Introducing the City Water Project

by Alish Lalor

The City Water Project (CWP) aims to improve people’s access to clean drinking water by promot-ing consumption where water is already clean and improving quality where it is not. The Dutch consider “water as civilisation” and we agree. Every human can benefit from clean drinking water, but not everyone has access to it. Access takes time, money and effort.

Our aim is to eventually focus on a different city each month for our campaign. Each campaign has three stages. In the preparation stage, we contact local groups interested in water quality: the water utility, the regulator, and anyone else we can think of to learn more about the city’s water quality situation. In the active stage, we invite local citizens to give their opinions on water quality. We use social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) as well as direct and anonymous emails to understand the concerns of locals who experience poor water quality but lack ways of expressing their views. Our goal is to then publish as much information as possible in a format that allows local journalists to write articles aimed at explaining matters and questioning causes, helps citizens understand where priorities might lie, and assists water managers in responding to the needs of their consumers. In the handover stage, we want to leave local groups with momentum for change and the tools to deliver change. Water quality issues will not be solved in a month, let alone several years, so we want to do as much as we can to support long term, local solutions.

Our campaign begins in The Hague, partly because it is a city with relatively few problems regarding drinking water. We describe it as our pilot campaign, where we experiment with lots of different methods of information gathering and proliferation, as well as attempting to build contacts which can help to take us all over the world. Because we all live in The Hague, it is easier for us to get immediate feedback on the methods we are using, and so we are able to refine these before attempting to help a city from further away.

However, our project in The Hague is not a “dummy” project— we believe that the information we are gathering is important; after all, no system is perfect, and improvements can always be made. One of the issues we have come across relates to The Hague’s large number of international inhabitants. When a person moves here from a country where tap water is not safe, they may continue to rely on bottled water here, even when there is no need to do so. Most of the improvements in The Hague will stem from spreading information about the quality of drinking water, rather than improvements to the physical system itself.

So, please help us help in The Hague by filling in our survey on perceptions of water quality (available in English, Dutch, Turkish, Arabic and Spanish) and by sharing this project with your friends and colleagues in the Hague. You can also check out news on our blog, and meet the people behind the project.

Thanks from the City Water Project team!


Pop the Bubble!

Now that we are well into the 2016-2017 school year, LUC students are busy with their studies -- and with work in their community.  Below is an account of a recent gardening adventure, written by third-year student Lilly Zeitler.  Photos by Jana Ahlers.

A group of LUC students gathered at the foot of the campus stairs on a Saturday morning. What could they possibly be doing up so early on a weekend? Turns out there was a volunteering event at the Wijkcentrum Bezuidenhout West, a community center (or buurthuis) located just around the corner from the LUC building. The event is part of an ongoing initiative, led by center director Jaap de Wit, to “green” the Bezuidenhout neighbourhood by helping elderly residents maintain their gardens.

An Account of the Day

Upon arriving at the buurthuis we were surprised to find that instead of being put straight to work, we were given a most warm, hospitable welcome. A truly lovely lady greeted us and ushered us over to an equally sweet man serving teas and coffees, together with cookies and biscuits. Everybody seemed genuinely happy to have us there.

Slowly after some chats and tea we moseyed over to the first garden. The house belonged to an elderly couple we had visited on a previous opfleuractie. The husband had suffered a stroke and could no longer garden. So instead he stood in the doorway chatting with us, offering gentle instructions on what to cut and weed. We planted tulip bulbs and some winter-hardy flowers, cleared away old leaf debris, and snipped the roses to less impervious heights. In between, we chatted with the lady of the house, who had a keen sense of humour and a knack for social commentary. After asking whether we were volunteers or paid, she joked that it was the age of volunteering with all the government budget cuts. We talked about the changes to the neighbourhood and The Hague over the last 30 years, and all her anecdotes and insights filled some rather large gaps in my knowledge of the local area. They were so happy and grateful to have us there. And I think all of us volunteers left extremely happy and content to have helped out such a charming couple.

The second garden was larger and far more unruly. We tore weeds from between cement squares, struggling with stubborn roots wedged between the concrete. We filled four large trash bags with weeds and debris. This was very satisfying, because the results were immediate. The woman of the house relied on her walker and could not get to the patio for all the weeds. Within an hour we had the space cleared, new flowers planted, and bulbs in the ground ready to poke up for springtime. The nicest part of this experience was that her granddaughter, Reneesje, came to help us for the entire time we were there. She pulled weeds with us, stopping to examine the bugs and exclaim over the silver spiders we were evicting. She gifted me with a snail shell, bright yellow and black.

