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Letters of Hope for a sustainable capital

16 November 2023
Students at VU have handed over 'Letters of Hope' to the dike warden of the Amstel, Gooi and Vecht Water Board, Joyce Sylvester. In their letters, the students sketch a hopeful perspective on the future of Amsterdam, on the occasion of the capital's 750th anniversary.

The water board, and therefore the capital, is under constant pressure from challenges in the field of water and climate change. This can easily lead to pessimism. But the letters show that perspectives of hope are also possible, if we learn to look at things differently.  

  • Water is the lifeline for Amsterdam […]. The IJ river has been the entrance gate for all sorts of people, products and ideas that made Amsterdam into the liberal, tolerant and wealthy city it is today. […]. So let's celebrate the city and its inhabitants in the way we know best: in collaboration with the water.

Community service learning

The letters are the result of community service learning (CSL) within the course 'Religion & Sustainable Development' of the Faculty of Religion and Theology of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Within VU Amsterdam, CSL stands for an innovation in education, in which students work together with social partners on current questions from society. This year it was Waternet, previous partners were for example Green Muslims, Green Churches, ABN AMRO and the United Nations. 


"More than an end in themselves, these letters are an invitation to share our fears and hopes and build together a flourishing city," says VU-teacher and initiatiator Jan Jorrit Hasselaar. "The students have taken the ever old-new narrative of the Exodus as their source of inspiration. This narrative has functioned as a template with several building blocks of hope, allowing them to formulate their own letter of hope for a sustainable Amsterdam with regard to water, climate change, policy and community."

  • Creating community and belonging is finding things that connect us to the past, creating moments and connections that enrich the present; it is building on something together that creates the future. Society reflects the quality of water, and if we want to live surrounded by happily flowing water that dances in the wind, we need to create a space where people feel like that too.

Different people, common needs

The letters, addressed to major Femke Halsema and dijkgraaf Sylvester, provide short insights into three different lives that happened to end up in the same place. They show that even if we all have individual lives and stories, there are common needs and feelings that every human craves, and this creates the hope that through togetherness, the narrative of a society and city can be changed.

  • All of this made me realize that Amsterdam is more than just a city for party-goers or transient residents. It is a community, because it takes people with a strong community spirit to show this amount of dedication and concern for their city.

The Letters of Hope will be continued in the upcoming course, in which the new students will write, as societal deliverable of their academic work, letters for '750 years of Amsterdam' and '500 years of the Amstelland Water Board'.