”Wie niet waagt, die niet wint” means ”S/he who does not wager, does not win”. This is a Dutch proverb often used by my grandmother to encourage others, yet far more often to prepare herself for the ‘unpreparable’.
When my grandmother, Hendrina Janna van Doorneveld was born, the year was 1922 and her zodiac prediction stated that Henny would never be a successful entrepreneur. Little did anyone know that the impact she would have on society would far surpass any professional human ambition.
My grandmother, God rest her soul, did not have an easy life. Nor was it boring. I could write about how she and my grandfather drove across the European and African continents, the adventures when their car broke down in the middle of the Sahara, or how my grandma took me along on a balloon ride for her 81st birthday; a dream fulfilled which made the local newspapers. I could talk about my granny’s infinite kindness and wisdom, her unshakable faith in humanity, her unbreakable spirit and strength, and the innumerable ways she has shaped my life.
Indeed I could, but I won’t. I won’t, because I have a more profound side of my grandmother to describe; a side that is essentially present in all human beings, yet rarely activated when it counts.
You see, my grandmother had moral courage. She held timeless personal convictions that did not budge, regardless of the social environment or consequences. When the Second World War struck the Netherlands, Henny was 17. After surviving the Hague bombing, my grandmother joined the resistance. During the day, the young Hendrina worked as a primary school teacher giving hope to dozens of children, while at night she falsified ID cards so as to help the Jewish community and other refugees escape a certain death in the concentration camps. She transported ammunition in broad daylight under the prying eyes of Nazi soldiers by pretending to be pregnant, risking torture and death every time. She and her compatriots robbed food stamp offices at gunpoint to distribute the stamps among the local populace for a little more rationed food. For their own protection, her parents were oblivious to her resistance work, never knowing where she went in hiding or whether she would return at all.
As a young person, Henny van Doorneveld risked everything to help virtual strangers, subsequently saving hundreds of lives. Not being born for entrepreneurship – or for guerrilla war tactics for that matter, my grandma didn’t let the world shape her actions; she shaped the world instead. I have been so fortunate as to enjoy the company of a decorated war hero, an accomplished artist, a loving grandmother; a young spirit in an ageing body. Now, I want to share this experience with you. Hendrina had a way of inspiring whomever she came across in life, and continues to inspire me to be brave, take risks, stand for humanitarian causes and live my life to serve and help others; as I hope her story, deeds and values inspire you as well. In this way, my grandmother lives on: in our brave hearts, in our selfless deeds, and in our visions for a better future for human society.
Let not the prevalent social climate alter our values, but let us challenge and shape that environment in a more profound way instead.
Kaya van der Meulen is a regional intern at the World Youth Alliance Middle East.