This small and seemingly inconsequential gift from a girl that had been a stranger, the chats with all the kind people throughout the day: the entire experience had warmed my heart. It is so easy to slip away from people, encapsulated in your own busy bubble. Days like these, where you form connections with people that you would otherwise never meet, pop that bubble. Stepping out of that bubble to help strangers with no gain or reward, just smiles and snail shells, reminded me that real human connections hold so much more beauty than the virtual connections LUCers are so immersed in. So basically, the message of this story is: get off Facebook, and get out there for the next opfleuractie!


On the Importance of Serving One's Community: Teaching English in The Hague

by Ivanna Yurkiv

I guess what encourages me to always engage in a community where I live is the realization that I am very fortunate with things that I have in my life. Many others are less fortunate, and it is my responsibility to address this imbalance.

When I was in high school in the Czech Republic, I did some volunteering projects with the homeless and in orphanages. When I came to The Hague to study, I tried finding volunteering opportunities, but to my surprise it was quite difficult, because of my inability to speak Dutch.

It was only in the second half of my second year that I had the chance to volunteer.  This came via the LUC Community Project, where we gained theoretical knowledge about multicultural education, while also working as tutors in predominantly immigrant schools. The Community Project was one of the most insightful and eye-opening subjects that I took at the university. I was able to understand the issue of integrating immigrants from different angles and perspectives. And I got a glimpse of how the education systems can sustain economic inequality in society by ensuring that the poor (and predominantly immigrant part of the populace) remain poor.

Once I learned about the discriminatory nature of many education systems, I felt the responsibility to do something about it. This is probably why I got an idea to set up an English-language training project. My knowledge of economics is limited. In fact, I dread economics. But at that moment I thought to myself:

“At LUC we have a supply of English-speaking students, and out there in The Hague there are people (especially immigrants) who would benefit from learning English. It could potentially help them improve their employment opportunities, which are reduced by the education system. That is, there is demand for English classes. And because English classes are generally expensive, they probably cannot afford them. So why not have LUC students, who know English perfectly, educate members of the community eager to learn English?”

And this is how the English language project came into being. After months of frequent meetings and exchanges of emails with the Municipality of The Hague, the project was finally launched as part of the Mariahoeve Winter School, which offers a range of workshops to area residents.

Ivanna Yurkiv saying thanks for a great first run of the course in January 2016.  (Click the image for the full video of the event.)

Ivanna Yurkiv saying thanks for a great first run of the course in January 2016.  (Click the image for the full video of the event.)

In the first edition of our course, we ran twice-weekly sessions of an hour and a half, each one led by three LUC tutors. Classes were then divided into smaller groups in order to better accommodate for different levels of English.  Our students were of all ages, from teenagers to people in their 70s.

The interest in joining English classes well exceeded our expectations—we ended up with a long waiting list!  And everyone enjoyed and got a lot out of the classes, I think.  LUC tutors had the chance to meet locals and to learn the art of teaching. Students of the Mariahoeve community, on the other hand, had the opportunity to learn and practice English for free.

Probably the main lesson that I have learned from organizing and running this project is that the key to realizing ideas is persistence and patience. Good timing plays quite an important role in the process.

Celebrating the end of the Mariahoeve Winter School with Lilianne Blankwaard, Staadsdeeldirecteur Haagse Hout. 

Celebrating the end of the Mariahoeve Winter School with Lilianne Blankwaard, Staadsdeeldirecteur Haagse Hout. 

I certainly hope that this project continues and grows in future. (We are running our second edition now.) In the meantime, I would like to say a big thank you to Dr. Ann Wilson, especially for her willingness to listen to all of my crazy ideas and her readiness to help me and guide me along the way. Whenever I had this moment of “aha”, she always listened and this has been the biggest push in realizing these ideas.  I also want to thank Klaske Hermans of the Municipality of The Hague for collaborating with me to make the course a reality.  And finally, of course, I want to thank my fellow tutors and all the students from Mariahoeve.

Ivanna Yurkiv is a third-year student at Leiden University College, where she is majoring in Governance, Economics, and Development.

News from LUC-Volunteer

by Simon van der Staaij

Greetings, everyone: Have you heard the news? 

LUC-Volunteer has a new board!

Say hello to Lennart Zandbergen (2nd year, treasurer), Kelsey Bischot (2nd year, communication officer), Simon van der Staaij (3rd year, chair), Lilly Wiggers (3rd year, secretary), Anniek Barnhoorn (2nd year, general board member), and Marina del Valle (1st year, general board member).   

