In our fast-paced, ever-on society, people are struggling to cope more than ever before. We spend too much time glued to our screens and not enough with each other. Add to this the stress of moving to a new country and the ensuing culture shock, and it comes as little surprise that organisations like the Community Help Service, or CHS for short, are seeing a steady rise in requests for support. Offering a wide range of services, the non-profit organisation is a welcome resource for the English-speaking expatriate population of Belgium.
'We receive a lot of calls from people who find themselves at a loss when they first move to Belgium. '
“We’re here for anyone who wants to express themselves in English,” CHS board member Michael Penning tells us. “Our Helpline is staffed by volunteers who offer a listening ear to anyone who needs information or is struggling with a problem. The calls we receive vary as widely as the support we offer. A lot of our calls are fairly straightforward requests for information. Where to find a notary who understands the difference between Belgian, American or Indian legislation. Where to find a GP or medical specialist who speaks English – it’s so important that you can clearly express what the problem is, especially if you’re not confident in your adoptive language – phone numbers for emergency electricians, plumbers or locksmiths … we’ve built up quite an extensive database since we first opened our ears in 1971!”
Offering a 24/7 Helpline, a Mental Health Centre and an Educational Testing Programme, CHS has grown to an organisation which comprises 18 multilingual therapists and some 40 volunteers, as well as a board of trustees. And although English is the main language spoken, some ten languages are spoken by the team of therapists, ensuring clients from all over the world are offered the very best of support. Where the Helpline is staffed by a team of trained and dedicated volunteers, the Mental Health Centre is staffed by a team of health care professionals – psychologists, psychotherapists, psychiatrists – who are there for adults, adolescents and children alike.
“We receive a lot of calls from people who find themselves at a loss when they first move to Belgium. Rather than drinking their evenings away at the local Irish pub, they want to play cards with likeminded people, join a cricket or tennis club or some other kind of activity. On the other end of the spectrum, we also deal with more pressing calls for help. Very occasionally we’re confronted with someone who is thinking about ending it all. Thankfully, when someone reaches out to you, they’re usually looking for a way out in the positive sense of the word. Much as they might maintain the rope is ready in the garage, the fact that they are calling means they just want to be heard. There are a lot of lonely people out there and lending a listening ear can really help make the difference.”
“We’re making a concerted effort to reach out to more youngsters and adolescents by going out to schools, and they are increasingly finding their way to us too. Youngsters today get so tied up with their smartphones and video games that they crave a personal exchange. They don’t want to talk to their parents, teacher or friends – convinced they won’t understand them anyway or embarrassed to say what’s bothering them – and just want a little guidance.”
The Educational Testing Programme in particular has proven to be popular with CHS clients, as the psycho-educational assessment programme is the only one of its kind in the Benelux. Aimed at children between the ages of 3 and 18, it is there for children who are experiencing difficulty in the classroom, struggle with homework or finding it difficult to pay attention in class. “We understand parents would like to have their child tested before the start of the new school year, but you have to match the right therapist with the child. It all depends on the problems they’re experiencing,” explains Michael. “Interestingly, we sometimes see that when a child has for example been found to suffer from attention deficit disorder, the parents want to get tested too! If you are struggling with any type of question at all, please don’t hesitate to reach out to CHS. Their team of highly trained volunteers and therapists are on hand to help you understand and adjust to the demands of life as an expatriate. It can take just one comforting phone call to help someone through a crisis or set up a course of therapeutic treatment.”
“Relying on the support of volunteers to ‘woman or man’ the phone lines and run the administrative office, CHS needs help too,” Michael tells us. “We don’t ask for much, but the time people are able to give us is very valuable. Whether they want to help on the Helpline or are happier doing administrative tasks, or even helping with our fundraising efforts, we’d love to hear from anyone who can spare a few hours during the week or weekend. It’s important our volunteers are good listeners and have a fluent grasp of the English language.”
The Community Help Service annual calendar is much more than a calendar. It’s full of useful, practical and sometimes ‘out-of–the-way’ information for both newcomers to Brussels and long-term residents. Costing €10 each, sales are an important way of raising funds. CHS is offering a discount on multiple purchases for readers of ReLocate and for ABRA members who would like to include them in their welcome packs and a sale-or-return arrangement can be discussed.
Helpline (24/7) – 02 648 4014
Book an appointment – 02 647 6780