Voluntary work is a big thing in our world

A story told by Arwa Zarraa Paris, France

Arwa Zarraa is working at the social tourism organisation Vacances et Familles in France. She is responsible for the communication and formation of 1500 volunteers. The volunteers are the backbone of Vacances et Familles, she says.

An expression of our humanity


‘The most beautiful part of my work are my close contacts with our volunteers’, says Arwa Zarraa. Arwa is doing communication work in the Vacances et Familles organisation in France. ‘These people give with their heart. Every moment I pass with them, they teach me the value of friendliness and sharing. That made me grow up as a professional and most of all as a human being.’ In times of economic hardness in our Western society, the contribution of more than 1500 volunteers in this organisation is a true alternative story.


So, what is it all about? Vacances et Familles organises holiday opportunities for families who experience problems, mainly due to economic vulnerability. The beauty is this: volunteers take care for these families in three different phases of their holiday experience: planning, enjoying and reflecting. The organisation mediates over 300 houses and apartments where the families can stay during their break of everyday life. Travellers pay between 10% and 30% of the rent, and the government subsidizes.

Friendly guidance before, during and after the holiday

It is remarkable that Vacances et Familles organises a full-guidance for people with little holiday experiences. Volunteers close to home assist the families in the dreaming, planning and preparing of the vacation. When the family arrives at their destination, another local volunteer comes alongside with them. He or she helps with transportation, accompagnies them to shops and market, helps them to join leisure activities. After returning home, the families can tell their holiday stories to a volunteer. ‘These conversations are important,’ says Arwa, ‘Because in this listening, we can find out if and when the family is ready to go out a holiday on their own, next time.’

The driver behind all this beauty is solidarity, says Arwa. ‘Solidarity is a big word in our organisation. And this value plays between volunteers and families and in the group of volunteers all together.’ The volunteers offer their moved heart, they want to serve and help people who experience less opportunities in society. And they also find the beauty of a social life for themselves. They enjoy mutual friendship with other volunteers and with the families they accompany.

Life changing experience

‘There is this story I’ll never forget’, says Arwa. ‘A family from Paris, went for a first holiday to the Charentes regio. The ‘click’ between the family and the host-volunteer made them come back a second and a third time. These people became really close friends, and after a while, the family moved to their former holiday region, to live closer to their dear friends.’

Apart from this extraordinary story, the experience of a break or holiday is important. ‘Even in this time in France, where vacation no longer seems to be a priority for people. Lots of people in France nowadays shorten their break or even sacrifice their holiday to save money in a society that always becomes more expensive to live in. But it is of great importance to find a time and space to break away from daily routine and breathe’, Arwa says. She knows, because every time she visits a family on their holiday location, she experiences an explosion of emotions from them, she tells.

Re-attaching to the French roots

In the core of France’s values, there is solidarity, says Arwa. ‘It is sad to see that this valuable roots are slowly disappearing. I see people struggling to keep their head above the water. In times of economic pressure, people fall back to their individuality and tend to become selfish.’ Arwa wants to wake up her society, she further says, encouraging solidarity between citizens.

‘I’m lucky. At Vacances et Familles, we are always surrounded by stories of hope an beauty. Thanks to that, our employees and volunteers know and feel thy are contributing to something that is good for society. Something that is worth doing.’

Authored by Griet Bouwen Bilzen