Say hello to Lennart Zandbergen (2nd year, treasurer), Kelsey Bischot (2nd year, communication officer), Simon van der Staaij (3rd year, chair), Lilly Wiggers (3rd year, secretary), Anniek Barnhoorn (2nd year, general board member), and Marina del Valle (1st year, general board member).   

And, as has become a tradition, we organised a week full of volunteering opportunities in the third week of this block. Together we helped a woman living alone with removing wallpaper and with cleaning and painting the walls of her living room. She now enjoys a living room that is painted in a fresh colour. Since she was financially and physically unable to accomplish this herself, she really appreciated our efforts.

We also help twice helped at an event of Resto Van Harte, a local organisation that stimulates social cohesion by bringing together different groups for healthy, festive meals. First we went to The Hague Educational Film Festival, hosted by a local school, where we helped with serving. Later we were involved with the preparations for and serving of a dinner for people in social isolation.

Check out some more photos via our Facebook page.

Interested in volunteering outside LUC-V Weeks? Resto VanHarte and other organisations need volunteers every week, and they would be more than happy to welcome some LUC students to come visit more often! Contact one of our board members or send an email to if you’re interested in these or other volunteering opportunities.

See you next block!

Helping out at Resto VanHarte

Helping out at Resto VanHarte

Diversity and Inclusion in Higher Education

As part of LUC's Community Project course, students regularly grapple with questions of diversity and inclusion in secondary education. How do poverty and residential segregation shape the opportunities available to children? How do implicit biases operate in the classroom? What kinds of curricula are best suited for pluralistic societies in the twenty-first century?

These questions are also important in higher education. This coming Thursday, Leiden University will be hosting a Symposium on Diversity and Inclusion, featuring a keynote address by Philomena Essed and workshops by the New Urban Collective, COC Leiden, and SABR, among others. The programme is free and open to the public, and you can register for it here.

This week, Engage The Hague is launching its new Student Research page, featuring recent work by the student members of our community. In line with the Leiden Symposium, the first entry also takes up the issue of diversity. Specifically, it addresses socioeconomic diversity -- or the lack thereof -- in institutions of higher education. 

Protest at the University of Amsterdam, 2015.

Protest at the University of Amsterdam, 2015.

Lena Volmer, who graduated from LUC this past July, wrote an excellent final paper for the Dean's Class in Spring 2015.  In it, she examines the benefits and challenges of promoting socioeconomic diversity in universities, using Leiden University College as her prime example. Along the way, she interviews many of her classmates and, building on their experiences and suggestions, proposes ideas for ways we can make LUC more accessible to -- and a more welcoming, happier place for -- students from a wider range of socioeconomic backgrounds.

You can read more about Lena's research here.  Or have a look at her valedictorian speech, delivered at the Koninklijke Schouwburg on 3 July 2015.  There she also addresses many of these important themes.



Thank you, Lena, for sharing your work with our community!

Humanity in Action: Educating a New Generation of Socially Engaged Students

by Ashley Chin

Each summer, Humanity in Action -- an international human rights organization aimed at connecting, inspiring and educating young professionals in the fields of human rights, diversity and democracy -- organizes a one-month fellowship with the purpose of making the next generation of potential leaders critically aware of the society they live in. As the program progresses, important societal challenges such as racism, immigration, religion, racism, gender, sexual diversity, and xenophobia will inevitably become part of the discussions.

HiA Fellows, 2015: Students and Young Professionals from the United States, Bosnia, and The Netherlands.

HiA Fellows, 2015: Students and Young Professionals from the United States, Bosnia, and The Netherlands.

I was a participant in the program this past summer, which culminated in an international conference here in The Hague. Having lived, studied and experienced the perks and pitfalls of multiculturalism, I did not expect the fellowship to be as challenging and as intense as it actually was. The days were long: from 9 am till 6 pm we listened to lectures and discussed issues that are all somehow personally related to individual fellows. The lectures were great, but I think I learned most from my fellow participants who all had a different story, a different (educational) background, and most of all, different experiences in life. Naturally, personal affiliations with subjects such as racism, (forced) immigration, religion or gender generate heated and sometimes painful discussions. I think everyone was forced to reflect on one’s own experiences and to perhaps reconsider some of the opinions we’ve held for the biggest parts of our lives. I remember that subjects such as the (contested) existence of white supremacy, the Dutch slavery past, Islamophobia, and questions of refugees were extremely sensitive topics.

