Spending the weekends with Brussels’ young refugees

A couple of weeks ago, Brussels Express published an article on volunteering with the city’s refugee youth. The article spoke of SB Espoir, a weekend volunteering project run by SB OverSeas. This project has two aims: (a) facilitating integration and inclusion of refugee youth into society and (b) alleviating the monotony experienced by the youth on the weekend.

“I am very glad you came today. If not, we would have been sitting in the center doing nothing but browsing on our cell phone.” 

– One of the youth in the centre.

Every week, we have from five to thirty youth joining us from either the Red Cross centre or the Fedasil centre. Some weekends we play soccer in the park or go cycling, other weekends we have photography or chocolate-making workshops. At the core of each activity is intercultural dialogue and creating a sense of understanding amongst each other.

I had the opportunity to chat with some of those who volunteer to share their time and their talent with us.

“No matter where we come from and despite our religious and cultural backgrounds we are all people in the end with the same problems, concerns, fears, dreams, needs etc.”SB Overseas

Aizhan is one of our longest serving volunteers. Originally from Kazakhstan, she moved to Belgium to continue her studies and spends her Sundays with the youth in Neder-Over-Heembeek.

Nahla, another one of our volunteers was propelled to act after seeing the photo of Alan Kurdi, the three-year old boy whose body was found washed up in 2015. This led her to volunteering every Saturday her time to SB Espoir. Her most important message from her three years of being with the youth? “Asylum seekers and refugee youth do not need pity, they need the skills and knowledge to show their potential and develop their talents.”

With an increasing rise of anti-immigrant sentiments and shrinking space for civil society, it is important, now more than ever to show that we are a Europe that welcomes and cares. Through activities like SB Espoir, we can foster a more understanding and tolerant society. These activities allow us to share our similarities and celebrate our differences. In April, we had a painting workshop that focused on the idea of ‘home’ and this reminded one of our volunteers, Cecilia, of “the universality of concepts such as home, family and love.”

SB OverseasFrom my own experiences of teaching English in summer camps around Europe, I am used to the resilience of youth. However, from my weekends with SB Espoir, I was not only surprised by their resilience and humour, but also by their patience and kindness. I can only be humbled when learning of their experiences in reaching Europe and the life they left behind. Then shortly after to be left amused by one of their many jokes. These youth have seen far more than I could ever imagine, and I think we all have something to learn from them about life and resilience. In the words of one of our volunteers, they can be “a real addition to their new society if they are welcomed and allowed to integrate”. 

With this article, we want to thank firstly our amazing volunteers who make SB Espoir possible, secondly the wonderful staff at the Red Cross and Fedasil centres who are always there to help and thirdly, the youth who make it all worth it. Interested in joining us on the weekends? Read here our volunteer testimonials and click here to get involved.

SB Espoir was recently honoured by the King and Queen of Belgium for its efforts to help foster inclusion and integration of migrants and refugees in Belgium.