If you are looking to settle into your local community in France quickly and easily, one of the most rewarding ways is by volunteering. Whatever your interests or skills, there will be a volunteering opportunity to suit you. Plus, you’ll be making a difference at the same time, says our resident Brit in France, Beth.
If you have moved to a new area, let alone a new country, what could be a better way to meet people and integrate quickly within your local community than some good old fashioned volunteer work? It could also start you off on the right foot with learning or improving your French language skills.
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There is a vast range of opportunities for volunteering in France. Whether you’re an animal lover, passionate about people’s wellbeing or a DIY enthusiast, here is your opportunity to get stuck in and make your mark. You can become an invaluable member of a team working towards a common worthy cause.
Let’s take a look at seven great opportunities.
Health & Safety
If first aid interests you and, let’s be honest, we could all do with being equipped in some basic skills in this department, the French Red Cross or Croix-Rouge may have the answer. Running first aid training in France for the public, the Croix-Rouge operates over 55,000 volunteers.
You could choose a short course to be able, willing and prepared to help in an emergency situation, or regular volunteering. Either way, this is a valuable skill to have under your belt, and a fantastic way to meet people.
If you are more intrepid, and possibly more equipped when it comes to language skills, you could apply and train to be a volunteer firefighter, or pompier. In France, firemen and women not only deal with fires, but medical emergencies too. They are often the first response to traffic accidents, working alongside ambulances and operating life-saving equipment.
Volunteers represent over 75% of pompiers working in France and whilst this can of course be a very emotional and involved way of volunteering in France, certainly a hugely rewarding one. To be eligible to volunteer for the Pompier service, you must be aged between 16 and 60 and reside permanently in France. You would also have to commit to long-term volunteering (a minimum term of five years) and a certain number of callouts following the first year, which is a probationary training period.
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Animals and the outdoors
There are many animal rescue groups, all gratefully welcoming those with a desire for volunteering in France.
La Société Protectrice des Animaux (SPA) is one of the most well-known. Created in 1845 and registered in 1860, the SPA ensures the protection and defence of animals throughout the country.
Animal rescuers such as SPA are always looking for volunteers. Whether that be for dog kennel care, walking duties, rehoming checks, onward travel of animals to adoption facilities or office support roles. If you love animals and don’t have your own, this is a truly rewarding way of spending your valuable spare time. If you already have pets, do not be surprised if the number you own multiplies rapidly once you start!
But please, whilst associations like the SPA have high public visibility, do not forget your local independent animal charities of which there are many looking for that additional helping hand.
Alternatively, how about joining an association that runs heritage volunteer workcamps? APARE is one such charity, offering people of “any geographical, social and cultural horizons a chance to meet and to contribute together to a common project of development or embellishment of the local heritage.” It’s your opportunity to help restore and rebuild history – a testament to your involvement that will last throughout the ages.
If the great outdoors is more your interest and you are looking for some hard labour, one of the biggest volunteering in France opportunities comes from the land itself; working the vines or agricultural fields. More than the chance to meet some great people, the benefit of keeping yourself healthy and fit is an added bonus. But just be prepared for some proper graft.
Volunteer trades services
The exchange of labour skills in return for food and board is big business in France offering many options to people with such skills. This can be private residence renovation work, working to create holiday homes and accommodation or restore much needed outbuildings for charities.
So, if you’re a dab hard at carpentry or building work then here’s your opportunity. Companies like Workaway, Worldpacker and Helpstay place adverts all across the country for this type of volunteering in France. So not only can you give back but you can travel and spend time in different areas too in return for food and board.
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The Less Fortunate
The French tend to appreciate living in a wealthy, well-run country, and are often keen on “giving back” to the community they call home. So they might try to bridge the gap between rich and poor by lending a hand within their local community.
There are many people living in poverty and food banks and clothing banks are as prevalent as in the UK. Many charities work tirelessly for those less fortunate. Secours Populaire is one such charity, relying on 80,000 volunteers to provide food aid, clothing, access to housing and healthcare to those desperately in need. Volunteers are often stationed outside supermarkets with lists of food requirements that you can purchase with your own shop and then leave with them on the way out. This is a great way to interact face to face with your local community.
Sadly, France is also now home to a large number of refugees, living around Calais, Dunkerque, Caen and Paris. Many charitable organisations are in place to offer help to those in need including Care 4 Calais, Help Refugees and others. Anyone with a car is of valuable use for transporting supplies but additional skills such as teaching or language skills are certainly of importance. Volunteering here can be either one-off visits or daily duties depending on your time and situation. If any charity should get our support, maybe it should be one helping people seek a better life abroad.
As with the UK, many people in France suffer from feelings of isolation, issues with mental health and feelings of despair. Often the best thing anyone can do is simply listen. S.O.S Amitié is the equivalent of the Samaritans in France, and also provides an English-speaking option (on 01 46 21 46 46).
To provide listening duties, you must live near Paris and of course prove yourself to be of a nature that is empathetic and non-judgemental. There are many other ways to support this organisation from anywhere in France, so why not get in touch here.
Possibly the easiest way of volunteering in France is directly within your local community.
Comité De Fete
Possibly the easiest way of volunteering in France is directly within your local community. Each village or small commune has a Maire and a Conseil.
One of the duties of the council and comité de fete is to provide events within the local community, whether it be a “Brocante” or a summer village get together. Whilst members of the council are often heavily involved in the planning and organisation of these events, they also rely heavily on benevols (volunteers). If you would have attended these events anyway, then why not get involved and have an impact on the planning and execution, as well as the partaking of them?
And finally, let’s not forget the youngsters. The European Solidarity Corps, previously known as European Voluntary Service (EVS) is designed especially for them and was created to encourage young people to actively participate in volunteering in France.
Their ethos is contributing to local communities, developing life skills, tolerance, mutual understanding and active citizenship. They run projects across France, Europe and beyond, within the remit of education and training, citizenship and democratic participation, environment and natural protection, migration and culture. To join you must be aged 18-30.
So many opportunities to get involved, as well as to integrate and make great friends. Volunteering in France is the perfect thing to do if you have skills in any area, some free time on your hands and a desire to simply make a difference.