refugee, a group that was originally the focus of the Dine With Us service. “While we initially started out as an initiative aimed at helping refugees,” says Duysburgh, “we notice that all kinds of newcomers, such as expats and economic migrants, find our service valuable and enrol.”
The initiative has reached 48 nationalities so far, he says. However, it’s been more successful reaching locals than newcomers, so not everyone who has enrolled has been matched with a newcomer yet.
The people at Dine With Us are now reaching out to language schools to find more newcomers to participate. They have found that the language barrier is often an incentive to sign up because it gives newcomers an opportunity to practise the language with locals.
Photo courtesy Dine With Us