Flo' - Youth Worker for Dynamo International Mobilité in Belgium
My name is Flo’ and I work for a youth service in Brussels called Dynamo International Mobility.
We support young people with fewer opportunities who are between 13 and 25 years old. We use national and international mobility as our main tool to help them to take a step back from their situations, discover new things and develop as a person.
In March 2020 the COVID19 virus arrived in Belgium and forced us to adapt and reinvent our practice.
This was quite complicated at first because Belgium, like many other countries, went through a period of strict lockdown. We immediately stopped our on-site activities and contacted all the young people who were on volunteer and internship projects abroad to find out if they decided to continue their project or if they preferred to stay in their host association.
All the young people came back to Belgium in order to be with their families in this stressful and uncertain situation. We therefore brought the young people back by all possible means by contacting the embassies and airlines companies. At that time we only had one Italian volunteer within the association who preferred to continue his volunteering with Dynamo. We also used our community accommodation to temporarily help young foreigners transiting through Belgium who had no means of accommodation.
As a youth care service we could not close our doors because we had to be ready to receive and deal with urgent requests from young people, so a minimum physical permanence was maintained throughout the pandemic and even today.
Apart from the permanence, everyone worked from home. We kept in touch with young people through social networks and numerous telephone calls. Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, Zoom, Skype … etc. became our main tools. In order to keep finding each other and to keep the link between young people and us, we organised various online activities such as pictionary, quiz sessions, Netflix Parties (where we all watch the same film together live with a chat on the side to discuss it). We have reinvented our practice to continue to be present with the young people.
“We immediately turned to the young people to find out what they wanted to do, the answer was unanimous: to get some fresh air outside the city. “
During this period we were strongly solicited for exceptional requests (need for equipment to follow the courses at a distance, need for food aid, tension in the breasts of families etc….), and for all these requests we found solutions with computer equipment reconditioning organisations, social services offering food parcels or through mediation and listening.
At the same time, all the youth exchanges that were planned were postponed to next year. So when we learned at the end of May that the Belgian government would allow us to organise residential youth camps during the summer we immediately turned to the young people to find out what they wanted to do, the answer was unanimous: to get some fresh air outside the city.
We then quickly organized ourselves to propose different camps that would allow us to meet again and enjoy our summer after these difficult months. During July and August, all our camps took place in Belgium and in small bubbles of 10 young people maximum. We favoured outdoor camps in line with the demand of the young people such as trekking camps, itinerant bike camps, or woofing camps at farmers’ homes.
We took advantage of this period to recruit a new German volunteer via the European Solidarity Corps who arrived in September for 11 months. September was also the period when young people started to rethink their international mobility projects, as the summer was coming to an end and
windows of opportunity were opening up. Some of them took the opportunity to leave via the WorkAway platform.
As early as October, with the resurgence of COVID cases, the Belgian French-speaking national agency rightly temporarily suspended part of the international programmes it was offering. Activities with our public were no longer possible in person.
In order to meet a need of the young people of the association, we have organised a study room on our premises where it is possible to come and study and follow its courses from a distance. We have started to do online cinema / debate sessions again via the Netflix Party application. We have started to do solidarity cooking sessions in which we cook online with the young people and then bring our pastries to the hospital staff. We also go to homeless and refugee shelters to spend time with them and distribute meals. All these activities allow us to keep in touch with the young people and to remain active and supportive.
At the moment we continue to work with this operation. We continue to accompany young people who are preparing their volunteering so that they will be ready as soon as the situation improves. We try to think and find as many solutions as possible with them, especially for volunteer projects abroad where, if they follow the rules of the host country, it is always possible to leave with the European Solidarity Corps. The LE.MO.N network remains a great resource for this because several partner organisations still need volunteers, even in this period. We also keep in touch with all our partners with whom we have planned youth exchanges.
This health crisis will have given us time to question our various practices and to discover new tools to keep in touch as best we can. We have also been able to see how essential human contact is to our well-being and mental health, and that nothing really replaces physical presence.
We’ll see what happens next. We are currently obliged to move forward a little blind like many organisations and to respect the measures put in place by the Belgian government and Europe. But this is only temporary and we know that the international projects will very soon be able to resume with, hopefully, new energy in order to put real changes in place.