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CSR – Corporate Social Responsibility

This blog piece on the importance of honouring Black Europe was written by guest writers from ENAR

21 May is World Day for Cultural Diversity. Yet the European institutions are still struggling to include the estimated 60 million ethnic and religious minorities living in the European Union, even though they are based in Brussels, a cosmopolitan city where 182 nationalities coexist.

It is therefore fitting that this day comes just a few days after the EU hosted its first ever People of African Descent Week in the European Parliament, co-organised by the European Parliament Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup, the Transatlantic Minority Political Leadership Conference, the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) and Each One Teach One (EOTO). This landmark event titled Honouring Black Europe, was dedicated to the Black European experience; the contributions Black people have made in Europe now and throughout history, but also the ongoing realities of racism, discrimination and violence they face.

There are an estimated 15-20 million people of African descent in Europe and a significant number of Black people have lived in Europe for centuries. This population is heterogeneous and diverse and so are their life realities and experiences, which remain very often invisible.

This week therefore aimed to raise awareness of the history and contributions of Europe’s Black population, in particular in light of the current United Nations International Decade for people of African descent (2015-2024).

Yet these contributions are very seldom recognised and valued – whether it is in media and political discourses or in education curriculum and cultural life. For instance, following World War II, citizens of the British Empire from the Caribbean travelled to the United Kingdom as part of the ‘Windrush Generation’. They became nurses, doctors, teachers, manual workers, cleaners, and drivers and helped to rebuild post-war Britain, contributions which remain unacknowledged today. There have been Black people living and making history in Germany for over 300 years, such as famous Afro-German poet, activist and educator May Ayim. When Black activists – especially women – are visible and vocal, they are exposed to critical levels of orchestrated hatred, such as journalist Rokhaya Diallo in France.

In a context where Black people experience some of the highest rates of discrimination in Europe, valuing these contributions but also recognising Afrophobia – or anti-Black racism – as a specific and structural form of racism is crucial.

In particular, European countries must acknowledge the legacy of the slave trade and colonialism, which led to deeply rooted stereotypes about Black people. These prejudices continue to this day and feed into the collective imagination and traditions such as blackfacing celebrations in several European countries.

Raising awareness of this history starts at school, by better including the teaching of the history of people of African descent in curricula, with a focus on their important contribution to European societies, and removing racist and inaccurate depictions in textbooks. States should also organise events, days of actions (e.g. Black History Month), documentaries, exhibitions at museums and cultural institutions, to promote and increase knowldege on Black history in Europe, and the cultures and heritages of people of African descent. European States should also take steps towards official recognition of histories of enslavement and colonialism and their profound and continuing effect on people of African descent. Such recognition could come in the form of e.g. memorial sites, museums, official apologies to actively contribute to restoring the dignity of victims and their descendants.

In order to truly ‘Honour Black Europe’, the European Union and national governments must recognise racism against Black people as a specific form of racism and address disparities in access to education and employment, increasing levels of hate crime, and violence and discrimination in the criminal justice system.

It’s high time Black people and other people of colour in Europe can be fully part of our society – politically, economically, socially and culturally – and of a shared future where diversity and equal rights are celebrated.

Ron Aston, Chairman of Interview

Ron Aston is the chairman of the Wednesday Club. The Wednesday Club is an English speaking social club open to elderly people of all nationalities. The club meets on the first and third Wednesday of the month. It was created with the aim of combatting the prevalence of loneliness amongst the elderly. The Wednesday Club is one of the Corporate Social Responsibility charities affiliated with the British Chamber.

When and how did you first hear about the Wednesday Club?

I heard about it through a friend. It began with Dr Lydia Jones, an English doctor in Belgium who realised all of her older patients were only seeing her from month to month. The doctor approached a friend, Deborah, a warden of the then Scandinavian church. She enquired about whether her and the doctor could hire a room twice a month. This is how it started.

I was on the board of British Charitable Fund at the time and now I am chairman.

