Volunteering in the Netherlands: the unique magic of the Happiness Walk

Have you considered volunteering in the Netherlands? Volunteering can not only make other’s lives better and provide a positive impact on the community, but it can also enhance your perspective on the world – at least that’s what the volunteers and participants in the Happiness Walk found. This unique activity designed to boost the imagination is just one of many volunteering opportunities in the Netherlands.

Perhaps our first great accomplishment as humans is when we start walking. From then, it’s a matter of practice and gaining balance. Once comfortable in our skin, we walk extra miles until it reaches normality, and becomes the usual happenings of everyday life. We all have them; those tiny moments that pass by neglected.

But what if we made it a habit to look at those unnoticed ordinary things? Chances are that you may spot something you have never noticed before and that will allow you to exist in that particular moment.

How Happiness Walk gives a new perspective

It’s 10:30 in the morning and the team of volunteers is ready for their first assignment: walking through the nursing home and motivating elderly people to come outside for a walk. Each volunteer is responsible for providing care for one person. With a little bit of extra support and kindness to build their interest in going outside, the activity has a great impact on their life quality: less fluorescent lights and TV screens; more socialization – stimuli and new impressions.

The Happiness Walk has participants from sixteen different nursing homes. Image: Gelukswandelingen/Supplied

The Happiness Walk is led by Misja Immink, an artist based in Rotterdam and creator of the concept. The activity started 7 years ago, and the central idea of the walks is to explore the neighbourhood with wide-open eyes to the people, the urban signs around, the buildings, street art or anything else you might spy.

No need for screens

During the activity, the fun comes from caring for each other and being outdoors, instead of staring at a screen. With the help of short assignments, socialization happens in a form which Misja Immink describes as ‘connection through wonder.’ That means being able to observe ordinary objects, people and situations from another perspective.

“I hope that with the assignments people will start looking different to objects, buildings and things that are seen as common in our everyday life,” Immink said. “Thanks to the walks, the elderly go out more often; they meet other people; they get to know their neighbourhood better and sometimes nice conversation arises which can lead to lasting friendships”

Misja Immink, founder of the Happiness Walk. Image: Gelukswandelingen/Supplied

Due to their difficulties getting around, or sensitive mental conditions, some elderly groups may only venture outside for outdoor activities less than once a week. Joke van de Berg joined the ‘’Happiness Walk’ in 2015 and has now completed over 100 walks as an active volunteer.

“It is very important to have volunteers doing this. It brings joy to the people. You see the difference in their eyes before and after the walk,” Van den Berg explained. “Sometimes they have an expression that seems far, but after the walk, they look renewed and happy.”

Joke’s dog also gets to participate in Happiness Walk. Image: Gelukswandelingen/Supplied

How can I participate?

The walks are organized all year long, three times a week. With the help of volunteers, the team wants to achieve 200 walks by the end of 2019. There are sixteen nursing homes involved in the activities, alongside educational institutions and corporate companies.

The walks take place in different locations depending on the planning for the day. Daily activities and agenda can be found online, where you can check when the walks are happening, how to sign in, and find information on participating as a flexible volunteer. The activity is also supported by volunteer group NL Cares.

Science says volunteering is good for you

The logic of doing volunteering work is simple: you give and you receive. Taking some of your time to do something for the community you are living in can have a great impact on someone else’s life.

Bu, volunteer work may end up giving you the greatest boost. Science shows volunteer work improves the mental health and well-being of the volunteer, as well as the beneficiary. From having a walk with elderly people to helping to collect litter in your neighbourhood, it all makes a difference.

Better physical health is just one benefit of volunteering. Image: Gelukswandelingen/Supplied.

There are hundreds of articles and publications on this subject. Most evidence points out that voluntary services are strongly connected with better mental health, life satisfaction and even contributing improves depression.

Generally speaking, giving some kindness to others has its payback. It feels good because it reminds us that we are not the only creatures that matter in the world. It connects people, and on a bigger picture makes people feel like they are part of humanity, rather than an isolated unit.

