Samuel Abraham is Breaking Barriers Building Bridgessocial
Samuel Abraham is Breaking Barriers Building Bridges
“Art breaks barriers, I experienced that myself.”
What is your initiative Breaking Barriers Building Bridges all about?
“It is about helping people to overcome whatever is holding them back to participate – language, loneliness, trauma – and to connect to our society, through theatre and other artforms.”
How did it start?
“Eight years ago, many Eritrean refugees came to the Netherlands. People with traumatic experiences, a lot of stress, and worrying about the people they left behind. Struggling with money, with everything. I am from Eritrea too – my mother, sisters and I fled the war in the
nineties – and I wanted to do something to help the newcomers, as an artist, because I found my own path through music and rap. Eritreans are creative, they love art, but if you don’t speak the language and you have no network, how are you going to find ways to express yourself?
I talked about it with a friend who is a theatre maker and we decided to start an acting group, so they could share their stories with the public.”
Did it work?
“The group was 50 percent Eritrean, the rest were people from other backgrounds, including Dutch. Eritreans usually don’t show their sorrows and pain, but in this project, they opened up, even cried together. It felt safe, probably because we as organisers were open people and used to connecting with different cultures. I have always lived in a neighbourhood with people from Morocco, Turkey, Surinam…
We had two performances in Theater Zuidplein in Rotterdam, and the feedback was very positive. The players gained a lot of confidence, were ready to learn more.
Art breaks barriers, I experienced that myself: as a boy, I was very quiet, my barrier was lack of confidence too. I used to look in awe at Dutch boys, speaking out loud and clear. I loved hip hop music and expressed myself by writing lyrics. It was only when a friend and I started performing and recording our rap songs that I was freed: standing there with a microphone, using my voice – it gave me so much power. Over time I have become an easy speaker, I am free now, and that is the most precious thing that I want everybody to experience.”
Where did Rebel enter your story?
“I learned about Rebel on the internet. The way they presented themselves on their website appealed to me. I have always been a rebel myself. I used to be angry about injustice in the world: why are black people considered second rate citizens? The first people on earth were Africans! Why does that lady hold her purse tight when I pass her? I am not that kind of person! As a young newcomer my family could not help me find my way in this country. From an early age I studied a lot in the library to find answers to the questions I had about the purpose of life, my place in society. It helped me find my own lifestyle with spirituality, healthy food and sports. Instead of being angry I developed a positive mindset.
So I was attracted to Rebel, because it is commercial and socially involved at the same time. I applied for a job at the financial administration – I have a bachelor degree in business administration.”
And did you find the Rebel spirit?
“Not at first. When I talked about my initiative with my colleagues in the financial department, not everybody was that interested. After the first successes we had decided to take BBBB further: a foundation offering different activities – theatre, but also DJ-lessons and workshops on different subjects like entrepreneurship and job coaching. I needed some help taking it to that next level. And Rebel always said: if you have an initiative, come to us! So in the end I reached out to different people in the company. The response was great, many people asked: how can we help? One of the founders suggested I send an email to all in the company
asking for funding. I thought no, that is not the way I was brought up, asking for money… But then I realised: this was about ‘breaking barriers’, right? I sent the email and within half an hour the donations came pouring in. Someone said: I can make your website if you like. Someone else: I can design your logo. All doors opened.
We got funding from Rebel for promotion purposes, and they give me time to professionalize BBBB.”
You are a role model for the newcomers now.
“Well, I can be a bridge between two worlds. For example, we are going to do a workshop here at the Rebel office. For people who have been living here for just a year or so, it can be inspiring to see someone from their own community whose story offers hope and perspective.”
Lessons from Samuel Abraham:
- If you feel imprisoned, dare to look inside and ask yourself: what holds me back?
- Find out what inspires you
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help
- Find ways to express yourself – if not in words, then in music, boxing or whatever is good for you