We have about 20 ladies and gentlemen who attend. One of our members is 98 and we have a few who are in their late 80s and early 90s. We have around the same number of volunteers. We do ferry people to the club if the need arises but this is not always necessary.

What got you interested in getting involved with the Wednesday Club?

I took pre-retirement seven years ago and decided I was going to do charity work. I worked with the British Charitable Fund and the Royal British Legion. It was through my connections there that I heard about the Wednesday Club.

How has the Wednesday Club changed since it was founded?

When I first started at the Wednesday Club it had been around for 8 – 9 months. They used to play games like Bridge, Bingo and Scrabble. When you play games you don’t talk to the people around you but rather, concentrate on the game.

Dr Jones wanted people to interact so we don’t play as many games anymore. Instead, we sit down over tea, coffee and sandwiches and simply spend time to talk to each other.

The people who come treat each other as friends rather than people coming along to the club and this is what is important in fighting off loneliness. It’s about building meaningful friendships and building up a supportive community.

What are some reasons that people should get involved and how can they get involved?

If you are a person who is interested in charity work or simply like to meet people, then the Wednesday Club is a good place to get involved in. You can get involved as a member or volunteer by going to our website http://www.the-wednesday-club.org/.

How has the Wednesday Club changed the lives of those who attend in Brussels and what impact has it made?

The people who come get a lot out of it. A person reached out to one of our staff saying that he received a phone call 6 – 8 months ago. It was about their Dad who was in Brussels and he retired and became lonely. When we asked if he was in need of financial support, the son confirmed that his Dad was just lonely and needed support. Now the father comes to the Wednesday Club every time, he has gained companionship and is no longer stuck at home by himself. Loneliness breeds loneliness. This is why the Wednesday Club is important to elderly people as it provides a place to meet people and form connections.

Why is it important for people who are outside of the Wednesday Club to know about it?

There might be people out there who are lonely and this would give them an outlet. You don’t have to be British to join. We have Belgians, Germans and Brits and we are open to people of all nationalities. If they find out about it, it would help defeat loneliness. It’s also important because depression has risen but the topic of depression is less stigmatised than before. Loneliness can contribute to feelings of depression and this is something that we work towards preventing.

 

Saturday, the 27th January, marks the annual International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, as designated by the United Nations (UN).

It’s a day to commemorate and remember the Holocaust, and reflect on the 6 million Jewish people killed, as well as the persecution and deaths of Roma, LGBT and disabled people.

World leaders and survivors speak out around the Holocaust, its aftermath and why it should never be forgotten.

Much emphasis is put on the need for future generations to learn about the Holocaust and for the world to work towards preventing genocide. This year the theme is “Holocaust Remembrance and Education: Our Shared Responsibility”.

In Britain, the 11th of November is the day most synonymous with Remembrance, however, Remembrance is something that takes place all year round.

There are many different reference points, such as the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, which give people a chance to reflect on the horrors and lessons of previous conflicts and historical events, and the importance of remembering them.

Britain as a nation has strong links to the international Jewish community and has a growing one within it too. It was also British soldiers that liberated the infamous Bergen-Belson concentration camp in Nazi Germany, in 1945.

The Royal British Legion in its role as National Custodian of Remembrance exists to ensure that the memory and sacrifice from the First World War to present day conflicts are not forgotten.

Today the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, which is part of The Royal British Legion, will hold a Holocaust Memorial Day chapel service to mark the day.

We are proud of our partnership with a range of Jewish community organisations across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and we remember the 41,000 British Jews who fought in World War One, and the 65,000 who fought in World War Two.

We work closely with Jewish Veteran Associations like The Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women to raise awareness that the percentage of Jewish men and women killed on active service during the two wars was the highest of any ethnic group, and of the Jewish soldiers who were recognised for their bravery, including eight Victoria Cross recipients.

Every year the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women join 10,000 other veterans at the Legion’s March Past the Cenotaph on the 11th November, in Whitehall.

