Written by Anja Eisenring

“There are also good people in the margin of society, I don’t leave them behind.„

Yesterday, I listened to the stories of a young woman who spends her youth years to stand up for the cast-offs of our society. Isabelle Cuyt is a group worker in the CAW, a center for chronic homeless, drug addicts and ex-convicts. She tells us about the people in this world that we often forget. How are these people assisted and especially how did they come into their situation? How can we learn from these stories to find the errors in our system?

You work in the CAW, which is not an easy job. What training or education have you followed?

In my first year I studied for teacher, but I changed to Orto pedagogy with a specialization in applied youth criminology.

Why did you change your study direction?

I’ve always loved working with young people, but that isn’t why I wanted to become a teacher. I wanted to mean something to the people of the future. I wanted to give guidance to young people in life and not just teach them theoretical things. When I started my internship in a shelter for people in poverty it became clear to me how many faults there are in our education system. We may score high at knowledge, but we don’t support the weak students.  And their weakness is determined by the education. I want to help the people who are lagging behind in life.

“People are more than their behaviour.”

How did you get in touch with this sector and the CAW?

In high school we had to write a work on a chosen topic, I chose poverty. For this work, I visited a walk-in centre. I was immediately impressed. The people worked there based on equality, which is so beautiful. I don’t want to be or have a boss. The position to help people is next to them, and these people really need help. They rely on others. The cause of their problems is the lack of support during their childhood. They missed the kind of support that every child needs to develop and be prepared for a life in our society.

Do you see common problems in your residents’ history who led to their difficult situations?

Yes! Of course, their situations are all different: some have a criminal past and don’t find their way back after they were released, some have a drug addiction or a gambling addiction and others dropped out of school but never found a job. But they all have one common problem. They all didn’t grow up the way they should have. When their parents failed with education, the school didn’t help them. The ones with problems at home can’t follow in school and no one helps them out of their trouble. It is later, when everything goes wrong and they get into a situation where it can’t get worse, then they get help. When they have a juridical issue, their problems will get worse because they have no idea how to solve this kind of thing. They have never learnt it. In my opinion, school has to detect those problems earlier to prevent the situations I see. Growing up has a bigger impact on our lives than we might think.

How did your work change you and your vision at life?

Our residents are so poor and have health problems because they can’t afford any medical help. They can’t pay for the water to take a shower. They don’t look neat so they don’t get a job. When I started working in the CAW, I came in contact with the margin of society.

Most people turn around when they see someone like them, now I don’t turn no more. I have learned to look at the background of a person. People are more than their behaviour only. I also changed on a political level. There are some working points in our industry which politicians aren’t giving enough attention to. And I started to look differently at our education. School offers very little preparation for the ‘ real life ‘. There is also too little preventive work on the problems that my residents encountered. Help at school is too limited, they are too slow to take action. And if they take any steps, the cause of the problem often remains. Problems need to be solved with active collaboration with the parents. Teachers should also follow up with the students better. Bad behaviour, such as bullying, shows a problem. It perhaps reflects the pupil’s behaviour at home, or his frustrations. Teachers rarely look further than bad behaviour.

A suitable educational system is hard to find. Europe, Finland, Estonia and Switzerland are scoring high. But do these scores tell us only something about the students’ knowledge? Maybe we should look not only to the strongest students, but also to the weak ones? Isabelle Cuyt tells us that a good system doesn’t only make strong students stronger, but especially helps the faint ones to reduce a gap between successful and poor.