Apart from making the fellows more critically aware of these difficult but important social challenges, I think the program also teaches its fellows to learn to listen, to be patient and to be open to opinions that are not one’s own- to learn to talk across difference and to subsequently build up friendships across difference (a lesson that needs to be extended to national societies in general). Mostly, I think the fellowship has helped me finding my own voice in these different debates, and helped me realize the importance of taking up an active role in educating our societies to become more critically aware of themselves. What is our collective self-image and to what extent is this image truthful or accurate? To what extent and in what fields can we praise ourselves, and where do we need to learn to be more critical?

At the end of each summer program, fellows are expected to write a final research report on a topic of their own choosing. Two other fellows and I chose to write on the de facto segregated school system present in The Netherlands -- a subject that my fellow LUC students and I are continuing to discuss in this semester's Community Project course

For over 20 years now, we have classified certain schools in the Netherlands as being “black” or “white”. When one takes a closer look at the bigger picture of underlying and subtle racism in the Dutch society, the use of such classifications can in no way be justified. The purpose of our research paper was to shed more light on the current “black” and “white” schools situation in The Netherlands, and to emphasize its structural implications, psychological consequences and subtle manifestations.  

As part of our research, we spoke with the principals of the Avonturijn and the Catharinaschool in Amsterdam, which launched a campaign this past year to offset falling student enrollment by recruiting "white" students (back) to their schools. We also spoke with teachers from “black” secondary schools in Rotterdam.

English translation of a flyer used by two primary schools in Amsterdam in order to attract more "white" students, and to make their school less "black."

English translation of a flyer used by two primary schools in Amsterdam in order to attract more "white" students, and to make their school less "black."


Eventually, during the process of our research, we came to ask ourselves the following questions:

What are the consequences of reinforcing // emphasizing the difference between “black” and “white” students or parents?

What sort of consequences will this have for the children?

Is being discriminatory -- that is, distinguishing between students -- valid when it is done for the purpose of fighting more systematic discrimination?


I invite everyone to think critically about their own opinion in these matters. And to ask themselves why these questions matter at all. Most importantly, I think this means we all still need to be educated on societal questions that we often take for granted, overlook or dismiss.

In The Netherlands, of course, Zwarte Piet is one of the most eminent examples of conflicting narratives and self-perceptions. In terms of building up inclusive national identities at a time of increasing diversity in societies, the question of Zwarte Piet remains highly relevant (even if most people are starting to get sick of having the same discussion over and over again). In fact, there have been two grassroots organization in Amsterdam who have taken it upon themselves to constructively address social cohesion through education: Nederland Wordt Beter and the New Urban Collective. Recently they’ve developed lesson plans for primary school pupils addressing Sinterklaas, Zwarte Piet, and the Dutch colonial and slavery past.

On Tuesday, October 27 they will be present their lesson plans and host a public discussion at the VU in Amsterdam.  A number of LUC students will be attending, and I hereby invite you to join us!  It’ll be a great way to see how how local organizations have tried to constructively think about more inclusive national identities, and to see what they think should be included in the education of future generations of citizens.

Meanwhile, to learn more about recent discussions about de facto school segregation in the Netherlands, see this article in English, or visit the group Welkom in Mijn Wijk (in Dutch, but with an English summary page).


Ashley Chin is a third-year student at Leiden University College, majoring in International Justice.  She is writing her capstone essay on the relationship between international law and domestic struggles around racial justice in the Netherlands.

Children Under Fire: Call for Volunteers

This October, Humanity House and the Dutch Red Cross will be collaborating on a travelling exhibition, "Kind Onder Vuur," designed to teach schoolchildren about what it means to grow up in wartime.  From 14 to 30 October, the exhibition will take place in the Atrium at the Hague City Hall, and thereafter it will move to Humanity House (until 30 December).

Read below for a call for (Dutch-speaking) volunteers needed to help launch this importnat and timely exhibition.

door Marije Plak

De vluchtelingen die vanuit Syrië naar Europa komen zijn het fenomeen van de afgelopen tijd geweest. De kinderen die in zulke conflictsituaties mee worden gesleept door alles wat er om zich heen gebeurt. Van 14-30 oktober houdt het Nederlandse Rode Kruis de tentoonstelling Kind Onder Vuur in het Atrium van het stadhuis hier in Den Haag. De tentoonstelling stelt centraal hoe het is voor kinderen om op te groeien in een oorlogsgebied.

Hiervoor is het Rode Kruis op zoek naar enthousiaste vrijwilligers die deze tentoonstelling willen begeleiden. Op 13 oktober vindt een training plaats ter inleiding van het begeleiden en na afloop zal er een terugkom borrel zijn en de eventuele mogelijkheid om vaste vrijwilliger bij het Rode Kruis te worden.

