Antoine, giving newcomers a second chance

When Antoine Defesche, director of the Horeca Academie, accidentally met Syrian Tarek Karim, he was very impressed by his cooking skills. The scholarship that Antoine offered him laid the basis for a special scholarship for refugees. It turned out to be a success: this spring, Antoine awarded his fifth scholarship.

The former Ministry of Social Affairs in The Hague, where the Horeca Academie is located, was until late 2015 also hosting a temporary shelter for refugees. Tarek was one of them. Thanks to the scholarship, he could finish his education as a cook in a year. He was the first refugee who could finance his education at the Academie in this way. For Antoine, the success of Tarek was a motive to continue giving out the scholarship, with the help of the neighbours  ZonMw, NWO and AT&T. “Since then, four newcomers have been educated; three are now working in the hotel and food industry, explains Antoine. With a lot of pride, he tells us that Tarek is now working in the restaurant of The Hague Teleport Hotel as a chef, where he makes gorgeous creations.

But for him, it is more about the people than the business, he emphasises: “At this moment two refugees are being educated, of which one with a scholarship.”

The extra attention that these refugees receive is essential. “They need an individual approach. To do that, we sit around the table and talk. We don’t decide everything on our own, and neither do they”, says Antoine.

The Horeca Academie seems the perfect place for that. “We only have around 130, 140 students, which makes it possible to have an individual approach. In addition to the scholarship, we offer the refugees extra coaching in  job seeking skills.”

“We give people a second chance, it’s in our DNA”, Antoine Defesche, director of Horeca Academie.

Antoine explains that the Horeca Academie offers general support to all the students in their programmes, when necessary. This helps the study track. On the other hand, the Academie expects the students to be just as devoted towards the education. “When someone doesn’t show up without a reason, we call immediately. Our students want to finish their education in one year, so we have to make an effort to make this happen.”

The reason why Antoine thinks personal attention is so important originates in some of his personal experience. “My values, from a young age, are social engagement and hospitality. When I was young we had a Vietnamese refugee stay with us for a while. This wasn’t weird at all: my parents were always involved in social projects.” Antoine, who was educated to be a psychologist and was active in the education sector and the hotel and food industry, switched his career to these social projects as well. Among other things, he organised language coaching for refugees.

A lot of people that study at the Academie follow a similar path. That is why the Horeca Academie has plans for a new scholarship. “A benefit dinner is planned together with ZonMw. The goal is to be able to offer another scholarship by spring.” Antoine would also like the municipality to contribute. “This kind of scholarship downsizes the expenses for the community for a refugee to integrate. In this way we can seek together for a good track with fast, concrete results. Take Tarek as an example!”

Antoine Defesche is a partner of Haagse Huiskamer, an initiative powered by Justice and Peace that gives a platform for creative and efficient integration practices in The Hague.

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