SCCT Volunteer Series: Iris Van Urk

The Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town has a team of 26 staff members and relies on the help of 40 revolving volunteers to successfully implement and run its various programmes. The Centre services people from all over the continent with asylum document applications, basic human needs and skills development training.

Iris Van Urk, is a volunteer intern who joined the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town in August 2017. She currently works as the Financial Sustainability Trainee volunteer for the Women’s Platform – a Multi-National Network of Women. Having travelled around the world for some time, Iris has decided to pursue her passion in Social Sciences and helping people in need. Iris talks about her time and experiences thus far at the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town:

Where are you from and what is your field of interest?

I was born in Enschede, a Dutch city on the border between Germany and the Netherlands. Since my twenties I have travelled to various countries, and I have lived in Budapest, Athens and Cape Town. I have finished my Bachelors in Business Administration, but decided to make the change to Social Sciences a few years ago. I obtained my Honors degree in Anthropology from the University of Cape Town in 2015, and I recently completed my Master’s degree in Amsterdam.

What were you doing before coming to SA and volunteering at the Scalabrini Centre?

I was studying for my Master’s degree. To earn an income besides my studies I worked as a reservations agent in a green, sustainable hotel in Amsterdam. Besides that, I volunteered at an organization working with refugees in Amsterdam.

What have you learned since joining the Scalabrini Centre?

Since I joined Scalabrini, I have learned many things about South Africa, about vulnerable populations, but also about myself. It is a chance for me to engage with women, where before I would only read about in academic articles on migration and refugees at university. The Centre is also a great place for me to explore which aspects of the work I enjoy, and which parts I find challenging.

The most rewarding aspect of the work is the impact the Women’s Platform makes on these women. Most of them had to flee their homes in Congo, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Rwanda or Somalia, and face particular challenges in South Africa such as xenophobia, legal protections not realized in practice, lack of access to work opportunities, financial structures and social capital. From that perspective, obtaining a certificate in Sewing or Beading means so much – the recognition instills a new sense of hope they had lost. It brings a spark back into their lives and futures. Having fled their country with no hope, women coming through to the Centre feel like they are given a second chance to realize their dreams.

Iris2

What have been challenges since joining the Scalabrini Centre?

I had many (ethical) challenges since I have joined Scalabrini. However, the main challenge for me is to not take the work at home as I experience the nature of the work to be intense.

What qualities does one need to have to work in an environment such as this one?

Flexible, being able to make connections, responsible.

Would you recommend friends back home to volunteer at the Scalabrini Centre and why?

Yes, because it’s an interesting environment. Many things happen and there are a lot of opportunities. Working with people from all over the world is a dream coming true.

Generally, how are you finding Cape Town?

LOVE IT! That’s why I decided to come back to Cape Town.

What’s different about SA compared to your home country which you’d like to take back home with you?

Where do I start? Basically, everything is different. What I want to take home is the positivity of people here. Even though, life is very difficult for many, people are showing so much resilience. Despite all the difficulties, there is a lot of laughter and joy.

Future plans, from here, what’s next?

When I finish my internship here at Scalabrini, I want to travel to Asia for a few months. After that, I am very open. I don’t necessarily need to go back to the Netherlands, I am open to staying anywhere in the world at this point in my life. I do hope to find a job in an NGO/governmental institution or start a Ph.D. in migration.

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