In October 2011, I learned from friends that Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen was urgently looking for volunteers for a project that we know today as Startpunt. The first major refugee crisis had just hit Europe. Today, almost seven years later, I am still there.
Wednesday is my day and the tasks are always varied. At noon, I often guide the refugees from the Immigration Office with a fellow volunteer. The so-called DVZ is a five-minute walk from Startpunt. On the way back I usually chat with a few refugees: "Where are you coming from?" "Are you okay?".
It is extremely important to receive people with a sincere smile and a friendly conversation. Most of them have already been through so much. They were forced to leave their country, their home and their belongings and they often had to leave their family too. That affects me terribly. Once we arrive at Startpunt, I jump in where it is needed: serving bread or soup, coffee or tea, cleaning up, washing or drying dishes and so on.
Why I'm still doing this? These two hours of work on Wednesday extend my world. I get to know nice new people "with the heart in the right place". And that does so much good. It makes me a richer person and it gives me hope for a "warmer", more hospitable future. We are all human beings, regardless of what we look like!
Hilde Van Craen