How being different can make a difference

Door Natascha Leenstra
op 2 maart 2018 om 7:13

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Tuesday afternoon the 27th of February, TEDxBreda had another inspiring Learning Session. This time, the TEDx-event took place at the municipality of Breda.

While the speakers of the last Learning Session at Avans spoke about the social impact of social media, today’s speakers took another approach on what’s social. They all confirmed that acting on social diversity is worth the challenge!

Birsen Basar is a young, ambitious lady with a no nonsense approach on challenging yourself. We can even take this literally, as ‘non-sensing’ plays a key role in her life as autist. In her early years as a child, she often felt different, but didn’t understand why. She worked hard to keep up with the rest, and although this was no picnic, she is grateful that it has brought her where she is now.

After she discovered she has autism, she made it her purpose in life to let others know how they can adapt in everyday life. Having written four books and having told her story over more than 350 times, she continues to astonish people when they hear she has autism. According to Birsen, presentations about autism are always done by professionals and scientists. She thought she could do better from a personal point of view.

But how does an autist present herself in front of an audience full of expecting looks? “It’s a matter of preparation.”, she says. “One can do anything, if one is willing to work hard and believe that you will achieve your goal’. Colleagues had some funny responses when they heard she is an autist. ‘They asked if I wanted a room for myself. But why would I want that?” Learning by doing and watching her colleagues created ways for her to develop herself.

One of Birsens new goals is to help other autists with their personal development goals by giving specific trainings.  “I have a Bachelor’s degree and a great job, I am a book author and I travel to many occasions to tell my story. I can finally be who I want to be. Whatever your diagnose, you can achieve something, you just have to pursue it.’

When Sarah Checkh Ibrahim took the stage, she asked the audience to ‘judge’ her looks. Wearing a hijab, dark sleeves and a longer dress with thick black tights, she is well aware that her wardrobe can provoke judgemental looks from some people. But that doesn’t bother Sarah. “Judgement is a creation from our personal value system. And everyone has their own value system, formed by your parents at home, your friends, your education, your newspapers, etc. I don’t wear what I wear to obey my husband, brother or uncle or out of fear that men and women would not be able to work together. I wear what I wear because it represents my own values.”

Sarah tells the story of one of her first job interviews at a clothing store when she was younger. She wrote an enthusiastic letter and the owner of the store was very impressed. But when he met her, he was confused. He didn’t know how to deal with her appearance and what his customers would think. He was in doubt whether he would do good with hiring her. Sarah looks back at this meeting as a learning moment and as an example of many eye-opening conversations she has had since. “The conversation was respectful. We had a gap between us, but we could talk about it in a friendly manner. I think that having these kind of conversations helps everyone to understand one another.”

For now, Sarah is taking this a step further, as she seeks actively for ‘challenging environments’. “At the municipality, I now work at a department where there’s no diversity at all. I felt this culture-shock people had when I came in. But by opening the conversation, making myself vulnerable, I discovered so much beauty in it. When we look at animals, we often see the beauty of all these different creatures and wonders of nature, but with people, we tend to see the negative side of it.” Sarah urges everyone to look further than first appearances and start a dialogue. “Because there’s so much beauty in discovering who someone is and I’m sure this will make a difference for everyone!”

Bart Audenaerd is often asked: “So, how are you doing?” And most of the time, he can reply with: “Good. I have a cool job, I have a strong 10-year lasting marriage, I have two fantastic kids and I’ve got plenty of time for my hobbies.” But, Bart says, ‘good’ is not enough. Bart – a passionate elementary school teacher- would like to say that things are ‘excellent’. So why isn’t ‘good’ good enough?

According to Bas, it’s because we are short on male elementary school teachers. Some kids have 8 years of elementary school without seeing a male teacher. “I don’t say this because men are better teachers. Research shows there’s no difference between men and women as it comes to grades and behaviour of school children. I say this because men do things differently.” He tells the general example of men and women being different: men do things one step at a time, woman multi-task. Both approaches have advantages, but in this job, it means Bart can be more efficient in making plannings and dividing tasks. From his own experience, Bart says this is an important example for children, but also to lower the workload in elementary schools.

“We all know Juf Ank from the hit series ‘De Luizenmoeder’, but try to imagine Juf Ank as a man. I can’t. So how could this appeal to men to go to the PABO?” Over 50% of the men that attend the PABO drops out, and of the remaining male students, only 35% pursue their career in elementary schools. Most of them work in middle schools or other education-related industries. Bart’s passion for his job shows: he really wants to let men see how great this job is. He has the ambition to put the profession in transition by organising a large event in Breda where inspirational speakers, PABOs and enthusiastic male elementary school teachers show the beauty of their profession.

“I strive to enlarge the percentage of men in elementary schools until we are in the top of the european ranks. I  am willing to work hard to make this happen and will advocate for it as long as it is needed.  If we achieve it, I am satisfied. So then, if people ask me, I can say: I am feeling EXCELLENT!”.

The jury – Elin Ram, head of program TEDxBreda, Deborah van den Bos, coach at Speaking Happens and Miriam Haagh, elderman at Gemeente Breda – evaluated the tasks and had to choose a winner. Miriam said: “All talks were TEDTalk-worthy: not necessarily new ideas, but new points of view. All speakers have an important story to tell, and I urge them to proceed to share it as often as they can. It was a close call, but we feel that the authenticity of Birsen and the way she tells her story, makes us never forget her message.”

And so, Birsen Basar is our new winner. She will participate in the online contest for ‘Main speaker’ with the other 2 Learning Session winners. Be sure to follow our Facebook-account to vote!

Credits:

TEDxBreda Learning Sessions, hosted by Julia van Engelen (young civil servant at Gemeente Breda), with Talks ‘Leven met autisme’ from Birsen Basar, “Diversiteit’ from Sarah Checkh Ibrahim and ‘Mannen in het onderwijs’ from Bart Audenaerd.

How being different can make a difference
Natascha Leenstra

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