Francesca’s Brussels bucket list: Volunteer with SB Espoir

There are over 35 dedicated volunteers who join SB Espoir on the weekends for the different activities they organize. Francesca Caramelle has been volunteering with SB Espoir since September 2018; she shares her story of moving to Brussels and finding her way to the SB OverSeas family:

Hello everyone,

My name is Francesca and I am a bubbly Italian, landed in Brussels in September 2018. I moved here after completing a dreadful – but extremely constructive – master’s degree at the University of Portsmouth, UK. I carried with me two big suitcases of clothes, and a glittery one full of dreams.

Because I am a planning freak, I also had a bucket list on my phone, where I listed all the experiences I wanted to do once embarked on this European/international/unknown journey. As Eisenhower used to say, “planning is indispensable”, whether plans will be used or not. Then, I believe that to work towards your dreams, lists are the way forward. This was mine:

  1. Understand the EU bubble: see what you can do, check financing, and LEARN a lot.
  2. Improve your transferable skills.
  3. Network and make valuable contacts.
  4. Work towards your dreams.
  5. Help others: SB Overseas.

I am not going to lie…as much as all the points may look amazing and well-set, the majority of them haven’t been accomplished completely yet – apart from No. 5, which is potentially the most relevant to me.

SB Overseas was a true discovery. I don’t really speak French. I’d say my French is more non-existent than existent. I am only capable to introduce myself and ask for help. Please, don’t judge. Because of this, when I moved to Brussels, I thought that finding a volunteering opportunity with refugees would have been nearly impossible. On top of that, every NGO in the field seemed to require either Flemish or French. It was therefore a no-no for me. However, I was eventually able to find SB Overseas, and I must say I was immediately pleasantly surprised; I liked the range of volunteers, its target group, as well as its action plan and ultimate mission. Every aspect was in line with what I was looking for, and what I had specialised into while drafting my MA Thesis on refugee integration in Italy.

It didn’t take me long to realise that SB Overseas could have been a turning point in my life – which is why I’d label my collaboration with this organisation as “revolutionary”. As a matter of fact, it progressively began to highlight the juxtaposition between my newly-acquired position of EU policy officer with my ideal career – aka the path I would truly like to pursue. It made me realise that office work doesn’t particularly suit me; I’d rather move around, work closely with disadvantaged communities, spread hope and cheer, as well as gift people with big shiny smiles.

While I was drafting my thesis, I had the feeling that the third sector would have been my path, but I never had the certainty of it. Nevertheless, thank to SB Overseas, I finally understood what to look for professionally. When I take a step back and I look at what SB Overseas offers, I can’t help imagining an abstract bridge, to which I compare it to. For example, try and think about the Golden Gate Bridge in St. Francisco. Beautiful, majestic, red, and obviously useful. Similarly, SB Overseas provides you with specific skills that, if channelled and implemented correctly, can enable people to link academia with passion, work with life, reality with dreams.

It provides a majestic plan that, topped up with passion and hope, can stretch towards the sky and become reality. Dear readers, this is exactly what I would like SB Overseas to be for me. My forever dream has been to set up a self-sustainable social enterprise in the Italian Veneto region, aimed at promoting refugee integration and cohesion, fighting misinformation and xenophobia. We are aware of what Italy is currently facing, and a striking change is required. The phenomenon is progressively exacerbating, especially within isolated rural areas, where ignorance is a constant. However, although my dream may be fairly ambitious, SB Overseas is equipping me with the tools I need – whether now, or in the near future.

With respect to volunteering, it is a great opportunity for anyone out there. It mobilises people, it promotes their active engagement, it offers employability solutions, and it transforms lives. As explained in the paragraph above, dreams can become true, but only through generosity, courtesy, empathy and selflessness. This is what volunteering is about: it’s about prioritising others, giving before taking. It’s about enjoying the little things, because simplicity makes life. I think this is one of advantages of working with vulnerable refugees: the value of simplicity, how much people can get from the littlest things.

For instance, a simple handshake, a hug, a candy, or a sweet smile. I remember one specific event at Uccle Red Cross centre; as soon as volunteers walk through the entrance, one of the Red Cross operators told us: “They have been waiting for you all week”, referring to some youth. That statement was extremely strong and impacting: it entailed melancholy, but at the same time great happiness. These youth don’t really engage with us, apart from the activity days. They don’t know us enough to have an emotional connection. Nevertheless, they perceive as fresh air, and see us as happiness bearers. It’s unbelievable to think, but it is the reality. We are so busy in our frenetic lives and silly issues, that we forget to be distracted by the littlest – but essential – things: human relations, words of comfort.

Every time I see the smile on their faces, or I hear their giggles, I am reminded of it, and I decide I should be less superficial but more profound, less consumerist but more generous. This is the added value SB Overseas benefits of. I am extremely thankful and grateful to be part of this powerful team.

Volunteering changes lives, but it’s not univocal: it’s a win-win circumstance everyone should opt for. Even Aristoteles had a similar opinion. He once stated: “What is the essence of life? To serve others and to do good”. I agree; and you?

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