“We are here to ensure that the young people of Peterbos remember that there are other perspectives than the street”

“We are here to ensure that the young people of Peterbos remember that there are other perspectives than the street”
“We are here to ensure that the young people of Peterbos remember that there are other perspectives than the street”

Ten o clock in the morning. Not a single soul wanders in the city of Peterbos, this little corner of Anderlecht regularly mentioned in the media for drug trafficking. To see a few people, you have to hang around the “Mehdi Bouda” bus stop – recently renamed in homage to this 17-year-old who was fatally hit by a police car in 2019 and whose case is still in progress. justice.

While waiting for bus 89, a group of septuagenarians chat about everything and nothing. Then, inevitably, they end up talking about local news. “It’s nonsense, these stories of Marseille mafias back home. People watch too much TV”, we hear cursing. And someone replied: “Yes, but hey, open your eyes a little, too. It’s not paradise either, eh”.

The 89 is on the horizon. The little gang climbs on the bus, heading to the nearby Shopping Center, to continue chatting over a coffee. No time to ask them any questions. But when we meet, a little later, Bali, Osama and other young people leaving school, they agree to share a part of their lives. “There’s more to Peterbos than what we say about it in the newspapersslips Bali while showing a smile. I say this without wanting to disrespect you. Okay, it’s not paradise. But it’s our home. And for nothing in the world we want to go elsewhere”.

And Osama added: “The truth is that the neighborhood is quieter at the moment. But it only takes one little thing and we’ll forget all the good things. The power of the media is powerful. But we are powerful too. We are even stronger because we manage to live normally despite everything.”

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Listening to these young people express themselves like this, Khalid smiles. “For them, this bad image is indeed part of the decor,” explains the one who is coordinator of the youth center D’Broej at Peterbos. Reda, specialist educator in the same non-profit organization, adds: “Do we find that sad? No, because these young people demonstrate that they can overcome this. They have overcome their limiting beliefs. And that’s a strength.”

This “overcoming limiting beliefs” is one of the lessons learned during the “breakthrough” trips organized, for almost thirty years, by Khalid and his educators, with the young people of Peterbos.

Young people living in Peterbos, in Anderlecht, explain that in the neighborhood, not all young people are naughty boys. ©ennio cameriere

Rite of passage in three stages

Every year, around fifteen people head to the Spanish Pyrenees for a stay that is far from recreational. “Everyone assumes that in youth centers, we do occupational work and that’s it.explains Khalid. A breakup is anything but that. These are journeys of introspection, a quest for identity.”

Reda analyzes this as a form of rite of passage in three stages to which the young people of the neighborhood comply, without flinching. There is preparation for the trip. Then the week spent on site surrounded by nature. Finally, the return to the neighborhood where a party is organized to share the experience with friends and family. And encourage others to start the same dynamic.

It’s a bit of a tradition here: everyone at Peterbos knows that one day they will go through this stage, Reda explains. This journey takes place with teenagers who are close to transitioning into adulthood. This is a pivotal moment in life, and we are here to support themhe specifies. This break allows you to be outside the neighborhood to get out of your comfort zone. We have put in place a cognitive process that invites them to ask questions about their past and their perspectives. These are important moments, often very emotional. There are a lot of tears.”

Khalid continues: “We show them that they are at the center of concerns, that they count in society contrary to negative messages which could make them believe that this is not the case. If there are frustrations, they can share them. If there are dreams and ambitions too. Breaking up allows for a secure space for expression. They can talk about their past – often complicated – to better digest it and move forward in life.”

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Moved, the coordinator pauses in his story. Then he resumes. “What we are trying to offer them is an opportunity that life in Peterbos will not give them. Here, it’s the jungle, it forces you to show the dark side of your personality. The break allows you to explore other facets. These kids are incredibly rich. They’re not stupid. When they come, they know it’s for their own good.”

Bali and Oussama, who took part in a break-up trip two years ago, confirm: this step was beneficial in their journey. “It’s impossible not to go. The big guys in the neighborhood talked to us about it all the time, so we just couldn’t wait, says Bali. Personally, I loved it”.

Was it difficult, we ask? “No way. On the other hand, the first thing we did when we got home was eat a good dürüm”, specifies Bali, before bursting out laughing.

Oussama explains that the trip allowed him to have a more precise idea of ​​his professional future. “I want to be like Khalid and Reda. I want to become a special education teacher. I’m in retro, so next year, I’m starting higher studies to become an educator. I’m ready”.

Bali sees himself as a professional footballer. Is he not already too old for such projects, one asks? “Maybe so, but it’s my dream nonetheless. Otherwise, I want to go to higher education, but I don’t yet know exactly what studies to study. I still have two years to make a choice. If I have a question, I know they will help me here.”

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A neighborhood that has crumbled over the years

We question Khalid and Reda about the fact that the delinquency which gives Peterbos its bad reputation – well beyond the borders of Brussels – is also part of the decor. The two educators do not deny it, especially since they have known the neighborhood for many years, having lived there before working there.

Khalid provides childhood memories to prove that Peterbos was not always the ugly city depicted in the newspapers.

“Before, there were mainly acts of violence and petty thefts which were the norm in Brussels. Today, it is true that delinquency has changed its facehe begins. We have to ask ourselves why we are here. The factors are multiple. First, because the notion of work is no longer recognized at its true value. Working to earn a modest living is no longer very motivating. Especially for young people today. We live in a society that has made money an absolute value. You have to have it, and ideally a lot, to exist. Unfortunately, easy money is often the preferred way to get there.”

The educator continues: “What we see is also linked to the condition of the neighborhood. The problems appeared when Peterbos began to be abandoned, when social control weakened and public space was gradually abandoned by public services. The buildings have crumbled, the quality of life has deteriorated. When I was a child, there was no point in walking on the lawn. Today, it’s no longer the same. Some young people therefore changed their trajectory because, at home, it no longer looked like much. Even if things are better, the Peterbos lives on a drip.”

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And to conclude: “With Reda, we are here to ensure that young people remember that there are other perspectives than the street. Some people came to see us to say ‘We’re not doing well, we want to take a break-up trip’. We have also seen young people die, caught up in delinquency, we do not deny it. But these little ones just ask to be helped”.

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The next breakup is underway. From April 27 to May 5, Khalid takes ten young people from Peterbos and seven from Saint-Gilles. With an implicit objective, to see trips of this type multiply throughout Brussels.

With what means? “Ah, the means…, Khalid says, rolling his eyes. That’s the crux of the matter. In the associative, we do it with pieces of string. All this could be done with more, we are not asking for better. But first, the media coverage of Peterbos must not be limited to acts of crime so that initiatives like ours are, finally, taken seriously”.

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