Whether you are looking to acquire work related experience, improve your French or just to forget that cruise and do some good for others, in Brussels, Belgium the variety of international organizations, foundations, federations, charities, associations and governmental agencies is enormous. Volunteers work in the Brussels’ headquarters of international organizations, seeing how the issues develop and are addressed. Given that this work is done at the epicenter of the European Union, most positions are office-based. The list of areas seems almost endless: human rights; gender issues; older adults; immigration; addiction and rehabilitation; Down Syndrome; gay issues; politics; children’s issues; torture; animal rights; public safety; health and wellness; environment issues; music; the arts; business; law; development; education; refugees; banking; medical care, to name a few.
Why Volunteer in Brussels?
In Belgium nearly 20% of the population does regular volunteer work in one of the ABSL (Association Sans But Lucratif) denoting non-profit organizations. In most cases the office language is English so in addition to the attraction of Brussels’ sites, foreigners in all phases of life can participate in short or long-term volunteer programs with an intangible impact on their own and other people’s lives.
Brussels offers hundreds of possibilities for volunteers to work according to their interests and personal aptitudes in fields such as communications, research, event organizing, press, PR, marketing, web development, crisis management, and many more. Some volunteers select a post that correlates with a past profession or former experience while some just want to get a change of scene with an authentic view of another country and live a European adventure.
According to one’s personal circumstances there are many reason people choose to volunteer. Apart from « to receive by giving » the benefits of volunteering are numerous and as healthy as walking or drinking water. In fact, a study from the University of Michigan Research Center found that « doing regular volunteer work…dramatically increased life expectancy and probably overall vitality as well ». There has even been documented a kind of « volunteers’ high » where volunteers experience a warm feeling, more energy and even euphoria combined with a feeling of calmness and enhanced self worth.
Mila Moreno, Programs’ Director at PlusAbroad.com for adult educational travel thinks, « Baby boomers have the highest volunteer participation rate of any demographic group because they have time, means and find in volunteering an appreciation for their skills along with camaraderie. Secondly, our participants are motivated by self-improvement so we include a crash course in French as part of our package. »
Adults that have left a career often find a new sense of meaning and purpose by pursuing some new enterprise. Ms. Moreno adds, « We want everyone to feel good about the way they are using their time. The program puts an emphasis on culture and education, with about 50% free time to explore the fantastic culture and sites of Brussels. »
Marilyn Barnicke Belleghem M.Ed., the author of books on personal growth through travel, emphasized that what we get from volunteering depends on what we give. « Every part of life asks us to make an investment in time and often money. Where we invest determines how our life evolves. When we travel, we can experiment with life. We can ask ourselves; What do I really like to do when I have the time to do what I want? »
Different cultures see the volunteering experience in different lights. According to Dezmon Soloman, educational consultant in Asia, « In Singapore experience as a volunteer is counted as points on the competitive exams for civil servants. It is perceived as an indication of ethical and personal concern for public well-being. »
Finally we asked Camila Prado, Director of Eurointerns.com a European-based internship placement service if working in an NGO compensates their participants budget-wise. « As a fee-based educational program not only do such trips help you develop your talents, they also look good on a resume. Clients can customize their trips paying only for the services they require. Whether a recent college graduate, university student, someone taking a gap year or someone in a professional impasse, interning always helps to define interests, improve language ability and make contacts. This is the added-value to interning in a humanitarian organization. »