Histories vzw, Ghent, Belgium – January 17-21, 2022 

The last educational meeting in Belgium was also able to take place despite the covid pandemic. From 17 to 21 January the partners from Finland, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain visited three Flemish cities: Ghent, Antwerp and Leuven. The aim of the week was to present various inspiring volunteer work in the Flemish heritage sector. During their stay the partners saw that inclusive volunteer work does not only have to be a ‘win’ for the volunteer, but can also give an extra layer of meaning to the heritage organization itself. 

The visit was kicked off with a visit to Ghent. This city is home to the Dr. Guislain Museum, whose permanent collection includes the history of psychiatry and works by artists with a psychiatric past. The partners met two volunteers who found satisfaction in a job again after a severe depression. The museum is a safe environment for them because the staff have the knowledge and expertise to supervise the volunteers properly. The DSMG, a Ghent documentation centre for regional history, works on a tailor-made basis with the volunteer. Community service workers and volunteers with physical or mental disabilities are given a personal welcome here. Their personal story and background is not shared with the rest of the team. DSMG was the only organisation visited where only volunteers work. They have shown the partners that volunteers can do a tremendous amount of work over several years and that they can get a warm social network and personal fulfilment in doing it. 

The second day was dedicated to Antwerp. The visit to the Red Star Line Museum showed the story of the millions of people in history who sought a better life in the New World through the Antwerp harbour. In this museum, the partners met volunteers with a migration background, who have found a new home within the exhibition spaces. The story that the museum tells is also their story, and their personal experience gives an extra layer to this history of migration. The museum also has various language programmes, which support the non-Dutch-speaking volunteers in learning the Dutch language. Museum Plantin Moretus, the second visited museum, also works with a special volunteer pool. Here, the partners enjoyed a guided tour by a visually impaired volunteer, who used tactile elements to give the story of the Antwerp printing family a new dementia. 

On the last day, the partners visited the old student city of Leuven. Here they visited PARCUM, the Flemish museum and expertise centre for religious art and culture. Volunteers from various religious backgrounds, such as nature or eastern religions, are active here. They work as ‘dialogue guides’, approaching Catholic art from their own religious framework.