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!