Thomas van de Werve and Charles-Edouard d’Otreppe have volunteered with the Belgian Association of the Order of Malta for the last 15 years. Having started their volunteering at the International Holiday Camps, they are now taking on the challenge of organising the 2023 International Holiday Camp in Belgium. We spoke to them about their time in Rome for this year’s camp and their preparations for next summer.
How was your experience at International Holiday Camp 2022?
Thomas: It was so special to reunite with old friends after the long Covid break. For us, it was a good boost. It was great to feel the energy of the camp again and motivated us even more to organise the Belgian camp for next year.
Charles: There is such a strong community of volunteers. Even the WhatsApp group from 2018 continues to be active. We’ve formed lifelong friendships at the camp; you can visit any European city and there’s an entire network of people and friends who open their doors to you.
The Italians did a great job, especially with the difficulties they faced due to Covid. They had heavy regulations and also had to change the location three or four months before the camp and they did an amazing job at reorganising it.
What did your guests say about their week in Rome?
Thomas: There was an overwhelming feeling of happiness. Many of the guests had been waiting for so long to come back to the camp and they were so happy to be there.
Our guests absolutely loved the beach day. There was such a good atmosphere and everyone was going into the sea. It was a simple activity but so successful and shows that at the end of the day the cost doesn’t matter. A good atmosphere and a simple spirit are all you need.
What were your highlights of the International Holiday Camp week?
Charles: For me it was the Mass at the Vatican. We had the opportunity to have Mass in the Basilica de San Pietro which highlighted the spiritual aspect of what we do. We help people as we do thanks to our faith, and in helping people we are giving back to our faith.
Thomas: I consider myself one of the older generation of volunteers at the camp and there weren’t many of us left at the last camp. Then there was a big break. Usually more young people come each year but there was a concern about what would happen after such a long break. I was so happy to see this was not the case at all, there were so many new young people and it was so satisfying to see that the spirit of the camp didn’t die with Covid. Many of the awesome young people there this year told us they would join again next year which is so exciting.
How are preparations coming on for next year’s camp in Belgium?
Charles: There are 20 people working towards the camp next year so all the credit needs to go to the other 18 people who are working amazingly hard and taking so much initiative in what they’re doing. The camps are the guests and helpers and staff, we have oversight but they’re really making it happen.
Thomas: Absolutely I agree. They are doing an amazing job and as leaders we are in the easy position but they are making it possible and we are so proud to work with all of them. Everyone in the team has separate responsibilities: logistics, guest activities, spiritual activities, transportation, catering, registration, and fundraising. Everyone has a great vision of everything that needs to be done before next summer, so the preparations are on a very good track. The camp will be in Waterloo and the venue is a school near an old castle which is really well set up to accommodate the guests. Importantly there is a big sports hall in the school where we can have the disco!
Charles: Some may remember the first disco seen at an International Camp was in Belgium more than 20 years ago! We are proud to continue the tradition!
What have you seen previous camp leaders doing that you hope to replicate in 2023?
Charles: From this summer in Italy, we’d like to take the weather! Seriously though, the Italians are always very positive, they put everyone at ease.
Thomas: I think the best lesson we learnt is that things don’t have to be too complicated and fancy, if you carry out your work with your heart and conviction, people are happy.
The Fund is proud to have supported the Order’s international and national holiday camps since our inception in 2012. We are looking forward to next year’s International Holiday Camp, from 12th– 19th of August 2023 in Waterloo, Belgium which has the theme:
Courage! Do not be afraid, come!
(cf. Mt 14, 27.29)
Pictured are Charles and a guest, running through a fountain in front of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam!