Fouzia Semri

My name is Fouzia Semri. I was born in Fez, Morocco. My parents always encouraged me to study. I studied Arabic literature. At the same time, I taught Arabic at a primary school. 

After I got married, I came to Delft in the name of family reunification. I immediately began to study Dutch. I started work at the Intercultureel Vrouwencentrum (intercultural women’s centre), where women came to get involved in activities and to study. I provided people with information and advice. But then the centre closed. Since I had teaching experience, I began to give language lessons to Moroccan women, at the community centre in Voorhof. Even on the first day there were twenty women. I was very happy and surprised, and the women were very enthusiastic. The lessons went very well and continued for 8 or 9 years all in all. I also collaborated with the GGD (area health authority) and GGZ (mental health authority). 

I have nearly always worked with and for women. Where I come from, Fez, women just go to school and work, but here in Delft, I noticed Moroccan women are staying at home. Some women hardly ever go out. They know very little about Dutch society and getting in touch with others can motivate them to become active. I feel women ought to become involved in this society a bit. It seemed to me there was too little happening for women in Delft and I thought: these women have to get moving. Women rang me asking for help. I decided to start studying social work, so I would be able to help women on a professional basis. I was asked lots of questions about all kinds of things. I moved from the Community Centre Voorhof to the Vrouwkindcentrum (women’s and children’s centre). Women could bring their children along for activities. We organised lots of activities for women. I was assistant project manager. I helped women and held office hours.

After five years, I started work for the city. There, I worked as project manager domestic violence. Again, I organized walk-in hours and many women came to me. Often they did not dare to go elsewhere. They would literally say to me: ‘They don’t understand us.’ I have always actively listened to them. I respected their culture and faith, and was able to move between cultures, ages and generations. Guidance, counselling and motivating were very important to me. I am very happy to have been a kind of confidante for women in Delft. 

I later left that job in Delft. I have worked almost everywhere in South Holland. I coached, supported and gave guidance to parents with children. I have also coordinated sports activities for women and have taken women on excursions to Belgium. During the past two years, I have been especially involved with the Syrian community. Many clients had serious problems, often with similar stories. There were clients who married when they were eleven or twelve years old, had children and were abused by their husbands. They would tell me everything. I was really astonished. Often, they could not go to a women’s refuge, because of waiting lists. There ought to be a place where women in need can go, even if only temporarily. There aren’t even office hours now; everything has been cancelled. I really miss that in Delft. 

I often run into women who thank me for my help. Often, they have really achieved something. They are busy studying or working. It makes me very happy to see a woman who is pleased with what she has achieved, with her own ability to solve problems. I was raised to believe you should not be dependent on others; that you should be able to stand on your own two feet. I also pass that on to my three children and my grandchildren. My daughter studied cultural and social training and together we took a course in assertiveness skills and then taught it, in cooperation with the mental health authority. My daughter is quite assertive. I used to be quite different; I was very shy. I did not dare to say no. I am not like that now.  

Women should never underestimate themselves, particularly if they come from another country. With your potential, you can achieve a lot, but you have to dare, do and persevere. You are never too old to study, to learn something new.