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European Solidarity Corps

The European Solidarity Corps (ESC) is an EU funding program for young people wishing to engage in solidary activities in a variety of areas. These range from helping the disadvantaged to humanitarian aid, as well as contributing to health and environmental actions across the EU and beyond.

The European Solidarity Corps finances volunteering (including humanitarian aid) and solidary projects. It is open to individuals aged 18 to 30 (35 for humanitarian aid) and to organizations in EU and partner countries.

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European Solidarity Corps

Since we participated in the ESC projects (former EVS) in 1999 we received over 80 international volunteers, mostly long terms that stay for a year but also volunteers that help for a couple of months. This project is a good opportunity for volunteers to experience how an actual wildlife rescue centre operates. The work is very diverse. Each season brings different types of patients, so it always stays exciting to see which animal is brought in next.

The volunteers get the possibility to work closely with wildlife which brings a lot of satisfaction. In this way, as an organization, we can offer very valuable and useful work, which benefits both the animals and humans. The ultimate reward is when an animal can be fully recovered and is released back into nature.

Furthermore apart from the specific techniques and skills related to animal care that the centre offers,  the Opvangcentrum voor Vogels en Wilde Dieren Oostende tries to facilitate social interaction, reflection and learning to enable the volunteers to contribute actively to a growing non-profit organisation in which they operate.

For all the international volunteers it is an active choice to spend a year at Opvangcentrum voor Vogels en Wilde Dieren Oostende, which means that they are highly motivated to learn, to live and take part in the social setting of the organisation. This integration is facilitated by the opportunity to follow Dutch classes in evening school. The volunteers are

Just like the volunteers get to know each other really well when helping at the centre, the staff and our mentor are also a small and well-functioning group. All staff play a vital role for the wellbeing of our volunteers.

Description of the project

You take your share in the daily work at the Wildlife Rehab centre. Step by step, we will introduce you to our way of working and the strict protocols that we follow. Being keen to learn is essential. In the beginning, you will mainly perform basic tasks and assist a more experienced volunteer or staff member. Do take in mind that at our centre everyone should undertake all sorts of work: feeding and weighing the animals, assisting the staff, preparing food, but also cleaning cages, doing the dishes, mopping floor and doing the laundry. You have to pursue administrative discipline and follow certain hygienic procedures. Being flexible is essential since wildlife does not have a clock to follow. Sometimes, there can be evening shifts, depending on the season. This is a fulltime project, so every ESC works 5 days a week. During your project, you will learn how to rehabilitate all types of birds and mammals, how to carry out fluid therapy, tube animals and how to help oiled wildlife. You will work together with a big group of motivated volunteers (locals, interns, older people), where a good team spirit is important.

Accommodation & practical arrangements

Every ESC volunteer receives a monthly budget to cover their food expenses and pocket money. The amount will be paid by bank transfer.

The long term ESC (12 months) have their own room in a house 25 minutes by bike from the Wildlife Rescue Centre. The house has a kitchen, living room and small garden, which you will share with your other ESC co-housers. Bathroom and toilet are shared as well. A bike is provided for every volunteer to come to work or to use it in their spare time.

The short term ESC share a room with bunk beds. This room is situated in the Wildlife Rescue Centre. Kitchen, toilets and bathrooms are shared with the local volunteers, but are divided in a separate women and men section. The short term ESC also receive a bike free to use. Both accommodations are situated close to public transport, shops and the beach.

Participant’s profile

No foreknowledge is required, but being keen to learn is essential. Age:19-30 years old. We are looking for a spontaneous young adult who has a passion for nature and wildlife. Someone who is able to commit 6 months or a year of his/her life to this wildlife rehabilitation project. You need to be flexible (weekend work), social and be able to handle stress. Being in a good physical condition and not afraid to get your hands dirty! You will work in a team, so having a good open mind and positive attitude is essential. English: minimum A2.  

Volunteer experiences

Belén (Spain), long term ESC 2022-2023

I had the opportunity to live the experience of the European Solidarity Corps in the VOC Oostende for one year and I am very thankful for it. I got to see how a wildlife rescue center works from the inside and It took with me a lot of new knowledge, among other things. I really enjoyed the handling of the animals and learning the methodologies and protocols that make a successful rehabilitation happen. I thrived spending the whole day surrounded by animals despite the cleanings and the less nice tasks that also are a fundamental part of the job. I learned a lot during this year and I was able to see all the diverse species that came into the center on the different times of the year.

Sarah (France), long term ESC 2020-2021

I took part in the ESC project in the VOC in 2020/2021. The experience was amazing ! Despite a complicated sanitary situation, I had a really good time in Belgium. The VOC is a good working place, everybody wants to help you to learn more about animals and wildlife protection. Missions are sometimes not easy, like cleaning big cages or tubing birds, but the nice atmosphere in the center always give you energy and confidence to achieve them. The ESC project in the VOC is also a very nice way to see and handle wild species that you don't see often, like raptors or foxes. 

The life in the shared house with the other ESC was also really cool. Living and working together makes you feel quickly like a small family ! It's a possibility to make friends from other countries and to learn more about each other.

ESC is also a way to discover an other culture and country. When the covid situation allowed it, i could visit several really pretty cities in Belgium, like Gent, Brussels or Bruges, and meet other volunteers from everywhere. 

I can only recommend it !

Rebecca (Germany), short term ESC 2019

In summer 2019 I spent two months at the VOC and it was an amazing experience. It was my first time living abroad and away from home, but I never felt alone because everybody welcomed me very warmly. My daily tasks were feeding animals, preparing food, cleaning cages and checking the animals. I learned a lot about animal care and the working practice at the VOC. Very special moments were when I got the chance to take part in releasing hedgehogs or birds. I had a great time with the other international and local volunteers and workers and was able to visit many beautiful cities and places around Belgium. I strongly recommend volunteering at the VOC! It’s a perfect opportunity to make lots of great experiences.

Inga (Latvia), long-term ESC 2013-2014

“I was a long-term EVS’er in „VOC Oostende” for a year (2013-2014). It was a unique experience for several reasons: I was lucky to be a part of a devoted wildlife care team and work along both professionals and fellow volunteers in a well-organized project. I got a chance to take care of many wild animals, see them closely and learn more about them. I met many local and international people, each of them with their own story and character, in that way broadening my vision of how different and at the same time similar most cultures of the world are. I still keep in touch with the people I met here. The workload was different depending on the season, there was more work in the summer than the winter, but all the effort was totally worth it! The free days that the EVS volunteers got during the year were more than enough to discover Belgium and the surrounding countries. And finally, my EVS year gave me a chance to discover my own country and culture from a different point of view!”

How to apply?

Open projects are displayed on the European Youth Portal, usually around 4 months up to the start of the project. (https://europa.eu/youth/volunteering/organisation/48914_en). Applying for a project can only be done by registering on this portal.

If you have any questions, you can contact our ESC coordinator Laure Desmet via laure.desmet@vogelbescherming.be. Full cover letters (in English) can also be sent to this address.