Importance of local youth work

Belgium is known for its qualitative youth work and we are proud to share our inspirational practices with others. To do so, we give young people the floor and let them talk about their experiences.

Jaimie's story

At the age of sixteen, I joined a survival camp with Buitendoor for the first time. A week of sleeping under a tarp, long walks, self-cooking, and group activities. Two years later, I returned, and since I turned nineteen, I've been a volunteer. I didn't want to let go, wanting others to experience it too. Through a dedicated internship coordinator, I also had the chance to spend a week in Croatia, exploring the digitization of youth work. One week can have a huge impact.’

‘The camp pushed my boundaries with outdoor toilets and occasional lost walks, yet there was a comforting group atmosphere. I built friendships and connected with other young people, which boosted my self-confidence and showed that I'm just a regular guy, not an institutionalized child.’

In the past, connecting with other kids was challenging. At the age of two or three, I went to a facility—a large house where children or young people stay together for various reasons. Between fourteen and eighteen, I never invited anyone over. When friends visited, they had to leave their ID, and privacy was limited. I didn't want anyone to see where I lived. The camp, for me, was an eye-opener, revealing that I'm just like everyone else.’

Jaime 2

“The camp boosted my self-confidence and showed that I'm just a regular guy, not an institutionalised child.”


‘As a child in youth care, you face barriers. You frequently change facilities and, consequently, your place of residence. In some places, I could choose a hobby, but I had to get there myself, which made many options impossible. Sometimes, it wasn't allowed if it was a closed facility. Maintaining leisure activities was tough.’

‘Suddenly, at the camp, I spent a week among diverse young people, each with their own story and background. Everyone is welcome, including those with ADHD, panic attacks, and refugees. Young people from farms as well as from the centres of big cities joined. It was so refreshing to me. Unlike in the facilities, there was no bullying in the group.’

‘Learning to use techniques to create a close-knit group was new to me. The punitive system I grew up in created an 'us against them' atmosphere. As a volunteer on the camps, I learned how to align myself as a leader with participants by understanding the impact of listening to the needs of young people and the group. The training week shared theories, now part of my social community work studies. The quote, 'If the flower doesn't bloom, change the environment, not the flower,' has always stuck with me.’

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“Learning to use techniques to create a close-knit group was new to me.”


‘Camps, youth work, and the week in Croatia broadened my perspective. It was enriching to meet people from Finland, Slovenia, Poland, Croatia, and beyond. I also began to think about how Belgium shapes youth work. I believe Belgium demonstrates a lot of understanding towards other target groups and makes efforts to work inclusively. Reaching certain target groups is challenging. Perhaps organisations can lower barriers. I don't know. Whose responsibility is it anyway? The youth organisations? The youth facilities?’

‘What I am sure of is the necessity of involving people from the target group themselves. What you learn in theory is often black and white. In reality, things like poverty are more nuanced. I also won't know how it is with the youth anymore when I am thirty. I already noticed that with the young people in the group where I volunteer. An age difference of two or three years makes a difference. Talk to people from the target group you want to involve, and you will learn about hurdles you hadn't thought of.’


Who is Jaimie?

  • Age: 21 years old
  • Occupation: Student of Social Community Work at Karel De Grote University College in Antwerp
  • Local youth work: Volunteering with Buitendoor, a Dutch youth organisation focusing on 'experiential learning through outdoor methodologies
  • Living: Currently residing in an apartment in Antwerp