Serve your city at 10th Big Volunteer Week in Brussels


A group of volunteers are preparing to celebrate 10 years of helping the homeless, elderly, victims of abuse and other vulnerable groups, and they want your help

Time to cross the line

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”. It refers to the invisible or easily ignored line that separates the general population of the city from those less fortunate.

“It separates the rich from the poor, the strong from the weak, the haves from the have-nots,” says Serve the City Brussels spokesperson Cosmina Gantner. “It’s a street, the train tracks, a river, a pavement. On one side there is safety … on the other, life is pretty raw.”

Having begun with a single week of volunteering, Serve the City spread from Brussels to more than 100 cities around the world, including locally in Leuven and Sint-Truiden. Brussels will be the first city to celebrate 10 years of service, as it prepares its annual Big Volunteer Week, from 28 June to 5 July. “In some ways, we have been preparing for this anniversary year since we began,” says Gantner. 

Make the difference

The Big Volunteer Week invites residents to give of their time and work 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.” 

These projects make you humble, make you realise what a good life you have

- Serve the City volunteer Inge Huijbrechts

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. 

On one side there is safety … on the other, life is pretty raw

- Cosmina Gantner

To register for the Big Volunteer Week, go to Serve the City’s Brussels website and state your date, time, location and project preferences. Don’t forget that the week ends on 5 July with a street party on Vossenplein in the Marollen district. A free BBQ, music, performances and other fun activities will be available to the whole community.

Serving the city does not stop when the Big Volunteer Week ends. Volunteers can continue to serve throughout the year in Brussels and Flanders. 

Serve the City in Leuven, for example, is distributing care packages to hardworking students throughout the exam period. Meanwhile, Sint-Truiden is planning the annual summer event Fiesta Tropical, where non-profit organisations celebrate multiculturalism and organise activities for kids. “We also serve weekly at the Home Elisabeth rest home with our Serve+ Group,” says co-ordinator Kelly Stippelmans.

To sign up or stay informed about Serve the City activities in Leuven and Sint-Truiden, head to their Facebook pages. 

Serve your city and sign up for the 10th Big Volunteer Week in Brussels

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