Engines of society - Claudine Dumont

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In cooperation with Losch Luxembourg, we regularly present women who have a very special impact on Luxembourg society through their professional careers or simply through their personal stories.

The best way to describe Claudine Dumont would be to say that she likes to help. Helping young people especially, but helping in general. As a guidance and reorientation counsellor at the employment agency ADEM, her job suits her like a glove. Under a blue sky and with a smile on her face, she weaves her way between the cars at Losch Import, dressed in green.

A Škoda green perfectly in line with the car she is about to test: the ENYAQ Coupé RS iV, a 100 per cent electric model from the Czech brand. "I'm not a car fanatic, " she laughs. "But I think it's a great invention. Covered in black from the body to the logo, with meticulous green detailing, the Škoda is a real eye-catcher. Classy, imposing and sporty all at once.

The ENYAQ is a sparkle both during the day and at night. While its full LED headlights illuminate and mark out the vehicle's majestic appearance at night, its elegant forms draw the eye in the morning. But that's just the tip of the iceberg, because the show goes on inside. Sport seats, pleasant materials, elegant black, high technology and space at the front and rear: here, comfort and chic live in perfect harmony.

"I love it. Clean … minimalist, I like that, " comments Claudine as she takes her place in the driver's seat. She is immediately attracted by the size of the infotainment touchscreen in front of her: "You could watch Netflix!" (laughs) SmartLink, as it is called, allows you, like any other system of its kind, to use the applications on the smartphone connected to it. What makes it unique, however, is that it can be fitted with a SIM card.

"Basically, I never wanted to work in the social field, " says Claudine, impressed by the driving information that magically appears at the bottom of her field of vision, on the windscreen. But after high school, she took over at a primary school. "That was the first time I thought I liked working with people. I love children, but I don't want any. I live and enjoy a very selfish life when I get home – and I embrace that." In the past, she has gone through difficult phases: "I left home when I was 19."

A proud Luxembourger

At the wheel of her Škoda, Claudine turns heads in the city centre. She crosses the Avenue de la Liberté, stops at the traffic lights in front Gëlle Fra and takes the temperature in the city centre at Hamilius. We won't go much further, because for Claudine, there's no better place than Luxembourg City: "Those who come from Mersch will be angry with me, but for me, the city has always been the focal point of the country." (laughs)

The tyres, embellished with 20" NEPTUNE anthracite rims with Aéro inserts, grip the cobbled streets and bring us closer to our destination: the Grund district. "As soon as I started going out for drinks, I always went out on the town." The cafés also helped fund her life, having left home early. "The Bronx, the Atelier, the GoTen … I needed work and I found it." She also served in the restaurant of a renowned sushi chef: "As I'm Asian, I suppose it looked good." (laughs)

But Claudine is a true Luxembourger. With her share of traditions … like the Schueberfouer. "I used to work there too, in a traditional restaurant, serving fried fish. Chez Armand was great. It was a wonderful time. For 3 weeks, you live in a bubble. The people you work with, you work like crazy with them, you get drunk with them, and you cry with them."

"It was like a family, " she continues. "Given my situation, it did me a lot of good. Every year since then, when I go to the fair for the first time, it's an indescribable feeling. It's a feeling of late summer and early autumn. A feeling of 'Ah, Fouer … Du bass erëm do!" Here eyes sparkle like stars. "I always say that in Luxembourg City, I've experienced the best but also the worst moments of my life. The city and I have a very long and very strong relationship."

Claudine crosses the Grund bridge and walks along Scott's Pub. The sun is out, and the terraces are full. A few metres and cafés later, she parks. "The car is great to drive, " she enthuses. "Super easy." Despite the area's winding streets and narrow parking spaces, there's nothing to worry about. The safety aid, a sensor that brakes in the event of an imminent collision, protects the many passers-by and cyclists around here.

Park Assist will also reassure those less at ease behind the wheel. The last available space is a slot? The ENYAQ will also brake itself if the steering is too tight. This helps with parking and trains the driver without taking the slightest risk. If we also consider Travel Assist, which checks safety distances while driving, we can say without hesitation that the Škoda makes every road easy and enjoyable.

Positive energy

While catering has provided Claudine with a livelihood, it has also taught her a great deal. "That's why I really value this job. My partner always tells me that I tip too much, but from my point of view, you can't tip too much." It's also where she found her calling: "The restaurant is about working with people. You listen to people and their problems … You always have to have the right attitude to make them feel understood."

