They are very strong young people !

Text: Laure Derenne - Photography: Frederic Pauwels, Virginie Nguyen

When Sandra first heard word of the « We Welcome Young Refugees » initiative, her first thoughts were: “But this isn’t possible, what are they asking of me here?”. Afraid of not being able to get along with them, afraid of not being up to the task and, quite frankly, “why go to all those lengths when there’s already so much misery over here?”. And yet, today she dreams of convincing other clubs to follow the movement: “Everyone could do even a little something, it’s that simple!”.

Every evening, Sandra works at Kraainem’s cafeteria. During the day, she prepares meals for her mother, who is ill, and who she also takes care of. She often discusses the « We Welcome Refugees » project with her family and makes sure that these values of solidarity are passed on to her three daughters, who are frequently at the club in Kraainem to help her out.

Round of croque-monsieur for the kids

At the cafeterias of sporting clubs, one sits down with friends and has fun! At Kraainem, it is Sandra who treats the guests. This evening, she’s prepared croque-monsieur, the kids’ favourite meal. Serving up a healthy dose of ketchup, she says: “Let if flow!”.

Sandra puts everything in place so that the unaccompanied foreign minors can enjoy their evening at the club to the fullest. “Toooaasstyyy !”, “Cheese !”, are chanted by those who have already tasted her croque-monsieur. During her shift, Sandra talks and laughs a lot with them.

« I’m not very fond of saying the refugees”.. I always refer to them as my kids, she explains as she impatiently waits to see which one of them will be there today. On Wednesday afternoons, it is children from the Rixensart centre who are welcomed at the club. Every Tuesday and Thursday evening, the young men staying at the Fedasil centre in Woluwé-Saint-Pierre join the Under 21’s training session. Some have already come over, others see the club for the first time and then there are those which Sandra won’t see again, as they have already changed places of residency. Sandra thinks about them quite often, always wondering what they’re becoming.

Between Sandra and Fofana, a strong bond of trust and reciprocal friendship has formed. She immediately noticed his remarkable footballing talent when Fofana first arrived at the club: “There’s a real star on the pitch there, look!”, she shouted to the club’s president. Since, she attentively follows Fofana’s projects and provides him with great material and moral support.

Only think about playing football, having a conversation and having fun.

The thing is that these kids are still very young but with a “far too heavy of a past” already. Sandra had a vague idea of what the migrants had to endure but directly talking with them about it is totally different.. “Some of them show me the distance they’ve travelled on their phones. When you have to leave without being able to say goodbye to your mother, when someone takes your money, when someone physically beats you, then having to cross the sea on a small boat… Personally, I wouldn’t be able to trust anyone after that. They are very strong young people” she explains.

Every evening, Sandra is there to feed the guests. Her spontaneity, human warmth and easy-going nature manage to break down all barriers. She always finds the right words to break the ice and manages to get even the shyest of people to share a laugh with her. “I would like that, during every evening at the club, even if it only is for a couple of hours these kids couldget a chance to escape from their daily hardships. They should only think about one thing: play football, have a conversation andhave fun”.

One day, Sandra received a drawing from one of the children who come on Wednesdays: “I’m pictured as an African mother, busy making some soup in a cauldron”. She thinks about the mothers from “over there” with a lot of emotion. In a certain way, she feels connected to them: “If my child arrived alone in a foreign country, I’d be happy if he could meet people that welcome him and help build his life back up”.

Sandra has three girls with whom she is very close and who regularly come to help her at Kraainem’s cafeteria. She’s seen here with Manon.

Sandra has a testament to the love she gets from her family forever engraved on her skin: 4 cardinal points that represent the first names of her children of their father. The T situated at the bottom belongs to Tigrou, her dog.

Sandra is very passionate about animal rights and would like to invest herself as a volunteer for an animal shelter. She takes her dog Tigrou, who has contracted arthritis, for a walk five times a day. In the evenings, she brings him to Kraainem. He’s become the club’s mascot and everyone loves saying hello or playing with him.