As WW2 fades from living memory, the challenge that faces Remembrance as a whole, not just the Legion, is maintaining the events in modern consciousness and making them relevant to younger audiences.  This is a challenge we cannot take on our own, however.  It is therefore that I urge business leaders to not only reflect on the Holocaust today, but to think about how you can leverage your company’s history, resources and communities to help keep the torch of Remembrance alive and ensure it is passed on to the next generation in good stead.

Just like the theme of the Annual International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust states – Remembrance is a shared responsibility.

 This Friday is the International day of safety and health at work. Your health at work is vital as it effects all aspects of your life. We look at stress and burnout in the workplace with the Community Help Service which is a non-profit organisation helping to solve a range of difficulties encountered by the people who turn to it in times of stress through therapeutic methods. You can see more of their work on their website here.

Mental Health in the Workplace

The World Health Organization defines positive mental health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community. Employees with good mental health will perform better in their work.”

Work is excellent for both our mental and physical health. Research has consistently shown that good quality work can boost and protect health.

Features of working life that are known to promote mental health include:

  • Being valued at work
  • Having meaningful work
  • Being able to make decisions on issues that affect you
  • Being adequately trained for the work that you do
  • Having the resources you need to do the work
  • Having a job that is well designed and not overloaded
  • Having work that is well organised in terms of work schedules and time off

A further positive element of the workplace concerns organisational culture, which can be supportive of mental health and wellbeing. Elements of culture such as management and communication style can contribute to positive mental wellbeing. In addition, positive management practices in relation to such areas as participation in decision making and providing timely and supportive feedback can contribute positively to employee wellbeing. Another vital element is the promotion of a positive health and safety culture. Social support in the workplace is also essential – colleagues can help individuals share, cope with and overcome personal problems.

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The Great Brussels Bake Off with Chair of the CHS Board Geoff Brown (right)

Stress is not always a bad thing. Some stress helps one stay focused, motivated and meet new challenges in the workplace. However, when positive work features are missing or inadequate we find that satisfaction declines at work and consequently mental health is adversely affected. When stress exceeds one’s ability to cope, it stops being helpful and starts causing damage to one’s physical and mental health.

 

Burn out’ is currently a very popular diagnosis which is mostly used in the workplace, particularly by self-diagnosis. People like the diagnosis as it implies an excellent work ethic and makes the experience less personal.  Whereas it is an extremely helpful concept, reflecting contemporary unhealthy work circumstances and ways to improve them, it can also sometimes camouflage and distract from the more complex clinical picture of a given client. This means that it is very important that we give each presenting client particular attention to understand their particular psychological profile and differentiate burnout from more serious mental health concerns.

Christina Maslach is an eminent “burn out” researcher. She defines “burn out” by the presence of three symptoms:

  • emotional, mental and physical exhaustion (complete breakdown),
  • losing interest and motivation for work and
  • being inefficient at the work place.

 

At CHS we often see clients who are experiencing stress in the workplace. These clients seek our help at different stages. Some are just starting to feel overwhelmed by work demands; others are bordering on burnout and others come to us when they have already ‘burnt out’ and are physically and emotionally unable to return to work. We try to help them at each stage.

Typically we find that many young and ambitious employees will overwork, ignoring work life balance so that work becomes too central. This is often to the detriment of social life and even adequate self-care. Often these ambitious individuals will forgo social engagements, exercise and other necessary parts of daily life in order to work unreasonably long hours. Some work up to 18 hours a day. This is obviously not realistic or even humanly possible to maintain.

Some of the warning signs that we as clinicians at CHS look for are the following:

  • Feeling anxious or depressed
  • Anger and irritability
  • Sense of meaningless, pointlessness and loss of sense of purpose
  • Feelings of being unappreciated
  • Low energy /exhaustion
  • Anxiety, particularly feelings of panic
  • Memory problems
  • Concentration problems
  • Stomach problems
  • Social withdrawal
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Using alcohol or drugs to cope

 

How to prevent burnout?

