Humans of TU Delft: Jeroen Wiersema

As a volunteer with at-risk youth, master’s student Jeroen Wiersema is giving back and learning a lot.

(Photo: Heather Montague)

Now in his first year of a master’s in management of technology (TPM), Jeroen Wiersema wanted to step out of what he calls the student bubble. So, he signed up to volunteer with at-risk youth through Stichting Vitalis.

“At Vitalis’ Maatjes Programme you can sign up and be connected with a kid who might have some difficulties with his health, social life or with his parents. At Vitalis they pair these kids with older people who can help them discover new activities and to show them a good time. You’re not a psychologist, but you’re there to help them escape their difficulties, to explore new things and to have a great time together.

At the beginning, you meet with Vitalis to see if you have the qualities to become a maatje, a buddy. Then you have some training, including role play to get prepared. I also have a supervisor who can help me if I have any problems.

I’m matched with a boy who is 11 and we meet once a week. He likes to play sports, but he doesn’t have that many friends and he has some problems with his joints, like pain in his knees and elbows. He has a hard time playing sports, but I try to go out with him to play some football, just to be outside or we go swimming sometimes. And when the weather is really bad, we even do some cooking together. Recently we made a cake which was really cool.

‘So you see how immigration works, you develop a more nuanced opinion about it’

The goal of the Maatjes Programme is to have a good time together. However, you also try to have good conversations about what’s going on in his head, to find out what problems he has that I can help him with. We talk about what he wants to do when he grows up. Sometimes it’s hard to talk. At times he’s really happy, but sometimes he has so much pain that you can see he talks less. But it’s also ok to just be together, just to be there for him.

The first time I visited him and his parents I noticed that their Dutch wasn’t very good. I wondered how it was possible since they’ve lived here for 15 years. But then you see the environment they are living in, surrounded by other immigrants, there are no Dutch people around them. So you see how immigration works, the challenges they have and you develop a more nuanced opinion about it. You get to see a different side of society.

For me, I feel like I’m really learning a lot. I’m a rational guy, but by being involved with this programme you really develop more emotionally. I’m used to having a lot of friends around me, but we really don’t have that many problems. We live in this student bubble. All of my friends are engineers, smart people, we like to talk about politics, but we have no idea what is actually going on in society. For me it’s like trying to step out of that bubble, to meet new people, to see how they live.”

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Heather Montague / Freelance writer

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