After the terrible attacks in Paris last week, I decided it was time I visited the Mandela House. I wanted to see for myself what the Herberg de Veilige Haven (the Safe Haven Inn) a.k.a. Mandala Huisje is all about. Like most ideas it is very simple. What can you and I do to make peace. In his book, Be a Nelson, Ilco van der Linde brings us the stories of small acts of resistance by heroes like the piano man facing riot police in Ukraine, a gay rights activist in Uganda, a group of women who use sport and art to keep kids off drugs in Columbia. Everyone has Nelson within them. We can all start grass roots projects which reach out to help others, to make the world a better place or we can just make a cup of tea for a lonely neighbour. Everyone counts, whoever you are, wherever you come from. If you have an idea, but do not know how to get it off the ground, Ilco can help you. He has 35 years of experience and know-how on setting up idealistic organisations, to turn dreams into reality.
Their own story began one day back in 2007, adventurers and idealists Anna van Praag and Ilco van der Linde did what many of us dream of. They sold their house, took their kids out of school and set off in a jeep on a two-year trip around the world. Their travels took them through southern Europe, across Africa, on to Turkey and the Middle East. Ironically, these are regions where now war is creating one of the world’s biggest humanitarian crises. Far from fearing the dangers they might face, they ventured into the unknown and were welcomed into people’s homes and helped by small acts of humanity.
Eventually the family settled down to a new life in Spain. Ilco was happy to stay in Spain, but his wife, children’s author Anna van Praag, missed Amsterdam. Meanwhile back in North Amsterdam, a competition was launched to find a new purpose for the Harbour Master’s house opposite Central Station. It was to determine their future. If they won they would return home.
Project no. 46
Ilco is the initiator of AIDS organisation Dance4Life and co-founder of MasterPeace. His first experience of organising an event was when his father gave him 100 guilders to set up a liberation day concert in his home town Haarlem. That 100 guilders (45 euros) has gone a long way. Thirty-five years later, free open air Bevrijdingspop concerts are held annually on 5 May in various cities. And on the UN International Day of Peace (21 Sept) 2014, MasterPeace concerts were held all over the globe, 55 events in 45 countries. With artists from 14 conflict areas appearing on stage in Amsterdam.
MasterPeace has initiated projects in 45 countries. Ilco thought if this can be done in other countries, why not in North Amsterdam. The Mandela House is project number 46.
His idea was this, the harbour master’s house would become an inn, a safe haven. A place of refuge and reconciliation. A place where peace is initiated, where love is made not war and where ordinary people from North can come for a cup of tea on the river in the summer. Where small steps are taken to bring people together, reconcile their differences and breed respect for one another.
Out of 200 projects, the Mandela House won. By chance one of the other proposals put forward was by two mediators. So Ilco invited them to set up a whole team available to settle disputes in the reconciliation room. Payment is based on the Ubuntu principle “We live for each other”. Whatever the size of your purse, the Mandela House will help you. If you feel you have been helped, if you value what has been done for you, you can make a donation afterwards to the foundation, so that others can be helped in the same way in the future.
The family live in the old harbour master house. Next door to it the reconciliation room has been built as a glass conservatory – a symbol of transparency if you like. Inside is a huge table which opens like a lotus flower to reveal a circular bed. The location doubles as a wedding venue. Love birds can marry here and spend their honeymoon night in the most romantic spot imaginable. Sleeping under the stars, with a view across the water on three sides. Waking up to the sound of the river splashing against the rocks, the seagulls in the sky and the whisper of the wind. The breakfast is made from the produce of local farmers around Amsterdam. And every time newly-weds sleep here a tree will be planted in Sumatra to help replenish the habitat of orangutans. Everything in the Mandela House is cradle-to-cradle: Nothing is wasted, everything is reused in the circular economy.
As of the New Year, once a month Respect Evenings will be held, where people (thinkers and doers) are invited to find solutions to social problems. And if you know of anyone who you believe deserves a night in the Mandela House, you can put their name and their story forward. Someone who makes a difference in the community, who helps others in need, or who could just do with a break after facing a traumatic situation. Ten times a year, one of them will be chosen on its merits.
Next April the waterside café will reopen for the summer season. 2000 bulbs have been planted, so when the spring bursts into bloom, the garden around the Mandela House will be a sea of colour, like the colours of the two hands in the handshake logo. Now a group of lads from a local school are getting the garden ready for the winter as part of their school’s voluntary service. Ilco is hatching a plan to start the new season with a festival for Noord. Each and every one of the boys spontaneously volunteers to help.
Open all year round for weddings, accommodation, reconciliation
Outdoor cafe opens in April
MasterPeace Creating peace together
Want to Be a Nelson
Want to start something Ilco van der Linde