This realisation combined with a desire for more and an experience in a relay home where she realised that the educational staff were not always what they should be, convinced her then. She said to herself, "I'm going to study this because I want to do things differently." That's what she did when she obtained her Bachelor's degree in a work-study programme in Namur, with a parallel job at Caritas here in Luxembourg.

"I wrote about young people who have experienced nothing but failure in their lives. I wondered how a relationship with one person could be a lever for change", she explains. "I still remember the title, which quotes Jean-Paul Sartre. I was so proud of myself. 'The important thing is not what people make of us, but what we make of what people have made of us.' For these girls, that's the truth. Because many of their character traits came about because of an unfavourable environment."

These girls are those who have been released from the Schrassig juvenile prison – and the project for which Claudine worked at Caritas was dedicated to them. "I love working with young people. Especially those who don't have a stable family, because they need a cheerleader to motivate them and give them positive energy. I hate it when we talk about these young people in a derogatory way. Yes, they're not where you'd expect them to be, but that doesn't make them bad people."

"I hate it when we talk about these young people in a derogatory way. Yes, they're not where you'd expect them to be, but that doesn't make them bad people."

Claudine Dumont

One or two selfies with the Škoda later, Claudine arrives at the Bar Oscar's. She orders a cold Ramborn. The temperatures are getting hotter and hotter, so a good sip will recharge her batteries. By the time we've had a drink, the ENYAQ could be doing the same: on a public rapid charging point, it can be recharged in 38 minutes, with a maximum range of 523 km for the Coupé RS version.

The Škoda ENYAQ Coupé RS iV is available in two additional versions: the Version 60, which has a maximum range of 408 km, and the Version 80X with 4-wheel drive. In terms of colours, customers can choose from Brilliant Silver, Moon White, Race Blue, Graphit Grey, Velvet Red, Phoenix Orange and finally Magic Black, a truly magical black – Claudine can attest to this.

Helping these young people, who are "between 13 and 18" and have just come out of Schrassig, to get them back on the right track. "The classic story in Luxembourg is that they stopped going to school because they had run away, but often they had run away because the family wasn't great. Whether we're talking about abuse, neglect or simply overwhelmed parents … With some, there were a lot of drugs and alcohol in the mix."

"That's why a specific project was launched." Specific and different from the others in its approach. "A home with a much more open framework because we were of the opinion that, if you put hundreds of rules on a young person with such a profile, she will leave. In other hostels, you have to give your phone back at night, you're not allowed to go out … But the more you confiscate from young people, the more they'll want to find out."

After the age of 18, the girls are legally forced to leave these hostels for supervised accommodation. "Private landlords rent them out for this purpose. The rent is capped, but you can deduct it from your tax bill." It is during this second stage that the girls are taught how to live on their own. After 3 years working in the hostel, Claudine did the same and chose a "logical next step": changing teams in favour of supervised accommodation.

Once again, the framework was different. "We said that if we wanted them to learn to live a real life, we couldn't go and check that they had washed their toilets every day. So we tried to be more in line with reality. We set dates when we would go and check. They also pay their own rent. Of course, you're taking a risk … But you have to let them make mistakes."

It's not hard to understand how much these young people and their future mean to Claudine. Although she has alluded to a difficult childhood in her family since she started pedalling, she doesn't talk about it. Or at least she didn't talk about it until now … "I was adopted, " she says. "My adoptive parents couldn't have children, so they adopted three in South Korea." Including herself and her biological sister.

An example of what she preaches

"Right from the start, we noticed that if they wanted children, it wasn't because they liked children. They wanted children because, in those days, that was part of their status. One day, my mother told me that she had taken on Asian children because they were a better match in terms of skin colour than Africans. I was shocked. If you adopt a child because you really want one, skin colour doesn't matter."

"We quickly became disappointments to our parents, and there was a lot of violence … What's more, when my brother was adopted, they had a biological child. From that moment on, things got worse for the 3 of us. The biological child never took a beating. We got more than enough." At the age of 12, Claudine's sister (who was 11 at the time) ran away. "She went into a home after telling the judge that she didn't want to come back."

Claudine, on the other hand, stayed for her brother. "It was horrible for him. Our parents were already horrible with my sister and me, but with my brother, it was …" Her eyes filled with tears that she couldn't hold back. "Yes … In the end, we made life easy for them. We left." For her, it happened a week before Christmas. "I felt bad because my brother was only 16. But I couldn't do it any more. That was 19 years ago. I haven't seen my parents since."

