Need a helping hand getting used to Antwerp life? Meet Wwelcome!

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1) Please tell us about Wwelcome: when, how and why it came to be established.

Wwelcome was established one year ago on April 1st 2018. While working for an insurance company, the two founders discovered a great need for personal assistance with the various sorts of documentation required of newcomers to Belgium.

Even though some organisations (including governmental) already provide administrative assistance, newcomers sometimes had challenging or negative experiences when trying to get their paperwork in order .

Our organisation supports immigrants to Belgium with whichever issues they bring to the table. It’s our mission to make them feel at home here: hence, Wwelcome.

2) What services do you offer and how are these funded?

Over the past year, we have noticed a great variety in the types of support that people need. Therefore we mostly operate in a Q&A style. Our members bring us letters, bills and contracts to translate and explain, or various application forms to enter. Sometimes, they ask for advice about immigration, naturalisation, buying a house or getting a divorce.

Next to explaining and offering advice, we mediate on behalf of our members with the government, insurance and energy companies, realtors, banks, employers, schools and landlords. Though we are not lawyers or accountants, we are the link between our members and these specialists.

All of this we provide for a monthly subscription of €10 (our “All-You-Can-Eat” formula!). If people prefer, we can also service for €10 per hour.

In addition we can accompany people to the hospital, police, OCMW, or any place else in order to interpret. We offer discounts at our partner organisations and various stores such as IKEA, Carrefour and Kinepolis. The more members we have, the bigger the discounts we can offer.

For business owners, we offer the above and a number of additional services. We support them with taking the first steps in establishing their business, creating financial plans, understanding social and health requirements, applying for loans and by advertising them through our media platforms. Business owners pay a different membership fee, depending on the type and size of their business.

3) What are the most common challenges or difficulties experienced by newcomers to Antwerp?

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8 different languages are spoken by Wwelcome staff

The most common challenges that are brought to our attention are firstly,  communication and arranging matters with the government and aligned associations. Bureaucracies are not always open-minded or willing to communicate in English, and people often don’t know what they are expected to do next. Even for Dutch-speakers, it is often difficult to grasp what is meant by some of the letters newcomers receive. Secondly, problems with justifying bills: many people just pay the invoice as is, even though they could reduce a payment by giving the correct information and not have to pay the (entire) bill. This means they avoid paying for a service that they don’t receive or don’t want.

4) Many are concerned by the rise in populism across Europe at the moment, and the racism, anti-immigrant or xenophobic feelings which accompany this rise. Is this something that is a you notice here in your work, or in your personal experiences?

We don’t come across direct racism. However, many people experience discrimination at an institutional level (government or companies) due to the fact that they cannot advocate for themselves in Dutch.

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Helping clients and partners alike

We notice that sometimes organisations (also landlords, employers and even business partners) try to outsmart our members. However, when we make the call or write the mail, they are quick to respond with “sorry, yes, I understand…”.

There also happens to be a rule that for administrative *Artikel 60 work, Muslim women are required to take off their scarf. If they don’t, they are fired and lose their allowance.

5) In your line of work, what does success look like?

Everyday success for us is bringing peace of mind to our members, resolving their worries and offering an optimistic view of their future.

Long-term success would be a flourishing organisation throughout Europe where we can touch the lives of millions of immigrants; welcoming them with open arms and providing an antidote to the negative populist voices. When people feel welcome, they are keen to contribute positively to the communities that they have made their home.

Wwelcome is located at Bredabaan 371 in Merksem. If you’re coming by tram, then trams 2 & 3 stop almost outside our office at the stop called Burgemeester Nolf.

*Artikel 60 is an employment opportunity arranged by the OCMW for people on a government allowance or those who have no income at all. 
For more info see: https://www.mi-is.be/nl/artikel-60-ss-7

Useful Wwelcome links

Wwelcome website                      Facebook

 

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This weekend in Antwerp: 22nd, 23rd & 24th February

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Theaterplein

Friday
It’s the last Friday of the months and it’s a special Critical Mass: it’s the sixth birthday of the Antwerp group. Assemble at 17.45 on Theaterplein (look out for The Hangover Bar).

Saturday
JEF is an annual film festival for children and young people in Belgium, with events taking place in various locations across the country. There is of course, a JEF program in Antwerp featuring screenings, activities and workshops for all ages. Most of these take place in the Zuiderpershuis, with a few at the Ecohuis too. JEF runs from today until the 10th March and is well worth looking at if you have kids to entertain during the Spring half-term break (“Krokusvakantie”).

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JEF at Zuiderpershuis

Now that the weather is cheering up, why not head to Plein Publiek and check out the upcoming Circulair Zuid area? There’s a Revive closet sale at Plein Publiek (now at D’Herbouvillekaai 19, 2000) from 10am -4am.

The seed library at the Ecohuis re-opens today, and is a great idea for green-fingered people and gardeners in the city: borrow seeds, and bring back more seeds from your own harvest. Open from 1- 4pm; this is a good time to go along and learn about the work (advice, exhibitions, workshops) of the Ecohuis if you do not already know it (the cafe is really nice too!)

It’s Dag Van De Academies; celebrating the work of those who attend arts academies and follow courses on a part-time basis, with a number of activities, performances and exhibitions in the Antwerp area, including an art trail for children (5-15), starting at Meechelseplein (by the Willem Elsschot statue) at 11am.

Finish your Saturday at BATS Theatre on Paardenmarkt, for a show (in English) from energetic impro group Swaajp, starting at 8pm (and this week hosting “de Boterbrigade“). Tickets here.

Sunday

Cyclists – it’s the Noordkasteel Cross. It’s 10 euros to take part and forms part of the Ronde van District Antwerpen. Register via the email on the link. Men and women ages 15- 95 may take part.

Temperatures will be mild (13- 14 degrees) cooling off on a Sunday to around 10 degrees. It should be a dry weekend, with some sunshine.

Miscellaneous

The last Wednesday of the month means free city museums in Antwerp.

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Colour Collective (photo by Marc Tops)

… and if that doesn’t provide you with enough cultural enrichment, why not check out this musical event in Merksem (also on Wednesday) which I head about this week, and includes a beautiful classical music set based on dance and fantasy. The second part of the evening there will be a guitar & piano duo playing chansons.
The event (pic right) is free entrance and if you would like a meal before the concert starts, there will be a Volxkeuken providing dinner for  just €6.

Next month is Youth Book Month -encourage your young reader by checking out the agenda: there will be lots going on at Bib Permeke.

Are you, or do you know, a young person who has taken part in the Climate Marches recently? If so, he/ she can get a 20% discount on any purchases from any of Antwerp’s eight second hand stores. To get the discount -show a selfie of yourself on the march. It’s available until the 8th March.

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