On saying goodbye in Brussels

20 Feb

On saying goodbye in Brussels

Long-time SB Espoir volunteer Zoheb Mashiur shares with us his experience building relationships in Brussels through the volunteer programme:

Brussels is an odd sort of town where everyone shuffles in and out. You should get used to saying goodbye – but you never really do.

The nature of our volunteering work at SB Espoir is that we give young persons going through an unfamiliar bureaucratic process far from home – children who’ve gone through unthinkable things – moments of simple human connection. The idea is to show them that we care. However, the nature of the asylum process is that we don’t see them for long. Insofar as they are here today and gone tomorrow – to hopefully a better situation – they are as Bruxelois as any foreigner. So, there is a challenge: how do you, as a volunteer, cope with caring for a young person while knowing you may not see them again a month from now? It’s a tightrope. The best of us are warm and genuinely caring while aware of the limitations of the youth-volunteer relationship. If we are distant, we are ineffective. If we are too attached, we are harmful to ourselves, our organisation, and most of all to the children. I personally am scared of the latter possibility, and tend to be more reserved with the youth than I should be.

I have nothing but tremendous respect for those of us who demonstrate exactly what an SB volunteer should be, and do so effortlessly. They just are.

And it is hard when Brussels takes them away from us.

I write this in dedication to Rupa and Abdullo. We bid them goodbye at a dinner on the 25th of last month. I won’t detail what happened, except that it was as such farewells should be – full of friends and colleagues, with good food and cake and conversation, and the bittersweet knowledge that both these remarkable people are on their way to do fantastic things.

My attitude sounds hyperbolic. Exaggerated. It is not.

Rupa is someone I have known for some time, being a fellow student at my university – now off to finish her dissertation at home. She is a small ball of energy and happiness – and tremendous creativity, as I discovered through SB. From the very first day we volunteered together, she brought out the very best in the youths, and together they made genuinely beautiful things. It is difficult not to miss her.

Abdullo, meanwhile, was someone I will always regret not getting to know better. I always found him a character, in his formal clothes and nice suit – but no one threw himself into the activities the way he did. Whenever he was around, there was no shortage of youths at our activities. He had the sort of big personality that pushes you to engage and enjoy yourself. It’s incredibly important to have someone with that presence on the team, because so much of our work involves just breaking the ice and convincing the youths to just participate and give it a try.

Both Rupa and Abdullo brought out the best in the youths, and represented SB at its best. It feels odd to know they aren’t here anymore, just as odd as it is to go the centers where we volunteer and not see the familiar faces. Brussels does that – for various reasons.

People leave, but people come. My first time volunteering since the farewell dinner was last Saturday. There were new faces. Youths were hesitant about us and our activities. We missed Rupa and Abdullo. Yet – there were new volunteers as well.

It worked out. It was a good day.

The writer is a volunteer with SB Espoir and an MA student in International Migration at the Brussels School of International Studies.

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