Volunteering in Wattrelos- a balance between savoir faire and savoir être

It’s been already three months since I’ve started my volunteering placement in The Association of Social Centers in Wattrelos and my immersion in the French culture so, I thought it’s a good moment to share with you some impressions.

First and foremost, I think it’s worth remembering that I joined the headquarters’ team as a project partner volunteer in order to help out my fellows with implementing and disseminating in the local community four projects about cohesion policy, more exactly, about social innovation: EYES, VRAC, SBS, SPEED YOU UP.

EYES is the project through which the cities from NWE region, like Wattrelos, develop, test and implement a new methodology to promote youth entrepreneurship and employment, especially for NEETs aged 15-34. The method includes digital tools and coaches that help the target group to make use of regular business and employment support schemes offered in the participating cities (which they would not consider using otherwise). In this project I had the opportunity to participate in the testing phase of the tools and I even joined an internal training session. It was a great discover of a new approach, we dived deeper into entrepreneurial skills and we exchanged good practices.

VRAC aims to reduce the risk of school delay and early school leaving for vulnerable children. Moreover, the project wants to develop a new organizational model for education that accommodates the complex situation of disadvantaged children, specifically in deprived areas. One of the principals that VRAC uses is “It takes a village to raise a child.” And based on that and on the wraparound method it builds up around the target group an adapted caring system. It was really interesting for me until now to discover this method and to find out how it is locally implemented through meetings and workshops for those concerned. I know now that, at least locally, it is very important to approach every child in a very soft manner, gradually, and according to their needs.it is also important to mention that all the specialists involved create a team and act together in child’s favor.

SBS-Step By Step it’s a project that empowers men to move from poor health or isolation towards healthy social participation and active engagement to the labour market. And the used model is “hands on activities.” On a local level I had the chance to discover the space that the beneficiaries created by themselves and to hear testimonials from those who joined cooking workshops or different DIY sessions that took place in the centers. All of them are glad they managed to expand their social network, to rebuild their self-esteem and even to find a place of work.

Speed You Up- It’s the newest project started in the region and its main objective is to decrease the number of (at-risk) NEETs by improving their employability through a co-created entrepreneurship program that enhances entrepreneurial skills by creating entrepreneur hubs both in secondary schools with a high number of at-risk NEET students and in local communities with a high number of hard to reach NEETs. From within these hubs, young people develop and create pop-ups that answer to the specific needs of the deprived communities in which they live or go to school. As this project is still at the beginning I decided to observe more and I could notice what an important role cross-border communication plays, particularly when it is the main approach.

All of these concepts and strategies which I had the occasion to discover and to bring my contribution to are very good learning contexts for me and I understand more and more that “think globally, act locally” it’s not just a saying but a very useful “modus vivendi”. And just by having this “aha” in mind, besides all the cross-border actions we develop constantly here, I am also often involved in French language classes, workshops about parenting and eco-DIY sessions. Just because I consider all of them being really needed locally and I have the chance to put into practice my passions. Additionally, as I am hosted by a French family, when I am not working I am lucky enough to have some lumps of the French cusine, or a bit of a local dialect which make this experience even more interesting.

For now, as I still have three months left my focus is on implementing my ideas in the region so that I can literally invest my resources and leave a footprint before leaving. I also hope Corona will allow me explore at least the surroundings soon. I cannot wait to share with you the final outcomes. Stay tuned!

Elena Sauca

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