SB Espoir provides weekly activities to refugee youth living in Red Cross and Fedasil centers in Brussels, engaging the youth in activities ranging from chocolate-making to bike repairs.
We stood around the table at Laurent Gerbaud’s Chocolat Workshop, in the heart of Brussels, having just finished making our own chocolate tablets — a distinctly Belgian experience. The group was made up of six young refugees, three volunteers, and Monsieur Gerbaud, the chocolatier who was hosting us for this unique workshop. A chocolate workshop would hopefully be the chance to explore a new skill, a chance to “integrate” into Belgian lifestyle and to experience this aspect of the land of fancy chocolates.
“How do I get a job here?” one of the guys asked.
As I had learned by that point, the so called “refugee youth” are just like any other teenagers. As the pattern tended to be, the life lessons and learning experiences they were taking away from this workshop weren’t the lessons that I had planned. I never considered it as a career exploration workshop, and yet, there it was.
A few minutes later, the chocolatier called out one youth for not arranging his almonds into the chocolate bars with enough care. He snapped his head up in surprise, paused for a moment, and then quickly set about fixing his work, and being more careful. SB OverSeas had planned a workshop thinking about “experiencing Brussels,” but here he was, learning that the chocolatier believed he had the capacity to do a good job, and that it was up to him to fulfill these expectations.
SB OverSeas planned a chocolate workshop, the result on those taking part however was far beyond making confectionary.
This is the philosophy of SB Espoir: growth comes through experiences. We have core values that we strive to promote consistently; civic engagement, integration and personal development through our vast range of activities.
Want to promote integration? Bring a group of “refugee youth” to a theater workshop with a group of “local youth,” and allow everyone to quickly realize that stage fright and goofy poses aren’t limited by country or origin or legal status.
Want to promote personal development? Get a terrified fifteen-year-old into a climbing harness and teach her to clip herself into a ropes course ten meters off the ground. Teach her how to be responsible for her own safety, and encourage her as she conquers her fear of heights.
Want to promote civic engagement? Hand a bike wrench to a seventeen-year-old during a bike repair workshop, and praise their technical skills. Inform them that volunteers are needed in the community bike workshop, and they’d be valued as a volunteer.
So, this is exactly what SB OverSeas does! We work with a massive team of engaged volunteers and a variety of local partners (including local businesses and other non-profit organizations) to plan weekly activities on both Saturdays and Sundays, for unaccompanied refugee youth living in Fedasil and Red Cross centers in Brussels. We want to provide as many experiences for these youths as possible, so that they have every chance to be as engaged, involved and active as any other teenager in Brussels.
SB OverSeas cannot plan exactly what will be taken away from these activites, but it’s always something different. It’s been amazing to see these young people continue to grow and learn and explore all the opportunities for them here in Brussels, and to be part of discovering their interests and passions. What used to be called SB Weekend is now SB Espoir, and the change in name parallels the change that we aim to provide — our goal is to make sure that weekends aren’t empty, stagnant time, and to instead replace them with experiences, and support these youth in becoming who they’ve always hoped to be.
 We use the term refugee youth to recognize the various degrees of protection afforded to these youth, regardless of their specific legal status.