Ben je geïnteresseerd om bij deze tentoonstelling te helpen en meer te leren over mensenrechten en conflictstudies, meldt je dan aan door je naam, mailadres en telefoonnummer te mailen naar

We zien je aanmelding met enthousiasme tegemoet!


Wij Zijn Hier


On September 12, many LUC staff and students participated in the European Day of Action for Refugees, including a march in the city center of The Hague.  Looking for other ways to get involved?  See this list of organizations that can use your help.

Below is a post by LUC student Qali Nur, who is working on a documentary about the group Wij Zijn Hier.

Over the past weeks the media has been dominated by the news on the so-called ‘migrant crisis’. Hundreds of thousands of mostly Syrian, Iraqi, Eritrean and Somali refugees have arrived in Italy, Greece and Hungary over the last months. Most of them want to continue the travel and go to Germany and Austria. However, the Hungarian police has been blocking the way and has stopped the trains going to Germany and Austria. After having lost patience, the refugees decided to walk all the way to Germany. In Germany, they experienced a warm welcome by the German citizens. It seems like European citizens are becoming more welcoming of refugees; however, islamophobia and xenophobia also seem to increase in Europe. As European member states have agreed to take more refugees, we have to ask ourselves what happens to those who have undertaken the journey to Europe, but will not be granted asylum?

“We are here and we will fight, for freedom of movement, it’s everybody’s right.”

In the summer of 2014 I started a documentary on denied asylum seekers and undocumented people in the Netherlands. After seeing a horrible picture of a man who was very ill on the Wij Zijn Hier Facebook page, I decided I wanted to know more about the situation of those without the ‘right’ documents. I contacted the Wij Zijn Hier (We Are Here) group and got the contacts of several people. After emailing them, I managed to make an appointment with Alula and Ilhaam. Alula, from Ethiopia, came to the Netherlands as political refugee. He was the first person I interviewed and he was incredibly nice. At that time he was staying at the Vluchtgarage. The Vluchtgarage was a squatted building in which around 100 men were staying. When we were walking around, Alula told me about the difficulties. There were some toilets, but no showers or warm water. There was no light in most of the areas and there were a lot of leakages. It was very cold and wet in the entire building (I was there in the summer), and it made me think of how cold it must be during the winter. After a visit to the Vluchtgarage in June 2014, College voor de Rechten van de Mens (College for human rights) concluded that the Vluchtgarage was an inhumane place to live.

A week later I interviewed Ilhaam. Her parents moved to Saudi Arabia to escape from the war in Somalia, however after her father was fired they were not allowed to stay in Saudi Arabia. Unable to return to Somalia, her family went to Yemen. However, life in Yemen was difficult and those without papers barely have any rights. Therefore, Ilhaam decided to go to the Netherlands and try to build a new life here.

Protest at the dam in Amsterdam 03/04/2015. ‘My Ethiopian brother’. After he found out I was Somali, he pointed at himself and said "Walaal Oromo." Walaal means "brother"in Somali. 

Protest at the dam in Amsterdam 03/04/2015. ‘My Ethiopian brother’. After he found out I was Somali, he pointed at himself and said "Walaal Oromo." Walaal means "brother"in Somali. 

Ilhaam really inspires me; she is always reading and she always wants to learn more and more. She taught herself Dutch and she is hoping to study medicine once she gets Dutch citizenship. Ilhaam became a spokesperson for the Wij Zijn Hier group and continued to tell her story to raise awareness. Last month she made a video to inform people in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the Netherlands about the situation of undocumented and denied asylum seekers in these countries. You can watch the video here. (There are English subtitles).

After having interviewed many people on this matter, I have learned a lot about the situation these people find themselves in. As an undocumented or denied asylum seeker, you are almost forced to live on the streets. Up until recently, the Dutch government believed that they were not responsible for providing basic needs such as shelter and food. However, after a long period of discussion and protest, the Dutch government decided to at least provide “Bed, Bad and Brood” (bed, bath and bread). However, this is not in the whole country; only six municipalities are providing it. Furthermore, the Bed, Bad and Brood agreement only includes night shelter. The people can have breakfast at the shelter and after that they are out on the street until the evening. Although, this is an improvement, but it is still not humane. As an undocumented or denied asylum seeker, you cannot work or go to school during the day. Without money, you cannot go to restaurants, cinemas, or many other places to shelter from the cold. Ilhaam told me she usually spent her time at public libraries or just outside.

Protest at the dam, Amsterdam 03/04/2015. ‘BBB is NOT a solution.’

Protest at the dam, Amsterdam 03/04/2015. ‘BBB is NOT a solution.’