So why don’t more people volunteer?

Many people want to volunteer but are stuck on knowing where to start. This is one of the most common reasons why people don’t engage in volunteer activities. The other main reason is time: after working 40 hours a week there is not much time left to add an extra action to the routine.

But, the truth is that if you are ready to take the plunge, there are many options to start volunteering in the Netherlands in small bits. Little by little, the combination of your commitment with the efforts of other volunteers is what helps organizations accomplish their goals of providing services to the community.

Street Art in Rotterdam discovered on a Happiness Walk. Image: Gelukswandelingen/Supplied.

Where can I find flexible volunteer work in the Netherlands?

There are many ways you can start volunteering. Sometimes you can even do it from your home through things like arranging a service for someone or just having a chat online or in a phone call. No matter how would you like to contribute there is always someone out there whose smile you can boost.

Here are five organizations in the Netherlands where you can find flexible volunteer work:

NL Cares

NL Cares offers flexible volunteer work for individuals and the business community. It takes less than 5 minutes to sign up and find various flexible voluntary activities available in the Netherlands (mostly within the Randstad). You can choose the activity based on your own time and convenience.

There is no mandatory commitment for one activity, you can help based on the time you are available and how motivated you are. NL Cares focuses on the vulnerable groups of elderly, children, people with disability, migrants and homeless people. If this triggers your attention, check it out their work, mission and activities.


Besides their commitment to providing a great tool for people interested in volunteering, Deedmob is a start-up company with a great story too. The brains behind the concept developed the project while studying at Oxford University.

Their ‘aha!’ moment started with a bigger picture: that volunteering could be the answer to several societal issues such as youth unemployment, social inequality, the ageing population, and unsuitable business practices.

Taking the volunteering plunge can change lives. Image: Gelukswandelingen/Supplied

With that purpose clear, Deedmob helps to connect charities, corporate companies, volunteers and government institutions to create an effective circle of collaboration and increase impact. Their online platform is up to date, fresh and offers various volunteering opportunities nearby you.

Serve the City – Amsterdam

‘Join as a volunteer for one day’ is splashed across their website. Serve the City is a global movement of volunteers who aim to help people in need by holding events to mobilize volunteers to help for various causes, like homeless shelters, refugee centres, orphanages and other associations.

Vrijwilligers Centrale Amsterdam

Vrijwilligers Centrale Amsterdam brings people in contact with other volunteer associations who are searching for volunteers to meet various requirements. For instance, cooking a meal for elderly people, technical jobs, coaching a sports team, helping with a garden. The vacancies are available at their page and even though most work requires Dutch there are some exceptions for those who don’t quite speak it yet.


This is a channel created to provide help specifically for the neighbors. It is a non-profit organization that connects people living close to each other and willing to help with tasks or social visits. At present, about 1000 ‘good neighbours’ are part of Burennetwerk.

Have you engaged in volunteer work before? Share your comment with us below and inspire others to give something back to the community!

Feature Image: Gelukswandelingen/Supplied

Laila Lopes
Laila Lopes
I'm a journalist. Often, self- instructed to be curious. For most of the time, my brain is quite an imaginative engine. Inspiration and ideas often arise after 8 hours of sleep.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related posts

Latest posts

24 TikToks explaining why Dutch biking culture is wheely ahead of its time

No one can deny that there’s a strong relationship between Dutchies and their fietsen. Interesting, entertaining, and sometimes odd — TikTok users are proving...

What do you call a person from The Hague? The origin story of Hagenees vs Hagenaar

As one of the most important cities in the Netherlands (Amsterdammers, fight me), it’s no wonder The Hague has a culture full of old...

Dutch Quirk #35: Put public urinals in the middle of busy streets

Picture this: you're taking a delightful walk through a classic Dutch city, completely mesmerized by the canal houses when all of a sudden: yep,...

It's happening

Upcoming events

The latest Dutch news.
In your inbox.