Students are always short of time and often short of money. When you’re struggling to pass exams and to pay rent, doing volunteer work may not seem very appealing. But for Tilburg University students Melissa van Casteren (22), Yasin Ince (24) and Pleun Hakkens (20), volunteering pays off. Even without a paycheck.
Melissa van Casteren (22)
“I already had a job as a student assistant at the university, but I still had a lot of free time. A friend told me about her volunteer work at a student-run organization of the Red Cross in Tilburg. It sounded like a great combination of serving the community and having a good time with other students, so I signed up.
We’re free to set up our own projects and events, which is something I really enjoy. We do a lot of different things. We give first aid and safety trainings, we host bingo nights at refugee centers, we organize fundraising campaigns in collaboration with Serious Request. Right now, our primary focus is to increase the self-reliance of vulnerable people in the community. Organizing a fashion show for the disabled is a wonderful way to put them in the spotlight for a day, but we also want to look beyond the day of the event.
As a volunteer at the Red Cross student desk, I get the best of both worlds. I can be at a party one day, and collecting food for people in need the next. For me, volunteering is not just about making a difference, it’s also about having fun. It’s an important part of my social life. You’re all students and you work together intensively on very rewarding projects, so you quickly become friends. Last summer, I actually went on vacation with one of my co-volunteers. Some students join Plato or Olof, I joined the Red Cross student desk.”
Yasin Ince (24)
“Studying at university is very fulfilling, but I always had the desire to put the newly gained knowledge into practice. I am currently writing my thesis and I always get a bit restless from not doing any practical work. I therefore decided to volunteer one day a week as a legal advisor at Vluchtelingenwerk, an organization that offers legal aid to refugees. Clients come in during consultation hours and my role is to answer questions and advise them on legal issues regarding their request for asylum or the return procedure when the request for asylum is denied. Often we also prepare clients for their hearings and we sometimes join them during the hearings for additional support.
I chose to volunteer at Vluchtelingenwerk for two reasons. The first is that during my studies I grew very fond of migration topics, international law and world politics. Vluchtelingenwerk allows me to gain practical work experience in migration law and to remain up-to-date with the latest developments. It makes for an easy transition to the labor market in this field. The second reason is that I can faintly relate to refugees and asylum seekers. My grandfather was an immigrant guest worker and my parents-in-law are former refugees. I want to be of use for people who often have left everything behind, have gone through difficult times and have to start their lives all over in a foreign country. They are under a lot of stress because their future is uncertain. It makes me happy to see that I can use my knowledge and experience to give them a little bit of certainty and help them secure a livelihood. At the same time I enjoy learning about their countries and cultures. Working with refugees and asylum seekers, I think you could write a book about each of their stories. Since the asylum requests are always very detailed you learn so many things about a country’s geography, politics, culture, ethnic and religious minorities.
For me the important considerations for doing volunteer work were that I gain work experience, find out what I love to do and what I am good at. In that sense, volunteer work always pays off, it may not be in money, but you always gain experience and develop your skills and knowledge. The other side of it is that volunteer work allows you to make life a little bit easier for those who are less fortunate than you. It is very gratifying work, but probably the most valuable reward is that it keeps you humble as you are time and again reminded that nothing should be taken for granted in life.”
Pleun Hakkens (20)
“Serve the City is a student volunteer organization. Throughout the year, we organize different activities for specific groups within the community. Last year, I was part of the committee that organized the event Serve the Dinner. In collaboration with student association Plato, we prepared an all-night dinner with entertainment for eighty people who depend on the Food Bank. It took a lot of preparation, but it was a big success. With all those smiling faces around you, it doesn’t matter that you don’t get paid for the work that you put in.
On the night of the event, the volunteers joined the guests at the table so that we could really engage in conversation with each other. I shared a table with a little boy and his parents. The parents told me about their situation, which was pretty gripping. In my own surroundings, I don’t often hear stories like theirs. Another family got up and walked out, because they didn’t like the food. They said they would go to McDonald’s instead. We thought they were very ungrateful, because we’d put in so much time and energy and we knew that other people would’ve been happy to have gotten their seats at the table. But you do learn from experiences like those.
This year, I’m in two committees: Serve the Kids and Cadeautjespiramide. Both events are for children who face challenges, either because they have a psychological diagnosis or because they are from financially less well-off families. I want to focus on child and adolescents psychology, so I’m excited to work on events for kids.”
If you are convinced that volunteering at Vluchtelingenwerk, the Red Cross student desk or Serve the City might be something for you, feel free to send the organization of your choice an email to learn in what ways you can be involved. Vluchtelingenwerk is specifically looking for Dutch-speaking student volunteers.
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