Shelter, however is not the only issue that undocumented or denied asylum seekers deal with. For my Investigative Journalism course at LUC, I looked into the police protection and the right to file a report for undocumented and denied asylum seekers in the Netherlands. I interviewed several people who told me about their experiences with the police. Ali Juma, from Burundi, has been in the Netherlands for over 9 years. At the time he was staying at the ‘Vluchtgebouw’ another squatted building by the Wij Zijn Hier group. He told me about his friend who felt dizzy and ill and decided to ask for help when he passed a police station. His friend who was also denied asylum, passed out when he arrived at the police station and woke up in a detention center. Ali said, his friend only got out after six months. The fear to be detained often holds undocumented people back to file a report at the police or ask for help. To make it worse, these people are often abused since the perpetrators are aware of the fear of detention. Out of the interviews I have done, most people told me that there does not seem to be any consistent policy on this matter, and that whether you are detained or not depends on the mercy of the police officer.

“OOh là là, oOh lé lé, solidarité
avec les sans- papiers!”

Now the question is: what can you do to help? First of all, the people of the Wij Zijn Hier group in Amsterdam, but also people in the Hague, are dependent on the donations of people for food and basic necessities such as soap and shampoo. You could either donate something yourself, or you could organize a food collection at the closest supermarket like this:

Furthermore, you could help with washing clothes, or if you have a car you can help with transport, since the people often change location and need to squat new buildings if they are evicted. You can also become a buddy at the Wij Zijn Hier group and help people with the language and documents. Last but not least, you could just come by and become a supporter!

There are several events organized like dinners or benefit concerts and you can always come. Just keep an eye on the Facebook page for the events


Qali Nur is a third-year student studying World Politics at LUC.

What did YOU do over the summer?

Things have been relatively quiet around the LUC college building over the last six weeks, as students and faculty have spread out across the world to take time off, explore new places, visit family and friends, do research, pursue summer courses… and, of course, go to the BEACH!

But thanks to the LUC Global Microplastics Project, staff and students have not only been enjoying sun, surf, and sand -- they have also been helping contribute to a research project in the field of ecotoxicology.

The idea is simple: Each participant collects five small bags of sand, takes a picture from the beach, and uses their cell phone to set the GPS coordinates. They then return the samples to LUC, where the sand is analyzed by students in collaboration with project leaders Dr. Thijs Bosker (LUC), Dr. Paul Behrens (LUC), and Dr. Martina Vijver (Institute of Environmental Sciences, Leiden). By compiling the results, they will help measure the levels of microplastics pollution on beaches around the world, from Australia to Cambodia to Curaçao to Scheveningen. 

As we've reported on this blog in the past, microplastics can be taken up in the food chain and eventually end up on our plates. But we still have a lot to learn about their global distribution patterns. The LUC Global Microplastics Project will help contribute to richer knowledge about the prevalence of microplastics, and about their potential impacts on organisms and the environment.

This project has the support of the Leiden University Fund, the Gratama Stichting, and – of course -- dozens of beach-going LUC staff and students.

Great work everyone!  Thanks for helping us make the most of your summer travels. Check out the map below to see where we've been!

End to a Great Semester

On June 2, Leiden University College celebrated the completion of its inaugural Community Project course with a festival featuring student research presentations, a volunteer fair, live music, and keynote address by education innovator Jelmer Evers. Download the festival programme for examples of student work from the course.  And check out this article (in Dutch) from the Volkskrant, describing the work LUC students did over the past semester.

Wishing everyone a great summer, and see you all in Fall 2015!

More Than Practicing Dutch: Being a Language Buddy for VluchtelingenWerk Nederland

by Anne Flake

There are many ways in which the “Global Challenges” we study at Leiden University College manifest themselves at a local level, which implies that there are local opportunities to make a practical contribution. In the context of the highly politicised debate on migration and diversity, for example, it is possible to directly assist in the integration process of immigrants.

Compared to other countries, immigrants in The Netherlands are required to pass very tough language and culture tests. The required level of Dutch has significantly increased and since 2013 immigrants are expected to pay for their own inburgeringscursus (language and culture classes). These were first organized by the municipalities, but now immigrants have to take classes at private language schools, for which they can take a loan up to 5.000 euros from DUO. Simultaneously, the consequences of not meeting the standard have become more serious, with potential expulsion to their country of origin as punishment. This increased pressure has made many immigrants with a temporary residence permit even more vulnerable.

