Volunteering Abroad: Soepbus Utrecht

"The best way to cheer yourself is to try to cheer somebody else up." Mark Twain

One thing you can never prepare yourself for as an expat is how lonely it can be. With no job, your significant other at work, and all your friends being an ocean away, you can feel pretty helpless and lonely. Which is why finding something to do with your time can be invaluable. This is why I decided to get involved and spend some time volunteering for some local organizations in my new home.

With this in mind, I signed up for Utrecht Cares, it is an organization that matches volunteers with projects. Basically, you check their calendar and sign yourself up for what you want to do. I was a little nervous at first, as I speak very limited Dutch. But, I found a project I was interested in and one of the coordinators at Utrecht Cares was kind enough to ask the organizers if it would be okay if I came, although I can’t speak in Dutch. They said I was welcome to come. So, with that, I volunteered to work with Soepbus Utrecht.

Soepbus Utrecht is really a labor of love for Wan-Ho and his wife Yuen. They started this project completely on their own and have been feeding the homeless of my fair city since December. The Soepbus is actually their car and you can find them almost every week day, from 7pm to 9pm distributing soup, sandwiches, coffee, and tea to those who need it. While the project is still small, (it takes a long time to build trust in the homeless community) it is rapidly growing.

When I first arrived, I was greeted by Wan-Ho and Yuen and they then explained to me about the organization and what inspired them to get started. They saw a need and worked hard to make it happen. There are a lot of hoops they had to jump through, but they did and now the organization is running on about 50% donations. Which is huge for a start-up charity organization.

I was unsure in what I would find in the people who come to Soepbus for help. I was nervous that because of my lack of language skills,I would not be able to do any good. I was wrong in that everyone was able to speak English, even those who could not speak Dutch as good. Everyone was really nice and you could definitely feel the sense of Community the Soepbus Utrecht has created. People are often in need for a variety of different reasons, but it is hardly ever because they are lazy. The people who came: some of them have jobs and plans for the future, some of them aren’t quite there yet. You see, life happens to everyone and it deals us all different cards. With people like the Groenstein’s in the world, I am not so worried for humanity anymore.

I choose Soepbus Utrecht for a very specific reason. The last time I saw my biological father, I was 12 years old. He had always had some mental problems, and I guess one day it just got to much for him and he disappeared. I think he, was too ashamed to ask for help. I worry about him every single day and I can only hope that there are people where he is who are willing to help.

While at first I was nervous about my ability to help out, every time I volunteer, I know I am doing good and I hope that I can inspire some of my readers to go out and do good in their own communities. It will make you feel great, I promise.
What are some of the ways you are volunteering in your Community? I would love to hear about them!
Image from Soepbus Utrecht



Excellent use of your time, Kaitlin. I'm really please for you. 
You clearly are experiencing a classic case of culture shock, which everyone who spends an exteneded time abroad will go through. The best remedy is to get yourself out in the new environment-- even if you have to force yourself. (And, of course, spend some decompression time at home, too.)
I would also like to suggest that being a foreigner, and not being fluent in Dutch can actually work to your advantage in meeting people, or at least making "connections" with people.
I had some amazing experiences in China in the days before I could speak Chinese. I guess the fact that I was sort of vulnerable, yet brave enough to be wandering around on my own made people want to help me, or show me an extra level of concern. And even after my Chinese skills improved, my mistakes in speaking often proved an opening to connecting with people. 
Please tell us your experiences in your volunteer work. I'm really interested to get your insider's view of Dutch life. 

Thanks Craig! I think that I was a huge hindrance to myself when I first moved. I didn't want to seem like a tourist because I had it in my head I should act a certain way because I moved here. The result was that I was embarrassed by my lack of speaking Nederlands and would do my best to avoid talking to anyone. Yeah, I know, pretty dumb. I am glad to say that I have got over this and now I just do my best to talk to one new person a day. It helps. 

Hi Kaitlin, great story and blog, keep up the good work! Maybe I'll see you at one of the activities, you've re-inspired me to sign up again :) Thanks!

Thank you so much! I hope to see you out somewhere! 

Perhaps the "klusdag" on March 3 is something you would enjoy as well?

It would be, but Loek and I have plans that day. Thanks for letting me know about it though!