Wannes Huybrechts: "When doing volunteering we should make sure that the volunteering activity is as inclusive as possible"

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  • Wannes Huybrechts, European Volunteer Ambassadors 2024.
    Wannes Huybrechts, European Volunteer Ambassadors 2024. Source: Wannes Huybrechts.

Wannes Huybrechts is one of the three European Volunteer Ambassadors 2024, announced by the Centre European for Volunteering (CEV).

Huybrechts highlights the essence of European volunteering through his experiences and perspectives and underscores the importance of accessibility and inclusion in volunteering. He explores how the European Volunteer Ambassadors 2024 aim to coordinate activities to make volunteering more accessible, addressing both local and European challenges to promote citizen participation and innovation in volunteering.

Congratulations on joining the European Volunteer Ambassadors 2024! Tell us, how does it feel to be named Ambassador and what are your first impressions about taking on this important role?

I feel honoured that I get to represent volunteers in Europe. My first impression is that it is fun, very interesting but also a very heavy task for someone with my medical condition that limits my energy levels and mobility. 

As Ambassador, you join Lotte Rens and Edona Shehaj. How do you plan to collaborate with your fellow Ambassadors to maximize the impact of your efforts and achieve common goals?

We try to split the meetings between us, communication is key among us. The goal we set out to achieve is to coordinate our volunteering activities in this role and we would like to focus on that.

What are your main objectives as Ambassador of the European Capital of Volunteering? Are there any specific projects or focuses you would like to pursue during your tenure?

Personally it is important to make volunteering more accessible for people with a disability, physical barriers are a major obstacle. It is fundamental to have accessible infrastructures  (public buildings, toilets, etc) to let people with disabilities feel more included  in today's society. 

Additionally the institutions should be more visibly and vocally thankful to volunteers for their contribution and highlight their efforts.

The CEV mentions that ambassadors have a crucial role in disseminating the value and recognition of volunteering in Europe, also connecting with the Belgian Presidency of the Council of the EU in 2024. How do you plan to address this crucial role and what are your strategies to reach wider audiences across Europe?

I would like to focus on the added value that volunteering offers, I think that Belgium has an added value here because there are already a lot of great initiatives, but I think it is also important to note that we can always learn something new, which is why I think it is important to look at this from a European perspective and to listen to other volunteers from different countries and to take this information with us to the  Belgian Presidency of the EU and actually do something with it. 

What are the unique challenges and opportunities facing your city as a future European Volunteer Capital and how do you plan to address them during your time as Ambassador?

The challenges I see are mostly in accessibility: physical accessibility (infrastructure), but also the accessibility of the initiatives for the volunteers and their participation.

Wannes, as a volunteer at Elegast and Basisschool ’t Spoor in Antwerp, can you share any specific projects you are currently working on or have recently worked on that highlights the importance of volunteering in education and community support? How has this work influenced your perspective on the power of volunteering in educational and community settings?

I volunteer in a support school in Antwerp-North, for the children it is not only important to have engaged teachers, but that there are also warm volunteers that know the neighbourhood, their home-situation and the environment they are growing up in. Because I grew up in the neighbourhood and the school, I know parents and places of residence of the children which makes me very approachable. Occasionally they also have their sorrows and they need someone to give them a hug or a pat on the back which is more accessible with a volunteer. 

At Elegast the context is a bit different, here I feel very warmly received. At Elegast it is to help and be helped. I can help people who are lacking digital skills but if I have troubles or problems I can go there and ask for help.

How do you plan to integrate your experiences as a volunteer at Elegast and Basisschool ’t Spoor in Antwerp into promoting volunteering at the European level? What unique aspects of these local experiences would you like to highlight to inspire a broader audience? 

For me it is important to highlight the local dimension of the volunteering projects where I’m involved. I think it can be inspirational the appreciation that I receive when I volunteer and the projects’ accessibility. 

Citizen participation is essential for the success of any volunteer initiative. What are your strategies to encourage greater community participation and motivate more people to join the volunteer movement? 

I think participating in events and the use of social media can be useful to encourage people to volunteer. When doing volunteering we should make sure that the volunteering activity is as inclusive as possible. This means: making sure foreigners, people with physical and/or mental disabilities, elderly people or people with financial limitations all feel welcomed. 

Innovation in volunteering is key to addressing changing problems in society. Do you have any innovative projects or ideas you would like to implement to improve the effectiveness and sustainability of volunteering in your city?

In our neighbourhoods we use an app called HOPPLR which is a sort of exchange between neighbours where you can offer or ask for help, unfortunately it is still very difficult to access for people who are not digitally up to date. This is why it is so important to have more projects like Digi-Thursday, which is a digital support service provided with volunteers by Elegast that won the “2022 Federal Poverty Reduction Prize '' on digital inclusion together with SAAMO Antwerpen and the City of Antwerp. It is important that digital tools are accessible, visible and known for everyone in the neighbourhood and volunteers play a crucial role in making this a reality.

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