Helping kids broaden their horizon

BELGIUM • This is school at its best. Every Saturday, some 300 10- and 11-year-olds from disadvantaged neighbourhoods around Brussels get a taste of what the future could look like, through activities organised by Tada, or Toekomst -F Atelier de l'Avenir (Studio of the future).

Initially inspired by the Dutch initiative IMC Weekendschool, this bilingual programme held in French and Dutch aims to "broaden the future horizons" of children from low-income neighbourhoods of the European capital. They meet passionate professionals who introduce them to their trade, whether that is law, medicine, construction, the arts, technology or hospitality.

These Saturday classes would be nothing without the hard work and tenacity of Tada founder Sofie Foets, who said: "For me, it's a great example of how civil society can contribute to the emancipation of kids from disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

"Everyone tells these kids that all they need to do to succeed later in life is to work hard at school. But they don't even know what 'later' means. Their network, their family, isn't in a position to show them what kinds of goals are in their reach."

This particular morning, for example, many of the children taking part are discovering, for the first time, the centre of Brussels and the Louise Quarter, which is close to the famous avenues of luxury shops.

Most of them had never left their neighbourhoods before.

The Dutch project which this initiative is modelled on has shown that children who get the chance to broaden their horizons evolve differently. They are better integrated into the labour market, and society as a whole.

Whenever anyone expresses surprise at the enthusiasm of these children, who, for three consecutive years, have taken part in these activities every Saturday - except during the school holidays - Ms Foets responds: "On Saturdays, these kids have nothing: no activities, except maybe going to mosque. Therefore, they love to come here. At this age, a child wants to know more about the world."

Tada has three branches in Brussels: one in Molenbeek (in Dutch), one in Saint-Josse (which is bilingual) and one in Anderlecht (in French). Around 300 children attend these workshops. Each year, the association opens new classes, which then run for around three years. Despite their best efforts, they are still not able to meet the current levels of demand.

The organisation prioritises the most vulnerable children based on their parents' occupations, the language spoken at home and the number of children in each family, among other criteria.

With the demand already in place, Tada hopes to include around 1,000 young people in the programme by 2020.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2017, with the headline 'Helping kids broaden their horizon'. Print Edition | Subscribe