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20 Years, 20 Voices: AWEL, Belgium

AWEL
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Child Helpline International has now existed for 20 years! To celebrate this momentous achievement, we invited some of our members – from all around the world, and from founding members to members who have only recently joined us – to share their stories in this special series.

AWEL, BELGIUM

“Awel’’ – the start to many stories!

Awel is the Flemish helpline for children and adolescents in Belgium. The name roughly translates to “Well…’’, which is so often the way one starts a heartfelt story, when someone has something to get off their chest.

Immensely popular, Awel owes everything to its tireless volunteers and the young callers who inspire them to keep on going. Like many child helplines around the world, Awel works anonymously and is free. Telephone, email, chat and a forum are the many ways young people can choose to contact their anonymous friend. 

The forum works 100% peer-to-peer (the moderators also being minors), a form of support that Awel is continuously expanding. Last year Awel experimented with peer-to-peer chat. A sense of community works well within “Well...’’

But is Awel doing well? The helpline is incredibly popular, referred to by many a news channel and, most importantly, it is ever evolving. But Awel is also struggling to answer the many calls and chatroom clicks it receives. Within the current climate and being highly financially dependent on governmental support, Awel is nevertheless doing its utmost to deliver a great quality service. Volunteers not only staff the child helpline itself, they also coach one another, organize fundraisers and conduct promotional tours. At peak times, when an exceptional number of kids are trying to access Awel simultaneously – due to a scary story in the news, for example –volunteers take the initiative to spend extra hours behind their laptops. If you’re looking for a sense of humanity, a sense of hope, then Awel is the place to find it.

Awel believes in children and young people. The attitude volunteers take on when going into dialogue, consists of the following basic elements: empathy, authenticity, unconditional acceptance, and empowerment.

Awel gave me that little nudge I needed. Their advice gave me the confidence I needed to take that difficult next step.”

…Notice how this caller already had everything within them in order to move forward as soon as they received that “little nudge”? Awel considers itself merely a privileged bystander to young people’s resilience and strength.

Our goal is not only to make kids see and realize their potential , but also to show it to the world and
to ask society: “Please stop underestimating our youth!”

Heartbreak is serious, growing up is hard, finding your place in the world is a weary struggle. Even wanting to know how to cook a pizza is a valid question! To say we are amazed by kids’ immense power to face up to all of these things would not be doing them justice: We know they are powerful, and we’ve known this all along.

 

Hanne Jacobs
Communications Officer,
Awel