Visually handicapped Bennie Folkens is a well-known street artist in Amsterdam. Sad enough last week the media reported that he has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. According to his doctors, Bennie aged 61 will only have approximately 6 more months to live. The story of Bennie is truly inspiring; the blind man refused to throw in the towel, even after losing his job twice. Bennie had been working as a telephonist when the job was turned into a receptionist function. Due to his visual handicap, he wasn’t able to take on the new responsibilities. After losing his second job as a braille corrector due to automation, he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps, who was also blind and worked as a street musician. That was 30 years ago, back in 1987. Ever since Bennie has been performing on the streets of Amsterdam 350 years. The man is a hero, an icon among the citizens of Amsterdam.
Bennie never received unemployment benefits but has not been able to work the last few months and thus got into a difficult financial situation. When a local fan Laura van der Horst heard of the situation, she jumped in and contacted Bennie, to see what he would think of a crowdfunding action. Bennie told Laura that might help a lot and he would appreciate it. His wishes we’re simple; a dinner with his wife. The crowdfunding action started a week ago and several restaurant owners have offered Bennie a dinner and over €12.000 has been raised! In a reaction the enormous success, Bennie stated to be extremely happy “Now I can pay off the bills, maybe buy some new things for in our house. It also helps to cover for my funeral. I would be embarrassed to have a subsidized funeral”.
It hasn’t been easy
Bennie says he certainly enjoyed his job for the last 30 years. However, it hasn’t always been easy. Especially the last few years Bennie noticed atmosphere getting harsher from time to time. In the last few years, Bennie endured several insults and even harassments. It ranged from people shouting things like “You’re not even blind!”, to people stating he would be picked up by a shiny new Mercedes after work. But besides the insults, he also experienced harassments; people not giving coins, but instead putting cigarette buts or even faeces in his penny tray.
When returning home from performing, Bennie got hit on his head with a hammer near his house thrice. The first two times the blind Bennie thought he had walked into something. But third time it happened passer-bys witnessed how Bennie was hit on the head by a road worker. The trauma caused Bennie to be anxious for a while; he changed his daily routines, leaving home different times and walking different routes.
A lot of beautiful things as well
“Despite the difficult parts it hasn’t been all doom and gloom either” Bennie states. “There were a lot of lovely people as well. People that would come up to me to ask me how I feel. Some people would tell me their whole life story. I loved that social side to my job”