How to volunteer in Brussels as an English speaker

Monday, 3 July 2023
Danica Van der Merwe
How to volunteer in Brussels as an English speaker
Credit: Belga

Volunteering allows locals to lend a helping hand, build up the community and learn new skills. But in a country where you don’t yet understand the local language and the culture is so different, where do you start?

There are various ways to get involved in volunteering in Brussels, including for English speakers.

“Volunteering in Belgium is very easy and not completely language-dependent,” Director General of People to People Europe, Chalks Richard Corriette, told The Brussels Times.

He stressed that there is no shortage of places in the Belgian capital that would gladly accept help: “People are always happy and grateful to have volunteers, so there is a lot you can do no matter what language you speak.”

Close to home
Immersion English schools in Brussels will happily accept assistance from native English speakers willing to spend time and practise with the children. Similarly, groups such as Scouts are international and operate in English.

Animal shelters, homeless shelters, food banks and houses for abused women and children also accept volunteers. Some places may require a certificate to be able to work with children, so it is worth contacting the organisation in advance.

Some communes have community Facebook groups that come together to clean up their streets or launch projects to help those less fortunate in their areas. Hoplr acts as a local social media group with which Belgian neighbours can meet and team up on projects.

Mental health helpline
The Community Help Service is a 24/7 mental health helpline. Professional psychologists and psychiatrists volunteer their time and provide a range of services for English speakers, among others.

However, there is also a helpline centre where volunteers with no prior experience can answer calls and assist people with whatever they need, from finding an English-speaking doctor to more serious mental health-related issues. Volunteers are always supported and trained by two supervisors.

Serve the City

Serve the City is another organisation with which English speakers can help those most in need in Brussels. With their team of volunteers, the organisation helps the homeless, asylum seekers and refugees, the elderly, disabled, children in need and victims of abuse.

The non-profit partners with others in the city to work on different projects. The international volunteer community uses English as their main language for communication and events are regularly organised for volunteers to meet and connect.

“We encourage people to make the first step and meet those in the city who are often invisible in the eyes of society,” Ilaria Cusato of Serve the City told The Brussels Times.

To volunteer with Serve the City, people can download the app ServeNow to view the different projects and their requirements and choose one of interest.

Language is not a barrier
Chalks Corriette also said that organisations such as Red Cross which do not operate in English are always open to volunteers who support them. In over 30 years of volunteering in Brussels, he has noticed that “language melts away when kindness is present.”

“[People who want to volunteer are] spoiled for choice,” Chalks Corriette continued. “Most are held back because they think there is a barrier or don’t know where to start.”

Not only is volunteering an important way to give back to the city and help those in need, but it is also a “good way to meet people and get to know the country and its quirks”.

A project for every interest

For example, BabbelBike volunteers take elderly, sick, isolated and/or disabled people out for bike rides on electric bikes adapted for persons with reduced mobility. This year, they hope to expand their team to more than 60 volunteers, as the more volunteers they have, the more outings they can organise.

With an abundance of local theatre groups, libraries, youth centres, sports centres and more in Brussels, it is easy to find volunteering work to align with every interest.

Chalks Corriette does advise to be realistic when committing to volunteer jobs, however, as organisations depend on numbers and need to know how many helping hands there will be to plan accordingly.

“And if you can’t find something, create it!” he concluded.