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A cause worth fighting for

A cause worth fighting for

Photographer:Fotograaf: Janneke Swinkels

Freshmen special 2019

Sometimes, an issue gets under your skin. Whether it's because it’s personal or because you believe it to be the greatest concern of our time. These students have decided to dedicate their free time trying to improve the world in their own way.

“We need to rethink society”

Marion Meyers, who recently completed the bachelor’s programme of Knowledge Engineering, is one of the founders of Students4Climate Maastricht

“It sounds cheesy, but I feel it’s now or never when it comes to climate change. I already try to live sustainably. But when the school strikes started to get a real vibe in January, I thought: I can have an impact on more than just an individual level. This is something we actually have to fight for, make people listen. The way we live right now, value a country based on economic growth, is problematic. We need to rethink society. We’re all in this together, climate change affects everyone.”

Students4Climate organised the first climate march in Maastricht in March. They also set up the Climate Action Network (CAN), together with other local sustainability organisations. “I will stay in Maastricht next year and work at a sustainable hub we’re setting up. A space where people can come together and we can organise workshops, lectures and other events.”

Raising awareness is still necessary, she feels. “I thought people knew about climate change. But they don’t know the facts and they don’t know all it entails. I also want to show them that it’s possible to live sustainably. You can reduce your plastics, buy locally, and use public transport. We’re also working on a green guide to Maastricht that will help you find sustainable shops, where to go for recycling, know what vegetables are in season, and so on. We hope we can print it in September.”

Furthermore, Meyers wants to influence policies. “It’s not normal that a plane ticket is cheaper than a train ticket. It’s our duty to show governments that we want changes. One of the Students4Climate teams is working with the municipality of Maastricht, brainstorming about what they can do. We also want mandatory sustainability education at Maastricht University. You can choose to do a minor or an elective, but only people who are already interested do so. It’s not okay that graduates have no knowledge of climate change. They are tomorrow’s leaders.”

“You don’t have to be a panda to defend animal rights”

Davide Muraro, third year European Law, is founder of UM-Pride: the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender+ (LGBT+) network of Maastricht University

“It’s a safe place for both students and staff”, he says. Muraro started the organization to give people the same positive experience he had when he came to the Netherlands. “The Netherlands is very LGBT friendly, but in my home country Italy, 40 per cent of the people still think that gay people can’t be teachers. Here in Maastricht I had teachers who are openly gay, and they are good and well-respected professor: great role models. This is very positive, but on the other hand there was no association for LGBT+ people. I realized I was lucky to meet these people, but not everybody is. I want everyone to have role models, understanding and a safe place.”

The organization was founded only at the end of 2018 and since then it has grown quickly. “Everybody is welcome”, Muraro says. He can’t stress it enough. “You don’t have to be a panda to defend animal rights, ha ha. So you don’t have to be gay or transsexual to stand up for LGBT+ rights. The only requirement is that you are open and respectful to others.”

How does the network operate? “There are four working groups”, says Muraro. “And each group has a different focus. One of them organizes events to create awareness. In May was their first one. Vincent, a LGBT+ activist from human rights organization PEMA Kenya delivered a speech on the LBGT perspective in Africa at the law faculty and afterwards there was a party at Café Rosé.” 

Next to that, “the Support & Welfare group organizes meeting groups every couple of weeks and they’ve set up a buddy program.” The more serious part of UM-Pride is research. Muraro: “We have students and researchers from all faculties. We stimulate them to do research about LGTB+ topics. For example about same sex marriage or mental wellbeing of transgenders. This also promotes awareness.”

“I want to give refugees the same welcome feeling I had”

Heleen de Jonge, third-year student of UCM, and Maria Vatista, master’s graduate of Arts and Heritage, are coordinators at the Refugee Project Maastricht (RPM). Together with about 60 other people, they connect refugees, students and other citizens of Maastricht.

De Jonge is Dutch, but she grew up largely outside the Netherlands: in England, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, among others. “I’ve always felt welcome wherever I lived. I want to give people who come here the same feeling.” Vatista is from Greece, and has experienced her share of xenophobia, “probably because of my dark hair. It doesn’t bother me: I have a European passport and I have a support network of friends and family. Most refugees don’t have that.”

This is exactly what the Refugee Project Maastricht offers to people who have had to flee their country in any of a variety of ways. The organization is split up into different groups. De Jonge is coordinator of the Dutch Language Team, which means she helps refugees learn Dutch. “Every Monday we have a language café, where refugees can informally talk Dutch with students and locals while having a coffee, tea and cookie. Last week we played ‘Who am I’, with participants putting post-its on their foreheads and having to guess who or what they are. A little while ago, we baked apple dumplings from a Dutch recipe. That’s another way to learn the language.”

Vatista is coordinator of the Connect team. She organizes monthly events “to bridge the gap between refugees, inhabitants of Maastricht and the city”. Think for example of a ‘vlaai baking workshop’ at the Bisschopsmolen or a trip to the Bonnefantenmuseum. This way the refugees get to know the culture and it’s a nice way for them to feel comfortable with the city and its people. And the other way around, of course.” An additional advantage for Vatista is that she learns Dutch more quickly because Dutch is the prevailing language spoken at activities.

It’s only a selection of what the RPM does; there is also a music team, a homework-help team, and many more. “And it’s not a fixed number of activities,” both women say. “We are very open to any idea that brings people closer together.”

Cleo Freriks and Yuri Meesen

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