Why waking up at 5 am every Monday and going to the Gare du Nord in Brussels to serve breakfast for the refugees is the best way to kick off the week? Volunteering experience – immersion.


Well, first look at the alternatives. Staying in bed – undeniably nice. Having a long coffee with a look at what happened around the world while we were in the Orpheus kingdom – informative option. Repeating Spanish lesson before the dawn or jogging in Parc Leopold – ambitious. Cuddling with a loved one (or a cat, as an alternative) – undoubtedly pleasant. Then why I still prefer to wake up and half-asleep, half-awake go to the Gare du Nord?

First of all, because it is not self-centred, and it knocks “me” off the pedestal. Unlike the above-mentioned options, it gives the opportunity to see the situation that I usually look away from. The simple gesture of preparing a meal for a stranger, without expecting anything in return, is the lesson of humility and bring incomparably more than a cosy Monday morning.

Serve the City, party for refugees at “La Ferme du parc maximilien” 2017 ©Samir Sam

It is important to realise that the person in front of us has spent all night in the cold building of the train station, without a bed, a pillow, a proper blanket, without a perspective of a hot shower, very often without a loved-one, without a clear plan for the near future, sometimes in despair, sometimes with a smile, sometimes talkative, another time silent and focused on the meal, has the same needs and the similar dreams us we are. Usually, we tend to surround ourselves with the people who are alike, and Gare du Nord gives an opportunity to get off the bubble for a moment and see the daily struggle which is happening literally around the corner.

Without judging, feeling better about ourselves (after all, we are the “good ones” who are helping), feeling worse about ourselves (lamenting about the world inequalities has never fed anybody), trying to solve all their problems at once, it is worth to take action. Taking a bread, putting a chocolate cream on it, preparing a coffee, handing a sandwich – it will certainly not change the world. However, it will make a cold, Gare-du-Nord morning a bit easier for someone. The Serve the City motto – “showing kindness in a practical way” – is exactly what all of this is about. No more and no less. Personally, I think it is enough to find the strength to wake up next time.

by Magdalena Smenda

ELP fellow

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