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Vitalism buddies

Lotte (40) is Omar's (8) buddy: 'He now also has something nice to say in the circle at school'

Sometimes children do not get the attention they need at home. This could be due to, for example, a sick parent or an unpleasant divorce. Lack of attention makes them vulnerable and can get them into trouble. To prevent this, we support buddy projects, for example with our partner Vitalis. Buddies are volunteers who give children extra support and attention and do fun things with them. Lotte is such a buddy and explains in the LINDA what exactly that means.

This article appeared in LINDA on March 2, 2024.

Buddy for Omar*

Lotte (40) loves that Omar spends part of the day with them every other weekend. Lotte and Paul have son Bas (5) together and are a happy, hardworking couple. They're actually all doing well. She is a university lecturer, he is a lawyer. When they moved to a large house with a huge garden a few years ago, they first started thinking about volunteering. “There are only three of us, but wouldn't many children like to play here in the garden every now and then?”, Lotte thought.

“We did some Googling and the volunteer project Vitalismaatjes immediately stood out to us. We would be linked in an accessible way to a vulnerable child from our own neighborhood, who could use some space, both literally and figuratively.”

To do fun things

Their first buddy is a Syrian girl from a refugee family who does not always receive attention at home because of her disabled brother. “She was nine years old when she came to us. We just went and did some fun things with her on the weekend, activities she never did with her parents. Because they couldn't manage it financially or logistically, or because they weren't used to it because of their culture.”

Lotte still remembers the first time they went swimming in natural water when the weather was nice. “At first she thought it was dirty and took some getting used to, but an hour later she was on the SUP board and all she wanted to do was get into the water,” laughs Lotte.

She has warm memories of the journey with the Syrian girl. After a year and a half, the process ends and they immediately decide that they want to be a buddy for another child again. Then Omar was introduced to them. “He comes from a family with a father who is deaf and a young sister with a disability. They live in an apartment and Omar could use being out every now and then. He is a huge outdoor kid: building huts, cycling, running, going outside, he loves that. And it's wonderful that he can do that together with our son.”

Every other weekend, 8-year-old Omar comes to the house - with a large garden - of Lotte and her boyfriend Paul. As buddies, they give him the extra attention that he doesn't always get at home.

To play

Omar comes by for half a day every other weekend. “Because we have a museum card, we also bought one for him. He would not easily go to a museum with his parents, that is something he does with us. He finds museums super interesting and is very hungry for knowledge. Sometimes we go to the beach, or we stay home and he plays on the trampoline and we eat ice cream. We always do something fun, but it doesn't have to be big. He is doing really well for us and we also really like that Bas and Omar have such a good connection.

It is nice for Omar himself that he is out of the apartment for a while and can be with us in another family. His parents have a moment for themselves and we enjoy how the children play together. I realize very well that we are in our highly educated bubble with our family and friends. In that respect, I also find it educational and interesting to make our own world bigger in this way.”

Lotte is so enthusiastic that she chats a lot about the fun adventures they experience. She can therefore recommend everyone to become a buddy.

Language barrier

But is there nothing complicated or difficult about being a buddy of a neighborhood child for whom you are also responsible at times? Lotte has to think, but can't really come up with something big, at most the language barrier. “Sometimes contact with parents is a challenge. I try to overcome that by often showing photos. Then they see what we did that day and that he had fun.

And if, for example, we want to stop by McDonald's after a day out, I have to check with the parents first. Is it okay if we eat there because it's not halal? You do things like that in consultation. The contact is generally good and you can see that the parents also enjoy it when they hear or see how much fun their child had.


Although it may seem as if the child only comes to play, Lotte and Paul are really there for the child. “If parents need help or if we see that things are not going well, we can tip Vitalis. We are just volunteers, not care providers. That is a very big difference. We mainly give Omar attention and that has a positive impact.

For example, if I am concerned about his well-being, I will report this back to Vitalis, the organization behind the Maatjes project. They also take care of the training that you are required to follow, the match between child and buddy, arranges contact, monitors whether everyone is still happy with the situation and organizes volunteer meetings.”

According to Lotte, there are only winners in this case. “I hear that he is always ready in the morning with his bag and can't wait to go to us that day. And you know what I also like? When Omar comes to school on Monday, he - just like the other children in the class - also has a nice story to tell in the circle.”

*Omar's name and photo have been changed for privacy reasons. His real name is known to the editors.

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