Amsterdam, august 31, 2023. By: Carlijn den Boer
Allow us to introduce you to Hani. Born in Yemen in 1987, he arrived in the Netherlands towards the end of 2018. Upon seeking asylum, he embarked on a determined journey to learn the Dutch language. A year later, he secured his first paid role as a coordinator at Windesheim, and now, here he stands before us with an infectious smile.
Hani’s encounter with Welcome app marked a turning point in his life. When he first arrived in the Netherlands, the country was an enigma to him. His only associations with the Netherlands were windmills and the elusive ‘g’ sound in the language. Communicating with people was a monumental challenge, and he often felt lost and isolated. Yet, he was resolute in his pursuit of integration and determined to engage with locals.
Navigating how to easily connect with locals, Hani began by striking up conversations with people at the nearest bus stop at the AZC. However, the hurried pace of passersby made genuine interactions difficult. “I started talking with people at the bus station, to connect. But everyone was in a hurry. That didn’t work,” recalls Hani. He devised a new strategy—heading to the city center and approaching those who appeared to have a moment to spare, people who seemed bored or were waiting. While this approach occasionally yielded success, more often than not, it did not. So he turned to online platforms for answers. Facebook groups seemed promising, but his requests for one-on-one connections and friend requests often resulted in him being blocked. Doubt began to creep in. Undeterred, he conducted a Google search for “how to meet Dutch people?”—and that’s when he stumbled upon a yellow gem: Welcome app. He created an account when Welcome app was still in its infancy and quickly evolved into one of our most active users!
His early days on the app were marked by countless questions like, “How do you celebrate Christmas in the Netherlands?” Given that he lived in Luttelgeest, a village near Zwolle, there were fewer activities and locals in his vicinity. Then came the day when a local accepted his invitation to meet—this was the encounter that introduced him to Edwin. Hani was excited for a physical meeting after so much digital interaction. Eager for the first meeting to be successful and not just a one-off encounter, Hani invited everyone he knew at the AZC who was a skilled cook. He wanted to prepare a feast that would impress Edwin and his wife. The initial meeting resonated, and a bond formed—eventually growing into a strong friendship. Edwin became the first of many friends he made and remains his closest confidant. “He is my brother from another mother,” declares Hani.
Hani’s persistence led him to connect with over 300 individuals through Welcome app during his early years in the Netherlands. Through them, he discovered a world beyond the AZC. Edwin assisted him in obtaining an unlimited OV-chipkaart, granting him the freedom to travel beyond Zwolle and visit his connections all over the country. Hani’s journey led him to Marjolijn in Hogenbos, Marijke in Borne, and many others. He also crossed paths with Judith, who referred him to a job opening at Hogeschool Windesheim—his current position.
During his time in the Netherlands, he also met Christine from The Hague. Their friendship grew, and this year, he spent two weeks with her and her family during the Christmas vacation. Welcome app bestowed upon him a vast network: “There are about 80 to 100 people I am still in contact with, 40 of them are good friends, and I consider 10 of them as family,” Hani emphasizes. It’s the most rewarding compliment he can offer to Welcome app—a testament to the profound connections it facilitated.