His brother was kicked out, with nowhere to go, in the middle of winter, shortly afterwards. With the help of Claudine, who was living in Mertzig at the time for financial reasons, and who that evening went into town to look for him, he was able to find a hostel to stay in. Now, the 3 have almost no contact: "If we get any closer, this subject will resurface, and neither of us wants that. It's too much fear, unhappiness and sadness."

"Today, I'm coming to terms with all that. I needed time to detach myself from the feeling that I'm a failure … and now I'm talking about it. I tell myself I don't have to be ashamed of it any more. Deep down, I should never have been ashamed of it, but when you spend so much time in a toxic environment …" Claudine laughs, her smile returning: "It's funny because it's precisely because of this that I never wanted to work in the social sector."

"I never wanted to fit the cliché of the person who helps those who go through the same hurdle as she does, " she continues. "I've never compared myself to the people I'm helping. It's very important for me to make that clear. I don't want to be like those people who say: 'He's helping drug addicts because he used to be a junkie' Just because you used to be a junkie doesn't mean you're capable of helping someone well."

0 to 100 km/h in 6.5 seconds: even if the Grund district doesn't allow you to test it, the performance of the ENYAQ's electric motor is not to be underestimated.

Empty glasses, drinks finished. Back to the Škoda. 0 to 100 km/h in 6.5 seconds: even if the Grund district doesn't allow you to test it, the performance of the ENYAQ's electric motor is not to be underestimated. Its automatic gearbox offers the driver a superbly pleasant experience in all driving conditions, as well as the rest of the time, thanks to the remote services offered by Škoda Connect.

After 6 years with Caritas, Claudine left to discover the new concept of International Public Schools (IPS) from their SPOS (or CEPAS). "It's interesting to have so many different nationalities in one school – not only the pupils but also the teachers – and to see how teaching methods differ from one country to another. I found teachers there who, like me, opt for positive reinforcement rather than pointing out what's not working."

Classrooms were nothing new to her, either. In the past, she had given Luxembourgish lessons as a volunteer. "I did that at Haricot de Bonnevoie and then at Fondation de la Maison de la Porte Ouverte. I said to myself: if there are people motivated to learn a completely different language, why not help them? Because for someone from Syria or Afghanistan, Luxembourgish is like Chinese." (laughs)

The courses were free and welcomed refugees, homeless people and also elderly people from abroad. "Every week, the same people came back. I had applicants for international protection, a gentleman who was homeless – sometimes he wasn't completely there, but that doesn't matter – and also an old lady from Rwanda who sat there with 3 sheets of paper and sometimes a pencil at the end."

"Learning Luxembourgish is really, really hard, but we were having fun, " Claudine continues. "These courses have given me a lot as a human being. Your heart opens up when you see them making these efforts to belong to Luxembourg and find their place in society. But it hurts even more when you see how hard we make it for them to achieve that goal. I think it's very serious when people say they're not making an effort."

With the left-hand indicator engaged, we pulled up in front of the station. "I'd never driven electric before, " says Claudine. "It's a nice surprise, I find it very enjoyable. I really like the ENYAQ, inside and out. It's very pleasant and comfortable. Despite its size, it fits easily everywhere. And she's just like me: elegant, powerful and easy on the eye." (laughs)

Claudine now works at ADEM. During her time at the IPS, she developed a passion for guidance. "According to the law, every secondary school should have a guidance unit, but they didn't see the point." So when she saw the advert for ADEM, she didn't hesitate. She refers young people there and redirects adults. "People think that those who come to see me are cleaning ladies or site workers, but they're not … Some have a Master's degree."

One thing is certain, Claudine has no regrets about her choices: "I've achieved everything I wanted to achieve when I was 30." The impact she is having on society is the example she is setting: "I'm proving that, even if you don't come from a favourable environment, it's still possible to make something of your life." Her wish, for her part, is simple: "To show that we would all live better together if we valued the positive more."

The silhouette of the Škoda ENYAQ Coupé RS iV, with its sloping roof, is superb, returning to the Losch car park after a drive of several hours. Claudine Dumont parks and says: "I read something great once. It was about resilience. A long study carried out in Hawaii, and they accompanied young people from difficult family situations over 20 years."

"Everyone who came out of it said that, at some point in their lives, they met someone who gave them unconditional love. Something that, technically, everyone should receive from their parents."

"It's something I've never forgotten. When I meet young people who are desperate, I hope that later, when they're grown up, they'll think back and say that I helped them."

"That's the reason I do everything I do today."

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