Luckily, there are organisations that offer support to immigrants: VluchtelingenWerk Nederland (the Dutch Refugee Council) is one of them. They do this, for example, through linking a language buddy (volunteer) to someone who is learning Dutch. In my case, it means that I visit Ilhaam (not her real name), a Somali mother of six and grandmother of one, for 1.5 hours a week to practice Dutch. In the beginning this was quite a challenge, since her Dutch vocabulary was very limited and my Somali non-existent. However, it quickly improved thanks to the help of her sons (who attend school at Johan de Witt College and ROC Mondriaan), the broken English of her husband, and my drawing skills.

Being a language buddy is in many ways about more than practicing Dutch. I can help them with practical and cultural issues (i.e., I am one of the few “Dutch” people Ilhaam is in touch with), and I am also learning a lot from Ilhaam and her family. About, for example, Somali culture and food (yes, chances are high that you will be invited to stay for dinner), but also about the challenges that arise when arriving in a new country, and being forced to integrate in a certain manner and how it affects each family member differently. That it can also lead to friendships is proven by the fact that my family and I still regularly have dinner with a family from Iraq whose language buddy I was five years ago.

In short, it is very rewarding work and many people simply need the extra support in order to pass their tests and secure their stay in the Netherlands. If you are interested in becoming a language buddy just contact VluchtelingenWerk Nederland. Even if you do not speak Dutch, there may be other ways in which you can get involved!

Anne Flake is a third-year student at LUC, majoring in International Development.  This spring she is completing her capstone thesis on the consequences of opening Eurodac to national law enforcement authorities and Europol.

Microplastics in Scheveningen

by Lone Mokkenstorm

One of the strengths of LUC’s educational program is that it encourages you to go out in the field and experience the theories you study in the classroom. This semester, Thijs Bosker’s Environmental Science class worked on a field project on the beaches around The Hague. The aim was to quantify the amount of plastics in the region’s coastal areas and to determine if there were any distribution patterns. The class was divided in four research teams and each was assigned coordinates of a sample site somewhere between the pier of Scheveningen and Meijendel, the water purification site.

Plastic is a very durable material and its use has increased tremendously over the past few decades. Plastics in the environment originate for example from industry, sanitary products, and waste. In our research, we distinguished between micro- and macroplastics. Macroplastics are bigger than 5 mm, and basically form the litter you can see lying around on the beaches. Microplastics, however, are trickier: they are smaller than 5 mm and are hard to distinguish from sand particles. However, exactly this small size is what makes them so hazardous for the environment -- and us!

Microplastics enter the environment in several ways, for example through surface runoff, sewage systems, or macroplastics breaking down into smaller particles. They are easily consumed by coastal and aquatic organisms. Apart from the fact that they can block an organism’s digestion system, plastics often contain toxic substances (persistent organic pollutants, or POP’s). These POP's accumulate more with every step in the food chain, and can eventually end up on our plates. Several European countries have recently issued a joint call to ban microplastics from cosmetic products in order to improve the quality of some seafood products, such as the famous Dutch mussels.

As this is a relatively new area of study, scientists have yet to identify all the sources of these plastics, as well as their exact negative health impacts. Even if we know the impacts are hazardous, more research has to be done before this can be taken into account in policies.

On the beach, we sieved the sand with a 5 mm sieve to filter out all shells and driftwood. Afterwards, we let the sand dry for 48 hours and sieved it with two other sieves to distinguish small and bigger microplastics.

On the beach, we sieved the sand with a 5 mm sieve to filter out all shells and driftwood. Afterwards, we let the sand dry for 48 hours and sieved it with two other sieves to distinguish small and bigger microplastics.

The results of our project confirmed this once again. We found more plastics on the sites that were farthest away from the pier in Scheveningen -- which is not exactly what you would expect to be the case, given the amount of human activity and tourism in that area. More questions arose the moment we saw the graphs: Which mechanisms could cause this? Is there another source of plastics? What are the potential impacts if any of those plastics would end up in the water purification pond in Meijendel? An ecological problem that initially seemed straightforward ended up to be more complex than we thought.

Therefore, this hands-on science experience taught us a lot. Everything that could go wrong did indeed go wrong: we tried to sieve wet sand, got lost somewhere in Meijendel, and we found the opposite of what we expected to. It proved that science is a matter of trial and error, and this is something you can’t learn in a classroom. Despite all uncertainties, I do feel that we contributed within this young area of study, concerning an issue that is to be perceived on a local level, whilst impacting health and environment globally.


Lone Mokkenstorm is a first-year student at LUC.

Researching the City: The Municipal Archive

by Bob Pierik

A great place to study The Hague is through its very own archive: the Gemeentearchief. The Gemeentearchief houses documents on the municipality and public organizations, as well as private organizations and businesses that have donated their materials. Historical archives form a huge collection of knowledge, parts of which still have to be unearthed. It’s like the desert of Egypt, but then right in our backyard.

