Brussels climbing club helps job-seeking refugees aim for the sky


The Rising You(th) initiative provides young refugees with an unusual set of skills to help them stand out to potential employers

No mountain too high

Finding a job as a refugee can prove challenging, so many settle for the first thing that comes their way. A non-profit from Brussels is changing that by helping refugees, quite literally, aim for the sky.

Rising You(th) trains young refugees for careers in fields as varied as high-rise window cleaning and wind farm maintenance. According to Benjamin Gerard, one of the project’s founders, climbing is a great way to help refugees develop physical and mental strength and gain professional competence.

“As part of Rising You(th), we founded a climbing club in Brussels, called The Vertical Club, for refugees as young as 12,” says Gerard. “There, we focus on skills like co-operation, mutual support and safety. With the youngest climbers we do this in a playful way; with the older ones it’s more explicit.”

Climbing can be a great pastime, but Rising You(th)’s ambitions stretch further. “If someone really wants to make it as an industrial climber – and has the right attitude – we can train them,” Gerard explains. “Industrial climbing is quite different from its recreational alternative. You go up buildings and electric poles – this requires a specific set of skills.”

In addition to the climbing techniques, the refugees learn skills like painting and assembly with the help of the Flemish employment and training agency VDAB. “This way they can build an interesting profile for potential employers,” says Gerard.

Everyone wins

Jobs that require climbing skills range from industrial cleaning to maintenance of wind farms. This gives Rising You(th) the possibility to match each refugee with a career that’s right for them. “Some of the refugees have a decent level of schooling, others close to none,” says Gerard. “We try to find fulfilling jobs for all of them.”

RisingYou(th) is an offshoot of another project. Under Gerard’s guidance, the Leuven-based non-profit Nature has been organising summer camps for vulnerable youngsters, but eight years ago, it also started working with young refugees.

I was surprised by the resilience of these young people. All too often we see them as victims who need help, but that is not what they think of themselves

- Benjamin Gerard

“I was surprised by the resilience of these young people,” Gerard recalls. “All too often we see them as victims who need help, but that is not what they think of themselves.”

On the contrary, he adds, they want to move on and start building their lives. “Summer camps are nice, but we wanted to have a bigger impact on this group, and employment is a key factor in doing so. That’s when we came up with RisingYou(th).”

So far, 12 climbers have finished the training, and all of them have found a job. Now it’s time to scale up. “We were surprised by their success, even though there is a real demand for people with their skillset,” Gerard says. “Now we want to grow, both in terms of training and resources.” Building a climbing wall is a possibility, for example.

“Convincing companies to hire the refugees we have been training is another thing we’re working on,” he adds. “Providing people with skills that help them find a meaningful and fulfilling job is a win-win for everyone.”