Starting in November 2015 and until the fall of 2018, I volunteered for a French grass-roots NGO called Réfugiés Bienvenue. The organisation was created by a group of Sorbonne students, one of whom was my sister. The NGO’s primary purpose is to provide housing to homeless asylum seekers in private people’s homes. It also organises regular social events, and ensures – with the help of partner organisations, and dedicated volunteers – that asylum seekers have access to legal advice, health care (both physical and mental).
I first joined as a volunteer, mostly participating in events and helping out with the website. I was elected by the association’s members as Vice-President in April 2016, and then as President in July 2017. In these roles, I participated in the oversight of the association’s activities with the rest of the committee, and always in close discussion with members. I also organised housing opportunities. At times, I acted as mediator between asylum seekers and their hosts in the rare cases when they couldn’t solve conflicts arising in their cohabitation alone. I recruited new volunteers and worked to improve internal communications. I worked to develop and nourish partnerships with various other NGOs, as well as with Airbnb. I also represented the NGO at a number of public talks and events, and in the press. I left the organisation in the fall of 2018.
Five years on, over 150 asylum seekers have benefited from Réfugiés Bienvenue‘s housing program, with 30 to 40 people housed at any one time. On average, they are housed for 11 months, and 90% of them have accessed a stable job and/or housing on exiting the program. The team is professionalising: they’ve been able to hire a housing program coordinator and social worker in 2019.
You can learn more on their website www.refugiesbienvenue.com (in french only).