That pile of knowledge is becoming ever more accessible. Archives all over the world are putting more of their documents online, although sometimes they limit digitization to their most important collections or to certain themes, as it costs a lot of time and resources to digitize documents. In some cases, the online collection may be more of a showcase than a database, or is simply incomplete and thus far less useful than a visit to the archive itself.

Luckily, The Hague’s municipal archive has an ongoing digitization program, which means that documents that are not yet online will be scanned for free and made publicly available -- whenever someone requests them. Thus, instead of choosing which documents to make more widely available, the archive lets its own users drive the further digitization of The Hague’s history. This way, the archive’s users gradually digitize the 14 kilometers of documents of the archive, while working on their own research.

Meyer, Fotoburo. 1976. Stadhouderslaan, de Internationale Schakelklas van de Johan de Witt Scholengemeenschap

Meyer, Fotoburo. 1976. Stadhouderslaan, de Internationale Schakelklas van de Johan de Witt Scholengemeenschap

For the students in the current LUC Community Project course on multicultural education, there are quite some documents on schools in The Hague. It didn’t take long to excavate this photograph of the Johan de Witt School’s international transition class in the 70s. Besides academic value, it’s also just a lot of fun to browse the archive’s image database!

Be sure to not to forget the Gemeentearchief and its thematic sub-collections if you want to study the history of the city. For detailed instructions -- including screenshots that can be helpful for researchers who do not speak Dutch -- please consult the Engage The Hague Guide to The Gemeentearchief (PDF).


Bob Pierik is a third-year student at LUC. He is currently writing a capstone thesis on urban redevelopment and urban space in the Transvaal neighborhood of The Hague.

LUC Volunteer Week: A Report

by Anisa Gasper

In week 3 of this block, LUC-V organized an entire week of volunteering activities, for which LUC students were able to sign up. Very soon after the announcements of the different projects, most of them were already full, as LUC students were very enthusiastic to commit.

Volunteering for the community is an essential part of university education, as one learns about more regional problems alongside the bigger world issues we read about. Within LUC we are sometimes quite sheltered from the community, and it is therefore crucial to engage and try to affect a positive change where we can. Many people within the Netherlands, and within The Hague itself, do not have access to a social network to aid them in cases of need, or can feel quite marginalized because of their living situation. By enacting small, positive changes in their lives, we can help contribute to a strong starting point from which they can continue to grow.

Besides the projects that LUC-V organizes by itself, we also work together with Stichting Present. They are in direct contact with clients who might need our help, and they take care of all the tools and materials. In return, we mobilize our volunteers and manage the actual activities. We enjoyed working with Stichting Present in the past, and we look forward to continue our cooperation in the future.

This LUC Volunteer Week started off on Monday afternoon, when LUC students painted several bedrooms and the hallway of a client with debts and a limited social network. On Tuesday evening, we stripped the old wallpaper and repainted the walls of the house of another client with similar issues. The client joined in to help, and we all had a very enjoyable evening.

On Wednesday afternoon LUC students visited the elderly home of Duinrust, where they helped with the ‘creative afternoon’, providing the residents with a fun afternoon and also a walk outside. Wednesday evening a new batch of students came to assist a woman in cleaning her house, providing her with a clean slate and a healthy environment to live in. Finally we wrapped up the week on Thursday evening, with a cleaning and refurbishing project, for a woman with two young children who had previously been staying in an emergency shelter. For her to have access to a clean place to call home is very important.


We had a very enjoyable week, where students were able to meet people from different backgrounds, collaborate on work projects, and enjoy some food and drink together. On all sides the experience was much valued. We would like to thank all of the LUC students who volunteered their time, and hope to see them at the next LUC Volunteer Week!  For more information about future events, check out our Facebook page.

Anisa Gasper studies World Politics at LUC.



Engage The Hague is about fostering meaningful connections between Leiden University College and the broader community of which we are a part -- that is, the beautiful and vibrant city of The Hague.

Many of our students and staff are already actively involved in the community through a range of endeavors -- as volunteers, as researchers, as members of various kinds of local organizations... and as participants in LUC's academic service-learning programme. This blog is intended to showcase the exciting and creative work that is being done to promote engaged citizenship in our local community, and to create a platform where others can join us. We will also be posting news and commentary about the ways that "global challenges" -- the thematic focus of LUC's liberal arts and sciences curriculum -- manifest locally here in The Hague. 

So watch this space!  And we invite you to participate. To propose a blog entry, simply send an email to  We will look forward to hearing from you.