“Kathleen, I am very interested in volunteering in France. I have a high level of French proficiency. I have been a translator of French and Moroccan Arabic into English and have lived and/or studied in Brittany, Paris, and Morocco.
“I just wrote to an organization that places volunteers with a high level of French proficiency in high schools in Saint Brieuc and Saint Malo. I adore each of these cities and would be very happy to return to either of them. (I have experience with each of them from an exchange program I was on in high school.) I have not seen where the heart of Chateaubriand is buried since 1978. That is still one of the highlights of my experience with what you might call my francophilia.
“I am also interested in a sort of longish opportunity–at least three months, which I understand is what I can do, maximum, without a visa–in either Paris or in the south of France. Ideally, I would work with children and/or the visual arts or cinema. There are some nice opportunities in the arts I have found, but they are mostly very short term and they also are for younger people without a lot of French language experience under their belts. I wonder what you would suggest?”
–Jackie M., United States, Ecuador Conference Attendee
Euro-Correspondent Lucy Culpepper responds:
It would be easy to think that France is too tied up in bureaucracy to welcome foreigners to their volunteer dependent projects. Not so. As long as you have a valid passport and have not overstayed the three months allowed without a visa or have extended your visa (see France Diplomatie for visa information) you will be welcomed by may non-profit associations.
According to a report by the National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies, 85% of associations in France rely exclusively on volunteers (benevoles, in French). In fields such as culture, sports, and recreation, which absorb nearly half the volunteers in the French non-profit sector, and environmental, international, and professional associations, volunteer work is the primary human resource.
What is the best way to find volunteer opportunities in France?
Taking a broad stroke, you could check out the websites of four of the big charities in France:
These groups are always in need of volunteers, and you can find details of how to apply to help on their websites.
The 140-page Guide Solidarite produced by the city hall of Paris lists almost 130 homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and other resources that need volunteer workers.
There are a number of umbrella associations that support volunteering and volunteers, for example: Federation Francaise du Benevolat et de la Vie Associative which you could contact for resources. And, of course, there is a government department (this site also lists a number of umbrella organizations that may be of interest).
An online search bought up some interesting individual projects–for example, La Sabranenque, a non-profit organization in southern France that revitalizes historic villages and is “committed to preserving traditional, environmentally friendly building techniques.”
I think the two best ways to find volunteer opportunities in a specific area are:
First, Google “benevolat” with the name of the department where you’re interested in volunteering. I did this with the Herault department in the Languedoc and found, among other sites: the Food Bank of L’Herault, France Benevolat Montpellier Herault, and the Catholic Church association of volunteers.
Second, get talking to expats in forums. One of the best for France is AngloINFO France, which is made up of 20 local sites.
You indicate that you are fluent in French, which is great; however, I know from my own experience of helping at a voluntary organization in the Bearn region of France, as well as my mother’s experience volunteering in the Languedoc, that helping local people doesn’t require fluency, just compassion. But it is a great way to learn the lingo.
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