Russian NGO Representatives on Study Tour in the Netherlands
Ten representatives of Russian non-profit organisations working with vulnerable populations in six regions of the Russian Federation visited the Netherlands on a study tour on December 10-15. This study tour was organised by AFEW together with non-profit partnership “ESVERO”. The study tour was meant to demonstrate the best Dutch practices for the comprehensive harm reduction programmes among people who inject drugs, sex workers and men who have sex with men.
Participants had a chance to visit governmental, municipal and non-governmental organizations to learn about the Dutch approach in service delivery and monitoring of clients’ rights to access HIV prevention services. Besides, a great deal of the tour was dedicated to the Dutch legislation related to drug use, decentralized implementation of programmes and the strong emphasis on collaborative efforts between state and non-state actors to reduce HIV cases among people who use drugs. The presentations made to the visitors in the Ministry of health (The Hague) and Amsterdam’s municipal police department had shown how the Dutch government over years dealt with drugs and people who use them. The police, for instance, realized that strict enforcement of law is ineffective when it comes to drug consumption and is even counterproductive. Rather, the police decided to switch to collaboration with public health and social support services to help people who use drugs to stay healthy.
In Utrecht at Trimbos Institute – Dutch research centre for mental health and addiction, the visitors learned about systematic approaches to intervention, monitoring and evaluation. Three presentations, including one from Jean-Paul Grund, were followed by practical exercises.
The participants visited the Rainbow Foundation in Amsterdam, an NGO that provides social support to vulnerable populations. Started in the 1970s as a faith-based support group to people who use drugs, the Rainbow Foundation today has 10 shelters where it provides food, shower and clean clothes to vulnerable populations. The scope of its work has gone beyond just injecting drug users – they provide assistance to almost all key populations. The Foundation’s “Buddy Support” project was of particular interest to the guests from Russia. It invites people (just like you and me) to become a buddy of an (ex-) drug user, LGTB community member, a homeless or HIV-positive person. Once in a while they get together for a walk in a park, a drink in a cafe or just a talk. With this approach the Rainbow Foundation promotes equality and friendliness in the society and makes vulnerable people surely feel part of it.
The following days were dedicated to visits to a number of places: Municipal health service in Amsterdam, two drug consumption rooms, SOA-AIDS Fonds and Mainline’s outreach facilities. At a drop-in-centre Droogbak in Amsterdam the visitors had a chance to see how a drug consumption room works. They noted a friendly atmosphere between people who use drugs and the staff that is always there to consult and provide medical help if needed. At another NGO - HVO Querido – a group that works mostly with people of immigrant origin, the visitors got acquainted with the housing and social support programme for people who use drugs.
Overall, the four-day study tour was very informative. Participants learned about capacity building and improvement of advocacy initiatives and service delivery in harm reduction and other low threshold interventions for vulnerable populations.