Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Liz Underhill's EVS volunteering experiance in Belgium

Split in Croatia - its amazing where EVS can take you?

Liz Underhill is an EVS volunteer in Brussels, Belgium for JRS

I arrived in Brussels on 1st March 2007, not at all sure what to expect from my experience. I would be living in Brussels for one year, working with the Jesuit Refugee Service Europe (JRS) as a Media Officer. JRS is an international organisation with offices all round the world. The JRS Europe office (where I am based) is the head office for Europe. This means the office coordinates the work of offices and contact people in over 20 countries. These offices are responsible for visiting asylum seekers in detention centres, providing legal advice, food and shelter and generally raising awareness about the situation of refugees and asylum seekers.

My own personal role with JRS is as the Media Officer. This means producing a monthly update for all staff, a bi-monthly newsletter, updating the website and assisting with arranging events. As this role suggests, any week can be quite varied and mixed.

I currently live in Brussels in shared accommodation for about 40 people. A few other EVS people live there but it is mainly home to stagières and interns from around the world. It is a very vibrant place to live as it is home to such a mix of nationalities. At any one time you could be sat with Americans, Germans, people from Finland or the Ukraine. However, being based in Brussels does mean you don’t really learn much French or Flemish! The majority of people speak English and are very happy to do so!

Brussels is a great place to live because it is made up of so many different quarters and areas. The European part is a very important part of the Brussels landscape but there is much more to Brussels than the EU.

Belgium is also very central so it means you can visit other European countries such as France, the Netherlands, Germany and Luxembourg very easily.

I am now 5 months into my EVS placement of 1 year. I am really enjoying the experience of living in another country and meeting people from around Europe and the world. My role as Media Officer means I undertake a mix of different activities and tasks.

I recently spent a week in Croatia with the Slovakian winners of the Pedro Arrupe Award 2007, a refugee awareness award run through schools and organised by JRS. The 16 year old winners designed a DVD about the lives of refugees and together we visited refugee projects and organisations working with refugees in Croatia. This was a truly amazing experience, particularly as the students were so passionate about the plight of refugees and asylum seekers. After learning about the legacy of displaced people in Croatia, the students were shown the current situation for new asylum seekers seeking refugee status from outside Croatia. We met representatives from the UNHCR and the Croatian Law Centre and were given a tour of a reception centre for asylum seekers in Kutina, near Zagreb. We were also given the opportunity to visit the cities of Split and Zagreb. We spent some time on the coast at the resort of Opatija and on the island of Lošinj, experiencing traditional Croatian food and culture.

I’m looking forward to seeing what projects I will be involved in over the coming weeks and months and hopefully will enjoy the remainder of my time in Brussels.

Liz and the winners of the Pedro Arrupe Award 2007

Click here for more pictures of projects in Belgium

Click here for a country profile of Belgium

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