Supporting culture, building peace & other ways of volunteering

Rotterdam has just rounded up a series of festivals and fairs, such as the International Film Festival and the Raw Art Fair. What is less known about these events, is that a lot of the work involved is actually done by volunteers, for little or no compensation.

Volunteering in the Netherlands

Volunteering is quite a common practice in the Netherlands. According to recent stats, 35 percent of the Dutch population is involved in some form of volunteer work. And not just for the sake of art. Both Amsterdam and The Hague host a number of organisations that deal with nature conservation, health care, human rights, or education, and which also look for volunteers or offer unpaid internships.

Was it a coincidence that I’ve done most of my volunteer work during 2011, the UN designated European Year of Volunteering? Whether to gain experience, contribute to a cause, have some fun or to fill up time, volunteering proved to be worthwhile. So, here is a glimpse and a couple of insights into my volunteering experience, and volunteering opportunities.

Fairs & Festivals

The internationally acclaimed Rotterdam Film Festival screens hundreds of movies over 12 days. This is also made possible by the work of around 750 volunteers, in various positions often available for non-Dutch speakers.

The crew of volunteers deal with building up the sets, catering, or in offices, and in return they receive - depending on the amount of shifts they fill - a movie pass for the festival, access to the after parties, and festival goodies such as print bags and DVDs. It’s quite a lot of work but fun and a real treat for movie goers nonetheless.

In addition, art fairs like the Raw Art Fair, where individual artists present their work, often work with volunteers. Or the international World of Witte de With, a hip summer festival in which young artists disrupt public spaces on the popular and rather vibrating Witte de Withstraat in Rotterdam, with performances, visual arts, debates and so on. During this event, I was the hostess at a couture fashion event - a good opportunity for people-watching and small talk in Dutch.

Art Galleries & Institutes

Some galleries, art institutes, or centres for contemporary art may need volunteers when, for example, they open an exhibition or organise a debate.

I personally managed my clumsiness and mixed some cocktails during such events at the V2_ Institute for the Unstable Media in Rotterdam, where I met interesting people both in front and behind the bar. The work comes with a small financial compensation, drinks and a friendly atmosphere.

Soon after graduating, I took the chance to apply what I had learnt at the United Network of Young Peacebuilders in The Hague.

Two or three times per week I would settle among the other female interns (peace doesn’t seem to attract the opposite sex), and perform some serious communications tasks, attend workshops on conflict management, enjoy cold Dutch lunches and be forgiven for my beginner mistakes.

The organisation shared the office building with other NGOs such as UNPO (Unrepresented Nations and People Organisation), the Netherlands Helsinki Committee, which promotes human rights, or EUROCLIO (European Association of History Educators), and it was at times a maze to learn about so many interesting projects. There is no shortage of issues when to comes to enthusiastic contributions.

Around your neighbourhood

Closer to our everyday reality in the Netherlands, there are also organisations such as Leger des Heils, which offer a helping hand to youngsters, elders, addicts, and other socially disadvantaged categories.

I also admire initiatives like cooking for homeless - a project initiated by It’s Me Foundation in Rotterdam. Such deeds take place in many cities in the Netherlands and are also made possible through the work of volunteers.

This is far from an exhaustive list of volunteering opportunities - more of an account of my own experience or more of the gap year I never had, if you wish. Not as far abroad, nor as life-changing to me and extremely helpful to others as I had wished, but still, this is just the beginning.

Some other online sources of information and opportunities to volunteer are available on websites such as: (Volunteerism & NGOs)

Catalina Barzescu


Catalina Barzescu

Catalina is a media and journalism graduate from the Erasmus University Rotterdam, and an avid writer and reader. Instead of returning to her Transylvanian roots when the studying was done...

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