Longing for peace

A story told by Danny Trimbos Brussels, Belgium

Danny Trimbos is a trained expert by experience, and works at vzw De Link. De Link coordinates the training and employment of experts by experience in poverty and social exclusion. A part of De Link is TAO Poverty. They offer training, coaching and advice on poverty through the use of experts by experience.

Take a moment to reflect on poverty. On what tourism means to people in poverty. About the obstacles and the opportunities for offering people in poverty the chance to experience a holiday. Some 50 employees from VISITFLANDERS assembled at a breakfast session to do just that on the morning before “International Day for the Eradication of Poverty”. Expert by experience, Danny Trimbos was present. We were rendered speechless.

Living in poverty means living with constant psychological stress. The stress caused by the relentless problem of how to get through the day, week or month. But living in poverty also means much more than having to cope with very little money. It is the constant battle with yourself and with the place you would like to assume in society, without it ever appearing to be possible. It is that, among other things, and an immeasurable longing for peace. Danny’s story will not be forgotten any time soon. The message is clear.

The place where you are born determines who you become

“When you are born, you are actually an empty database. And before it can be filled and start working, you need an operating system. If the operating system is not suitable, nothing will work. It’s the same for children. Their operating system is built from being loved, receiving attention, feeling recognition and being fed. We need these fundamentals so we can stand tall in the future.”

Standing on the sidelines observing, with a crooked haircut and a plastic supermarket bag

“I had a Spartan upbringing. He that will not be taught will later suffer,” says Danny. “Being the oldest son I had to be the man of the family. My mother was raised in a convent until she was 14 and then she had 6 children, a mountain of debt and a terribly run-down place to live in with all those little monkeys. It was all perfectly normal for us until we started school. In old and frayed clothes, with a crooked haircut and a plastic supermarket bag instead of a satchel. I didn’t mind our run-down home, I liked it there, I could retreat to my room. But when you go out into the world, you see all those children with their smart new clothes, standing together in groups talking about all kind of things which mean nothing to you. You feel stupid, you don’t know anything, you can’t join in. You are excluded as a person. So you stand on the sidelines and watch. The only thing you can do is watch, here and there you hear something and put together your own story. And one time you think you understand and pretend that you also know something about it, about what the other children are up to and talking about. But it makes no sense at all and you look ridiculous. Then they laugh at you again and bully you and this damages your motivation, your participation and so much more.”

Frustration, short circuit

“You try everything, you fill up the hard drive, your processor overheats and your fan no longer works. You look for answers. Tell me something, give me a hint how I can do it, don’t punish me because I don’t know, I thought. I didn’t learn what I needed to be able to cope with things effectively, to understand how to behave, to carry on. When you’re a child, you’re highly dependent on adults in this respect, and apparently they didn’t know either. And I couldn’t rid myself of all these emotions at home either. Because my work was not in order and I had hit that other boy. And at school I didn’t know what to do either. I had not learned how to communicate, so my frustration, my powerlessness, sorrow, anger, disappointment, belief and distrust came out in a way that only resulted in a short circuit. And I ended up developing my own standards and convictions. Nobody understood me, I saw the others as my enemies. And they saw me as a crazy lunatic. However, what they did not realise was that I was fighting for justice in my own way.”

And then wanting to do better with your own family

"My first child was born when I was just 18. I now have 8 children. Naturally I have overloaded them with all the things I didn’t have. However, the skills they need – being able to plan, map your path, to persevere, reflect on yourself, cope with emotions – those are things I wasn’t able to give them. What I have actually been looking for my entire life is peace. A little relaxation. I had no right to it, but I know: people need it. To leave behind the carnival of bailiffs and hassle for once. And you need a holiday for that. Somewhere you can go. But I didn’t know how it worked, I wasn’t aware of it at all. And sometimes you have to go to the public centre for social welfare to plead and beg, but if it works out, you can start looking forward to it. Just being able to look forward to it makes the effort worthwhile. That is something I have also tried to give my children.”

If we understand what is going on

"Work it out yourself. If I were to go to Walibi for the day with my 8 children, 400 euros wouldn’t be enough. Because, well, there are so many of us and you want to buy the children some fries and an ice cream. Why not, everyone does, right? Many families therefore think that going on holiday is simply unaffordable. And so a flat screen TV serves as a replacement for everything else they miss out on.”

A holiday, a bridge to society

"Living in poverty is fundamentally different. It is a different culture in the same society. It divides society. To be able to go on holiday bridges the gap a little. So that you can find peace of mind for once. So that for a short while you don’t have to feel guilty as parents and don’t have to experience how you feel abandoned by everyone. A place to relax for a moment, to find peace: that is something that we all need. It restores your energy so you can carry on.”


Authored by Griet Bouwen Bilzen