Some useful tips to stay mentally healthy at work and prevent burnout include the following:

  • Clarify your job description – ask your supervisor for an updated description of your duties
  • Ask for new duties if work is becoming tired and has lost its challenge
  • Prioritize tasks, tackling high priority or more challenging tasks first
  • Break overwhelmingly large projects into small steps that are more manageable
  • Delegate responsibility and don’t try to do everything yourself
  • Be willing to compromise
  • Adjust perfectionistic or unrealistic work standards which set you up to fall short
  • Change negative focus which can drain your energy and motivation and try to see what is positive about your work
  • View work tasks as challenges and not as difficult obstacles to overcome
  • Ask for help by turning to your co-workers for support
  • Create a balanced schedule, making time for yourself to regain your energy reserves and prevent becoming depleted and plan regular breaks
  • Don’t over-commit yourself to doing work that you cannot manage
  • Take time off if burn out seems inevitable and make sure you recharge your batteries
  • Support your health with exercise – make time to exercise because activity that raises your heartrate and makes you sweat is a very effective way of lifting your mood, increasing energy, sharpening focus and relaxing both mind and body
  • Make considered choices regarding food such as minimizing sugar and refined carbs
  • Reducing your intake of food that can adversely affect your mood such as alcohol or caffeine
  • Eat more omega-3 fatty acids to give your mood a boost
  • Avoid nicotine and drink alcohol in moderation
  • Turn off screens an hour before bedtime – light emitted from phones and tablets suppress your body’s production of melatonin and may disrupt sleep
  • Replace stimulating activities with calming activities before bedtime

 

If you are feeling overwhelmed and exhausted to the point that you are no longer able to make the necessary changes to prevent a crash, you can call CHS to set up a confidential appointment with one of our therapists on (+32) 02 6476780.

wednesday-club

The British Chamber is proud to be supporting 4 different charitable organisations in Belgium through our affiliation with the Brussels British Community Association. This week Chairman Ron Aston introduces The Wednesday Club.

The Wednesday Club is the brainchild of  Dr Lydia Jones, a general practitioner working in La Hulpe who realised a few years ago that she was the only person that all her elderly patients saw from visit to visit. “Loneliness can be an increasing problem for older people, and when they are living away from their home country it can be particularly difficult to cope with,” she says. “An English-speaking social club would offer a good place for friendships to grow and mutual support to develop.” Because of this she approached a friend who was involved with the then Swedish church and The Wednesday Club was first born.

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Based in Brain-l’Alleud , just south of Brussels, The Wednesday Club provides a caring and secure environment within which members can enjoy each other’s company and, if they wish, participate in a range of interesting and stimulating activities. The Club is a secular organisation, open to those of any religion or none and is predominantly English speaking. We have a band of willing volunteers who ferry our members to and from the church. This is supported by a group of excellent helpers who make sandwiches, cakes and beverages for meetings. Club members have a key voice in developing the programme so that it fits their particular interests and enthusiasms but regularly our programme of activities includes:

Card and board games
Opportunities for exercise
Music and song
Talks
Book swaps

Attending a meeting of The Wednesday Club is completely free of charge. We do this to try to make sure we reach as many people as possible. We do not want there to be any barriers to attending a Club meeting.

The Club meets on the first and third Wednesday of the month throughout the year. Meetings are from 14:00 to 16:30. You can find more info on our website, http://www.the-wednesday-club.org . If you would like to join, as a member or a volunteer please contact us by email, info@the-wednesday-club.org, or contact me, Ron Aston, on 0475 91 02 22.

 

 

BCFLionlandscape

The British Chamber is this year proud to be supporting 4 different charitable organisations in Belgium this year through our affiliation with the Brussels British Community Association. In February, we introduced you to CHS and this time Chairman David Humphreys introduces the British Charitable Fund.

The British Charitable Fund (BCF) was founded in 1815 on the initiative of the Duke of Wellington after the Battle of Waterloo. Its goal then was to help wounded British soldiers, and their dependents, who stayed on in Belgium after the battle.

Over 200 years later, the BCF continues to work to help any needy person with a British connection who is resident in Belgium. There are few rules on who can benefit from our help, but in practice applicants must be British nationals or their dependents, and must have exhausted the normal means of support from family and state agencies.

