Building Bridges, the Service Civil International (SCI) campaign in the frame of which the Balkan Steps project and this blog were born, is much more than a tool to raise awareness and stimulate the reflection about the current refugee crisis and forced migration in the world between workcamp organizers, hosting communities and volunteers.
The Building Bridges workcamps provide the opportunity to people all over the world to contribute to the refugees cause volunteering to improving living conditions of refugees as well as the way they will spend their summer, their local integration within the communities, their knowledge of other cultures around Europe and the world.
This summer, SCI is offering 14 workcamps with a Building Bridges label as well as 3 more camps on the topic of migrations, among which 2 related to awareness-raising on topics such as human rights, solidarity, racism and hospitality. The most frequent activities are animation for children, mothers and adults in asylum centers (such as “Entertainment in Asylum Seekers Centre in Natoye” in Belgium or “Summer camp for asylum-seeking children” in Switzerland). There are also some camps, such as “Track your way” in Italy, in which volunteers will, among others activities, join local activists in a march of a group of people that will symbolically cross the border with France.
The countries where volunteers will directly work with refugees are Belgium, France, Russia and Switzerland, while camps based on awareness-raising activities are available in Italy and Togo. In Botswana and Indonesia, local and international volunteers have the chance to work side by side with fellow volunteers who have refugee background.
In case you are wondering which kind of workcamp to choose for your Holiday, we prepared a short list of reasons (even though there are definitely many more!) that might help you to know more about Building Bridges camps and what can you expect from this kind of experience.
5 good reasons to volunteer with refugees this summer
1)You will have the chance to learn a lot about different cultures: not only those of your hosting country and the countries where your fellow volunteers come from, but also countries that you might not have the chance to visit at the moment due to their unstable political situations such as Syria, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Nigeria, Iraq, Pakistan, and many others. This will increase your views of the world outside the horizons of Europe and help you acquire knowledge and awareness about the existence of cultures and countries that are not dominating in the mainstream narratives.
2) You will learn a lot about management of different kinds of activities: since refugee camps usually have a big variety of population according to age groups, languages and needs you will be involved in planning and implementing various activities aimed at this diverse target group, from sport to crafts to animation and leisure, with the supervision and support of experienced leaders. This will allow you to implement activities as if you were in more work camps, at the same time!
3) You will meet a lot of like-minded people: fellow volunteers, local activists and staff: everyone with a different background, experience and story but with the same motivation, energy and wish: giving to refugees at least some moments of relief, distraction, happiness and learning.
The volunteers’ team, with its variety and richness, makes the most of this kind of experiences, in which mutual support plays a fundamental role in overcoming potential negative emotions arising from the contact with people who faced, and still face, many hardships.
4) You will be able to acquire first-hand information, personal insights and stories that you will not be able to find in the media. This will increase your understanding of the current situation related to refugees in the country where you’ll volunteer, Europe and the world, as well as your capacity to spread the word, inform your friends and family about things they would like to know, but they’re nowhere to be found or worst, masked under racist narratives that are often dominant when it comes to these topics.
5) You will find out that, while there is a lot to give, there is even more to get: people seeking refuge are usually eager to meet new people, break the quite often boring daily routine of asylum centers, acquire new skills…in a few words, to enjoy in the activities that you’ll organize as well as involve you in knowing more about their hopes, dreams, needs. You will be so amazed by the encounter with many different, inspiring people that you might want to start being involved in supporting asylum-seekers and refugees in your local community once you’re home.
To apply for a Building Bridges work camp or for any other work camp, you can visit the website www.sci.ngo and contact your local SCI branch, every (or almost every) country has one! If you are from Serbia, your local branch is Volunteers’ Centre of Vojvodina (contact: email@example.com, www.volontiraj.rs)