Jelena & Maarten run an NGO called Kunst in de Straat in Holland & Umetnost Ulice in Serbia both translates to ‘Art in the Street’. The work involves empowering people through art projects such as graffiti art and street mosaic installations in Rotterdam and street theatre to enable literacy in Serbia. While the work continues in both locations, Jelena & Maarten have joined Young Africa to start work in Botswana.

Tell us about your lives before joining Young Africa.
Maarten: Jelena & I met eight years ago. I am a social worker and Jelena is an artist. Jelena started a community art project in Rotterdam. Our work helped us join forces. We have worked in diverse suburban areas which was home to immigrants of sixty nationalities. Over time, we moved from City Council commissioned art work to become a registered NGO. Through all of It we both knew that we want to go to Africa.

Jelena: Yes and because we knew we wanted to work in Africa one day - we took the next step to go and work in Serbia. In Serbia, we began a project that enabled literacy following the same format of community art. So, moving to Serbia was a stepping stone of sorts. It helped us learn more about ourselves and what we want to do. We both thought that it was important for our daughters to also understand the eastern concept of love and way of life. The project was supported by the council, the Dutch Embassy and publishing houses. Two years later we were ready to move to Africa.

Empowerment is at the centre of all your work so far - why is it important to you?
Jelena: We have approached empowerment through creativity. I do it because not only does it feel good but when we work with others and facilitate empowerment - it is inspiring me too.

Maarten: I cannot stand injustice. At the same time we both are not aggressive activists or reformers. We have always involved everyone; working with all kinds of people to get the work done.

How have these past few weeks with Young Africa affected your family?
Maarten: Our choices have strengthened. We are ever more open hearted. We followed our instincts and arrived here with an open vision.

Jelena: We were not afraid and came with our daughters with full confidence. It was important and logical to bring our children. We definitely wanted them to experience this work and life.

What has been the biggest learning and the biggest challenge?
Jelena & Maarten: Oh! No challenges - no no .

Jelena: Oh well maybe the spiders - but it is ok, I will get used to it. The learning is the work here is so relatable to what we have done earlier.

Maarten: To let go. For example : giving up a job, selling a house and coming out of your comfort zone. Also, I feel if Europe is the mind and hand, then Africa indeed is the heart..the bond that connects humanity - ubuntu.

Jelena: YES. We have to tap into our love..our heart to work effectively. We are eager to integrate all these wonderful lessons that this place will share with us. Another learning is that it is healthier to live your dream and accept its consequences.

Well since it is clear that you always go to a new place with an open mind - it may be in-correct to ask you ‘what are you looking forward to the most in Botswana’?
Maarten: YES of course - we are going with a curious mind. However, we are looking forward to meeting the new people whom we contacted.

What do you hope for the future of your family?
Jelena: I hope we are able to learn and integrate all the wonderful lessons Africa has to share with us.

Maarten: This is the beginning of our future in Africa, we are ready for the next step: establishing Young Africa in Botswana and in our lives.

Contact us                                               

Young Africa International - The Netherlands
Deventerstraat 130m
7321 CD
The Netherlands
+316 822 40 226
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NL 03 ABNA 0466 782063
ANBI registration: 8068.23.598


Young Africa International - The HUB
14 Wiltshire Road
+263 242 492855
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