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Serve your Brussels Commune at 10th Big Volunteer Week

14:23 17/06/2014

Time to cross the line: volunteer in Brussels.

“The homeless, asylum seekers, the elderly, the disabled, children in need, victims of abuse. We know them by their needs. What if we knew them by name?”

This is the question put forward by Serve the City, a volunteer movement that started in Brussels in 2005. Serve the City lives by the motto, “it’s time to cross the line.” The line refers to the invisible or easily ignored line that separates the general population of the city. “It separates the rich from the poor, the strong from the weak, the haves from the have-nots,” says Cosmina Gantner, Director of Communications at Serve the City Brussels. “It’s a street, the train tracks, a river, a sidewalk. On one side there is safety…on the other life is pretty raw.” 

Having began with just a single week of volunteering, Serve the City spread from Brussels to over 100 cities around the world, including Leuven and Sint-Truiden in Belgium. Now, the Brussels organisation is preparing its 10th annual Big Volunteer Week, taking place from 28 June to 5 July, and will be the first city to celebrate 10 years of Serve in the City. “In some ways, we have been preparing for this anniversary year since we began,” says Cosmina. 

Make the difference
The Big Volunteer Week invites people to volunteer alongside local associations caring for those “on the other side of the line”. As Serve the City founder and co-director Carlton Deal points out: “Many people doing small things together can make a big difference.” 

This difference is felt along both sides of the line, according to Serve the City volunteer Inge Huijbrechts. “These projects really make you humble; they make you realise what a good life you have, in what a luxurious situation so many of us are.” But most of all, she says, “it brings people in contact with each other; it really connects people.”

There is a volunteer project for everyone during the Big Volunteer Week, from You Look Marvellous, which provides manicures and haircuts to those who can’t afford them, to Social and Game On projects involving games, museum visits and sports.

There’s a Food4Friends category serving food to the hungry, and for “people who like charity work but feel more comfortable doing practical work than interacting,” there’s  a Practical category with hands-on tasks. As for time commitment, volunteers can serve for one day or the whole week.  

Switch on the light
“Nothing is impossible for Serve the City,” says volunteer Labiba Bahri, who commends the organisation’s flexibility: “They can act at every moment, in every place.” 

As fellow volunteer Christel Lamère Ngnambi explains, it’s not about how you volunteer, but the act of volunteering itself that counts. “Just the fact that we’re meeting them, and they know that we’re there for their interests, and that we do that for free, I think it switches on a light in them,” he says. 

To register for the Big Volunteer Week, go to Serve the City’s Brussels website and give your date, time, location and project preferences. Don’t forget that the week ends on Saturday July 5th with a Street Party at Place du Jeu de Balle. Free BBQ, music, street performances and fun activities will be available to the whole community.

Just the beginning
Of course, serving the city does not stop at the Big Volunteer Week’s end. Volunteers can continue to serve their communes in Brussels throughout the year. Head to Serve the City’s website and facebook page to stay informed.

 Photos courtesy of Serve the City non-profit.


Written by Kelly Hendricks