The city was blazing with sirens on Friday. It was the annual Kinderbeestfeest, an event for around 1,400 chronically ill and disabled children, their siblings and parents. The festival kicks off with rides through the city provided by the police, fire department, ambulance service, Navy, Netherlands customs, Koninklijke Marechausse (Royal Military Police), the Red Cross, the Reddingsbrigade (Water Rescue Brigade) and the City of Amsterdam to Artis, the Amsterdam Zoo. It is quite the spectacle with the children operating the sirens on the vehicles as they wind down Amsterdam streets. The event is organized by Stichting Kinderbeestfeest, a non-profit organization working together with Natura Artis Magistra (Amsterdam zoo). A video of the 2012 procession below shows how an unwitting tourist might be quite alarmed by the spectacle.
For a kid’s eye view:
There are numerous non-profits that provide services for people with disabilities in the Netherlands. Upon our arrival, we were already set up with Handje Helpen, Helping Hands, an organization that provides volunteers to spend time with children with disabilities and for respite for their parents. Our first volunteer was a Dutch woman who is still a good friend today. She shares her encyclopedic knowledge of the country with me and continues to help me with understanding and adjusting to Dutch culture. The second volunteer was a young woman whose primary job was caring for at-risk youth in a residential setting. Although we are no longer working with this organization, she still texts to meet with me when she visits Amsterdam, to ask about B. and to check in with how we are doing.
Many people do volunteer work here. I believe one reason is that 74% of women and 15% of men work part-time, between 12-36 hours per week. There seems to be a very strong culture of volunteerism in this country. Everyone seems to know or have worked with someone with autism. I believe it is one reason why people seem very at ease with B.
At movie theater previews throughout the country, images are shown of children with severe disabilities enjoying a holiday sponsored by the non-profit Stitching Bio. At one point, I found that there were over 200 non-profits offering various services for those with disabilities, which is amazing for this small country, which would fit in a geographic area the size of the Dallas, San Antonio and Houston triangle in Texas, or roughly the length of the Willamette Valley in Oregon.
Just one more reason to love the Netherlands.