Utrecht goes international – Blog by Anna Mautner

05 / 09 / 2022

In October 2021 I had the chance to visit Enik recovery college in Utrecht as one of the study visits in the IFS fostering social justice project.

Not only did I establish connections with engaging people within the social field from all over Europe, and learned about the power of peer support, but I also got some easy to adopt ideas for the Wiener Hilfswerk neighbourhoodcenter I work for in Vienna.

At Enik, being together in lectures and workshops was informative but it was the eating (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) and enjoy a meal together, prepared by volunteers at Enik, that for me, in the end, really made connections possible. The WhatsApp group we called “Enik goes international” is still active today.

Living in a large city where anonymity can often lead to loneliness and financial insecurities that prohibit some groups to join others for lunch or dinner in restaurants, gave me the idea, to not only focus more on peer support within the neighbourhood centers, but also to establish a surrounding where people can make connections over food through either cooking and/or eating.

Beginning of 2022 we started a new group activity to empower and strengthen the social bonds within the neighbourhood: “Treffpunkt am Puls”

“Treffpunkt am Puls” is as a group activity containing three elements:

First comes the cooking – international cuisine, created by visitors, volunteers, and employees of the Wiener Hilfswerk in the morning.

Second is the following lunch that we all enjoy together and everyone else who fancies good company and food can join.

Third we can offer space to sit, relax have someone to talk to and food, if wanted, for everyone who drops by till the evening.

On the opening, we had volunteers sitting together, playing guitar, and singing.

Since the capitalization event at ARCI in Rome in November 2021 showed me, that not only eating together can intensify connection but also making music and singing, I quickly adopted another idea from the project experience: I told visitors on that opening day about how the idea for “Treffpunkt am Puls” came into being and invited them to sing the “theme song” of Arci together, as we did in Rome: Bob Dylans Blowing in the wind. It was a magnificent moment.

Shortly after we had started, Ukrainian refugees came to Vienna. We knew that refugees eventually would need more than a safe place to stay and German groups to learn basic language skills. Therefore, we tried to invite them to join, participate and connect through other channels: food, cooking and eating.

Since then, we had food cooked and served by people originating from many different countries: Syria, Egypt, Hungaria, South Korea, Austria, Germany, Tunis, and Ukraine.

Since we enjoy good weather in Viennese summers, we can sit outside in the park. Therefore, people can easily drop by and join.

One day a young student from Dresden, Germany dropped by. Her mother once migrated from India to Germany. She saw the international gathering at the lunch table and asked to join. When she asked how this idea came to be, I told her the story of Enik and how we, as project participants wanted to carry the idea internationally, she took out a pen and paper, wrote down some short facts and promised to take the idea and the originating story back home to Dresden.

One part of the “Enik experience” really did go international.

In April the employees from all Wiener Hilfswerk neighbourhood centers came together to discuss ideas, developing strategies and future plans for the work we do.

I was asked to present my IFS experiences and give insight into the study visit at Enik and basic ideas that we all can easily implement.

Not only were my fellow colleagues impressed by the impact of peer support and the language used within Enik, but they also agreed that this could help integrate people, who – for now – do not communicate in the Austria’s mother tongue. Cooking and eating are indeed a different language within itself.

Blog by Anna Mautner.