The Copenhagen International Volunteer Club (CIVC) was founded in 2011 to give internationals living in Denmark a chance to pursue their interests in a wide range of activities, ranging from urban gardening to medical exchanges and animal welfare.
But with the arrival of Europe's current refugee crisis, interest in the group has increased significantly and there are now over 1,000 people involved with CIVC and a number of groups that have expressed interest in collaborations.
Andrew Madsen, a Canadian anthropologist and language teacher living in Denmark since 1999, said that internationals are drawn to volunteering for a number of different reasons.
"There is a lot to be done. Since we set up the organization more and more people have joined and each one has a different reason," Madsen, CIVC's organizer and coordinator for refugee issues, told The Local.
“Last year we had weekly briefing meetings for our refugee work with just six or seven people, which we thought was a lot. Now, we meet every two weeks and there are around 30 or 40 people attending,” he said.
Madsen spearheads CIVC's two groups that help refugees, with one focusing on developing education-related projects and the other providing quick response in case of emergencies.
"We provide assistance in the short term but we also plan for the future," he said.
One of CIVC's primary focuses is to help refugees successfully settle in Denmark through employment.
“We work to get these people hired by companies. There are people with some high qualifications, but there’s also a need for simple jobs for those who are less educated. We need to always think about the here and now needs as well as the refugees’ long term future in Denmark," Madsen said.
CIVC is currently working in partnership with the Red Cross on a campaign to collect heavy winter clothing and boots for refugees as winter approaches. Prior to that, the CIVC has headed initiatives such as the collection of old computers to help teach refugees basic IT skills, operation of the second hand clothing shop at the Sandholm asylum centre, child care services for parents in the evenings and various social activities such as a movie night.
While more and more Danes and internationals have donated their time, money and goods since the European refugee crisis fully arrived in Denmark last month, Madsen hopes that the interest will not wane.
“It’s important not to forget that refugee issues are something ongoing. As time goes by people tend to forget about it but there are a lot of things to do, especially in helping people find a job and settle into their new homes," he said.
And it is exactly there where groups like CIVC can have a major impact.
"Just the fact that we, too, are living in a foreign country makes us different from Danish organizations. Besides, Danish volunteering is traditionally carried out by either very young people or retired people whereas we have people of all ages and all backgrounds: doctors, au-pairs, unemployed people… there’s a broad base of people who come and help whenever they can.”
Madsen told The Local that CIVC is always looking for more people who want to get involved. He said the group is also happy to help others who might not want to join CIVC but still want to engage with refugee issues in a non-politicized way.
"Everybody is welcome to come and join a briefing session but there are also a lot of things people can do themselves without being deeply involved with our group, such as running a clothing collection drive at their school or workplace. We can provide logistical support and other help for those efforts,” he said.
Madsen cautioned however that there is a limit to what is actually needed.
“At this time of the year people tend to donate summer clothing while in the spring people tend to donate winter clothing. There is a mismatch between what is being donated and what is needed and this mismatch needs to be changed. There is also a lot of inappropriate clothing donated ... party clothing and mini-skirts are not usually in big demand in an asylum centre,” he said.
The Copenhagen International Volunteering Club will host its next meeting on October 30th.