Helping a charity in France
Whitney Kellogg reports on charitable organisations which would welcome volunteers, and especially English-speakers.
While charities may not have as high a public profile in France as in the US or Britain, there is no lack of French associations and organisations which are involved in helping the underprivileged at a time when their cold, hunger and loneliness contrasts so cruelly with the abundance of so many others.
One of the most urgent social concerns in winter in France is the plight of the country's large population of homeless. Only estimates exist for the numbers of those branded as SDF (Sans Domicile Fixe), but the French official statistics agency, the Institut National de la Statistique et des Etudes Economiques (INSEE), polled refuge centres across the country in in January, 2004, to find that some 86,000 had sought shelter on one night that month. The true figure of those who live on the street is likely to be well over 100,000.
The INSEE estimates that Paris alone counts between 10,000 and 15,000 SDF.
For expatriates with conversational French, the window of volunteer opportunity is wide open. In Paris alone, the city hall publishes a Guide Solidarité which lists almost 130 homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and other resources that are a literally a lifeline for thousands in the capital.
Major associations like the Restos du cœur (www.restosducoeur.org), set up by the legendary French comedian Colluche in 1985, supply hot meals and food boxes at centres around France. They are always in need of volunteers, and you can find details of how to apply to help on their website.
In Paris, the Samu Social de Paris (www.samusocial-75.fr), offers an emergency help line and shelter for the homeless.
The websites for both organisations direct interested “bénévoles” to appropriate helping opportunities, and that of the Restos du cœur gives details for every region in France. In every French city, the arrondissement town hall, or neighbourhood “mairie”, also has information about specific needs.
Although less abundant, many organisations accommodating strictly English-speakers exist as well, some with branches across France.
Les petits frères des Pauvres
This international, non-profit organisation, created in 1946, aids people aged 50 or older. Its primary concerns are the practical and emotional needs of those alone, handicapped, or poor. Volunteers make home visits, meet with the elderly in nursing or retirement homes and staff call-in telephone lines to help relieve people from solitude.
The association usually relies on French-speaking volunteers, but anglophones can help decorate, prepare food and welcome guests at its two Christmas celebrations on December 24 and 25. The centre in Paris is part of a national and international federation with locations throughout France.
33 ave. Parmentier
Tel : 01 49 23 13 00
Fax :01 47 00 94 66
Website : www.petitsfreres.asso.fr
FACTS (Free AIDS Counseling Treatment and Support)
FACTS is a private, volunteer-run organisation for English speakers in France who are HIV-positive or have AIDS. The centre’s main service is a “factsline”, open three nights a week for anonymous phone calls. Volunteers also speak at anglophone and bilingual schools and facilitate seminars on current HIV/AIDS treatment topics. The group needs additional help with administrative, fundraising, and event planning to publicise and financially support the center.
190 bld de Charonne
Tel: 01 44 93 16 32
Fax :01 44 93 16 60
L'Armée du Salut
In Paris, nine Salvation Army centres, with over 1,200 volunteers, accept long and short-term volunteers to help with diverse activities including weekly meals for the elderly, visit and care of the the sick, childcare, organising clothing donations as well as things like modern dance instruction and hairstyling. Information about work in Paris and across France is available on their website.
60 rue des Frères Favien
75976 Paris Cedex 20
Tel :01 43 62 25 60
Website : www.armeedusalut.fr
The American Cathedral in Paris
The American Cathedral in Paris, founded in 1886, is a Christian church offering services and religious activities throughout the week to the English-speaking community. The church also has several mission and outreach groups designed to serve the needy in France. On Fridays, volunteers help with a 60-person formal luncheon for Paris homeless, joined by a member of the clergy. Volunteers also welcome visitors and members at the front desk and organise a charity Christmas fair. Church membership is not required.
23 ave. George V
Tel: 01 53 23 84 00
The English Language Library for the Blind
Created to provide opportunities for the blind outside Britain and the U.S., this organisation prepares and sends audio books for culture and leisure listening to anglophones and French-speakers. Volunteers record about 200 books onto audiocassette each year, adding to the current total of 1400 titles in stock. Jobs like cassette duplication, cassette and book mailing and library catalogue maintenance are also available.
33 rue Lemercier
Tel: 01 42 93 47 57
The American Hospital of Paris
This 187-bed private healthcare site, founded almost 100 years ago for expatriates seeking treatment from U.S.-trained physicians, now cares for patients of both French and other nationalities. Its 50 international volunteers accompany patients through the hospital and to their hospital rooms and visit during hospitalisations. Volunteers also manage a library within the hospital offering books and videotapes in multiple languages and help the hospital staff at the admissions and information desk.
63 bld Victor Hugo 92200 Neuilly-sur-Seine
Tel: 01 46 41 25 48
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
Website : www.american-hospital.org
Updated December 2004
© Whitney Kellogg and Expatica France
Subject: France, charities, volunteer work