Monday, May 21, 2018

Refugees are Not Alone

Jean Paul Hudson
Jean-Paul and Jens run a project called Hêbê, a non-profit organisation running mixed sports projects in Brussels. Shortly, they are about to run for RANA (Refugees Are Not Alone), a Belgian NGO involved with refugees and asylum seekers, to facilitate their social and professional integration in Belgium. This is their story. 

Tell us a bit about yourselves - what do you do, a little about your professional and personal background.

Jean-Paul: I am half-French, half-British and found a home in Brussels for the past ten years. I was initially attracted to Brussels by a professional career in European Affairs, but the more I live in Brussels, the more I have become fond of the city itself. So besides my daily job, where I work as a Public Affairs Manager for the European Container Glass Federation, I wanted to make a difference in the town that I live in. Too often, those of us who work in the "EU bubble" are disconnected from Brussels itself, and I think that's a shame. So, since 2013, in my spare time, I am also Secretary General of Hêbê, a non-profit organisation running mixed sports projects in Brussels. 

Jens: I first came to Brussels when I was a young student in Germany, around 14 years ago. I visited EU institutions and met NGOs, but was most impressed by the mix of people in Brussels. And I remember thinking: I should live here one day! That’s what I did a few years later, when I moved to Brussels to study European Economics at the ULB University. I was lucky to also find a student job in the European Parliament, which then became my first real job once I had graduated. For the past 8 years, I have been working as transport policy advisor in the office of a Member of Parliament. And that’s also where the idea for our refugee work was born: When discussing the extreme emergency of refugees around the Brussels’ North Station. A few weeks ago, I changed jobs. I now work as a freelancer on sustainable mobility and teach at university.
Tell us about your run. What are your goals?

Jean-Paul: Hêbê Cool Runnings is a new project of Hêbê. We started it two years ago, with the aim of developing a running club and a weekly fitness programme open to everyone. That way, some of the runners can compete in races (marathons, semi-marathons etc...) across Belgium, but the project also provides an easy and regular access to sport in general. The 20KM of Brussels is an iconic race, which attracts around 40.000 runners every year. This year is the first time that we are registered as a formal running club. It is also an opportunity to run for a cause, and the group was keen to support RANA - Refugees Are Not Alone - because Hêbê and RANA share the fundamental values of being open and inclusive, and both are acting locally. We hope that by this project, more people will hear about the great work being done by RANA, and that we will be able to welcome some of the people RANA has supported into our own projects.

Can you explain the situation on ground pertaining to refugees?

Jens: The needs of refugees have changed since the emergency in 2015 and 2016, but many of them still need support. When they arrived, it was all about finding emergency accommodation, clothes, food and diapers. Now there are not many newcomers anymore, but the refugees now need to build their new life. They often feel alone, find it hard to understand how Belgium works and need to find their own apartments, a job or schools for their children. That’s where RANA comes into play: We offer a mentorship programme to help them overcome these obstacles. We actually call it our “buddy programme” because we think that friendship is the best basis for doing things together. We get a lot of support – from our volunteers, our donors and partner organisations - but the Belgian government often tries to make things difficult. This is very disappointing to see.

In your work so far, have you seen any successful stories as a result of your aid work in the past for refugees?

Jens: Yes, definitely. We’ve seen smaller and bigger success stories, and that’s what motivates us. They range from helping someone register for a language course or a school to finding an apartment for a family. And we have refugees who become IT experts, run art projects with Harvard University or set up their own companies. But the most beautiful success story of all is when refugees become volunteers at RANA. They take control of their own lives and then say: I want to give back and help others! In my eyes that’s the best thing that can happen!
How can people support you?

Jean-Paul: We have set up a fundraising platform, with the objective of raising 2000€. The funds will go directly to RANA to assist them in their daily tasks. Maintaining a non-profit organisation through a network of volunteers is a huge challenge, something that we face also as Hêbê. So we hope that our contribution will provide some extra support for the important work they are doing with refugees in Belgium, and we would be delighted to count on your support!
Link to the fundraising platform: https://www.gofundme.com/hcr4rana