Enquiries for help come in from young and old, long term residents or short term visitors – rich and poor alike! Even today, despite the best efforts of many agencies, there are gaps in the provision of social help that can uniquely affect foreigners in Belgium. The variety of problems encountered by the BCF is vast, but typically can range from loneliness, ill health and/or financial issues. All of these problems can be exacerbated by language difficulties and the absence of close family.

We are non-denominational and non-judgmental, and of course all enquiries are treated with the utmost confidentiality.

The BCF remains the only tax-registered charity providing for the needs of the British community in Belgium. We are staffed purely by volunteers and have minimal running costs. We receive no financial support from government agencies and rely purely on donations. All donations over 40 euros are tax-deductible in Belgium.

We are currently helping a number of beneficiaries, including victims of recent events, but feel there may be many more people in Belgium living in difficult circumstances whom we may also be able to help.

If you know of someone who needs help, or if you would like to make a donation, we can be contacted by telephone 02 767 47 26, by email bcf.info@telenet.be, or via our web-site http://www.bcfund.be

 

CHS logoThe British Chamber is hosting the 3rd edition of the Great Brussels Charity Bake Off this March. This year, we’ll be raising money for Community Help Service. Take a look at what services they can offer to you, from their Chairman, Geoff Brown

Community Help Service (CHS) is a non-profit organisation that provides information, support and mental health services to anyone in Belgium who needs help and prefers to speak English, regardless of nationality and circumstances. It was set up in 1971 to provide help to people from the expatriate community, mainly those with English as their mother tongue. Brussels has changed considerably since then and many of those now supported by CHS are not native English speakers.

The services offered by CHS are:

Helpline: This is an anonymous, confidential, 24/7 telephone service in English, for children, adolescents and adults. It is oper

ated by volunteers (who are trained, supported and supervised by professionals) who can provide general information, support and help in a crisis. During 2015, the Helpline received more than 3,400 calls.

CHS Phalenes

Mental Health Centre:

A professional team of clinical psychologists, psychotherapists and psychiatrists offers confidential support and professional services. In addition to English, individual members of the Clinical Team work in Catalan, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Romanian and Spanish. The team deals with a wide range of problems, such as:

– Children’s learning and behavioural difficulties
– Parenting issues
– Drug and alcohol addiction
– Depression and anxiety
– Acute distress and behavioural change
– Couple and family difficulties
– Bereavement
– Sexual problems
– Burnout

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The team also offers psycho-educational evaluations for children, highly valued by the international schools in Brussels and Luxembourg. Starting in 2016, these evaluations are available in French and German as well as in English.

Different parameters may be considered in determining the cost of counselling. No-one is turned away for lack of funds.

More than 700 new clients contacted the Mental Health Centre in 2015, representing almost 40 nationalities.

Since 2013, CHS has been working with Castle Craig Hospital, a Scotland-based addiction treatment centre.

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The CHS office, operated by volunteers, is open from 10.00 to 16.00 on Monday to Friday (10.00 to 13.00 during July and August). Therapists work outside these hours, offering appointments during evenings and on Saturdays.

Unlike the 3 Belgian national language helplines which are subsidised by their respective regional authorities, CHS receives no subsidy for its services to the English speaking community. While contributions from the Clinical Team significantly finance the Mental Health Centre running costs, CHS therefore relies on income from community associations, sponsorship and donations, the annual calendar and fund-raising events to finance its Helpline and to break even.

If you would like further information e.g. with regard to becoming a volunteer or providing financial or other support, please contact CHS at the address, e-mail or telephone number mentioned below. Alternatively, the upcoming 2016 Great Brussels Charity Bake-off on 22 February and 21 March will be raising money for CHS.

CHS Mental Health Centre                                                            CHS Helpline
Avenue des Phalènes 26                                                               Telephone: 02.648.40.14
1000 Brussels
Telephone: 02.647.67.80
E-mail: chs@chsbelgium.org
Website: www.chs-belgium.org

If you want to compete in this year’s bake-off, there’s still time! Click here to register

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