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07-25-2012 – Het Dorp, Arnhem, The Netherlands

Southern Sky Adventures: 07-25-2012 – Het Dorp, Arnhem, The Netherlands

July 25, 2012

Making a return visit to my mother’s homeland, The Netherlands. Per my blog entries from last year about this same time you can see the my personal history in forging a link between Africa and The Netherlands. As a follower of history and geography, I enjoy these opportunities to connect the historical dots.

On the way over, the time spent here seems more a charity effort for the benefit of others and on the way back home it appears more clearly that I have been on the receiving end of some generous and bold spirit.

My uncle is disabled and resides here in Arnhem in an assisted living home with about 300 other people who have experienced a myriad of physical setbacks in life. Het Dorp is translated as “The Village”. The land was donated 50 years ago by a successful Dutch businessman and his wife for the purpose of building this facility. Impressive are the grounds, the facilities, the staff and the citizens of this little hamlet.

Tough to describe this place to an American as connotations of assisted living for disabled people conjures up visions of a hospital type setting complete with white walls and white uniforms. Het Dorp is more akin to a townhouse development. Such places I have seen in the US but more geared towards the retirement community. Here, there exist a series of 10 – 12 buildings each but only 2 stories tall and a round the clock staff to take care of the needs of the disabled. Those living here reside on “streets” not “halls” as they have individual addresses. Each building has a common indoor and outdoor area but those living here are free to stay in their own apartments and come and go as they please. They have a common group of perhaps 10 – 12 “neighbors” that can come eat in the common area or each is offered the chance to stay in his/her own apartment.

The afflictions are many here. Some, as with my uncle, Pieter Boelman, were born with personally manageable issues to begin their lives but saw age begin to create more challenges. In the case of my uncle, he grew up as close to any normal childhood as one might imagine. His early years as an adult saw him living on his own and working. It was not until his late 50’s that debilitation set in with his diabetes, followed by Parkinson’s Disease and two hip fractures left him wheelchair bound. Until recently, he still maintained a hefty travel schedule having toured the world with a local orchestra a few times and is well heeled in personal experiences throughout western Europe.

Over the years I have become friends with the staff and folks living here. They have all been quite accepting of me. Given my mother and I will stay in an apartment on site reserved for such visitors as we, our stays have often been continuous.

The variety of ailments on show here is vast. There are folks like Tom, Mathijs, Paul and Robert who were born with disease which rendered them unable to care for themselves at any stage of their life. These men are also young, all in their twenties and all speak fluent English and German in addition to their native Dutch. They are experienced computer users and teach me a plenty during my visits.

There is also Gert Jan who worked with the UN and World Bank for over 20 years before suffering a stroke in 1990 at the age of 42. He has lived in Kenya, Indonesia, Rhodesia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and in the Caribbean. He speaks at least 4 – 5 languages and a wealth of knowledge in discussing those parts of the world in which he has lived. Henk is born and raised in Holland but of Indonesian descent. He speaks English like he grew up on the shore of Lake Michigan. There are also Jos, Tienie and Hans, all of whom provide a welcome environment for me to visit.

All these people living here are most impressive in the way they both accept the challenges of their life as well as project and energy in effort to make a future. Not sure at all I could do it as well, not sure at all.

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