More than 1 million migrants and refugees have fled conflicted zones and embarked themselves on a journey to find a better future in Europe, according to the European Union.
Refugees come from disparate countries, such as Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq. Still, they all have something in common: fear. The fear of leaving the past behind and the fear of the unknown, of the uncertain.
Some refugees had no other chance than to bring their children with them in their tumultuous path to a dignified life. Parents are concerned about their future in the hosts’ countries, but it is the future of their children that worries them the most.
Refugee and asylum seekers’ children are one of the most vulnerable groups in the current humanitarian crisis. The right to be children has been taken away from them. In this situation, Serve the City, a Belgian volunteer platform, thought it was about time to do something, with the belief that sometimes, the smallest actions have the highest impact in someone’s life.
Serve the City has started to operate in a very symbolic location in the centre of Brussels: Le Petit Château, is the biggest reception centre for asylum seekers in Belgium, where people from different ages live together and patiently wait for the resolution of their application status. There, every Wednesday, a varied group of volunteers – among them parents, university students, lobbyists, European civil servants, etc. – join forces in order to organise evening activities for the children residing at Le Petit Château.
Kids and volunteers come from different countries and speak different languages. Nevertheless, both have found a way to communicate in French, Dutch, English and Arabic. Sophia Spiliotopoulou, one of the volunteers’ co-leaders, speaks Arabic, which has helped enhance the communication with the parents of the children, at times isolated because of language barriers.
During their time there, children between 3 and 12 years old are able to forget about everything and just be children. Painting, drawing, playing board games and even planting strawberries allows the kids to have a good time, while contributing to their integration in Belgium. Children also have access to a library, from where books could be borrowed. Parents were always welcomed to join their kids during these activities.
In this project, volunteers and refugees could change every week; but Serve the City has structured the initiative in order to welcome anyone who wanted to take part. Volunteers were committed to this project and would gather and discuss ideas on how to better assist the kids. By giving their free time to the kids, they have created a nice environment and established good relationship with them.
Thanks to their efforts, they have been able to obtain some funding to buy new games. As Sophia remarks, the Serve the City team soon understood how crucial it is for children to feel part of the community. Therefore, some outdoor activities were organised, with the aim to allow children to interact with Belgian kids and locals. Events like the Christmas market and a Summer Music Festival called ‘Au bord de l’eau’, among others, gave the chance to the kids to go outside and feel part of Brussels.
Unfortunately, due to some current circumstances this volunteer project has recently been put on hold. Following consultation with le Petit Château and until the situation is resolved volunteers have been invited to participate in other activities organised by le Petit Château in the early afternoons. Notwithstanding this, le Petit Château and Serve the City are trying to find a solution to restart this successful project that has allowed many children to only worry about playing.