For more than 20 years, the association of Petits Frères des Pauvres has welcomed students in the south of France every year during the summer to foste intergenerational ties. Summer is a time when the isolation of our seniors is even more acute. For all the members of the international federation of Petits Frères des Pauvres, it is an opportunity to offer the fragile and poor elderly people time to meet, a wonderful way of maintaining the link between generations and openness to the world. Lavender, 21, and Margaret, 23, are American students and know the association through their French teacher. During the summer, they joined teams of volunteers from the Petits Frères des Pauvres in Occitanie to visit isolated elderly people. In support of the Toulouse teams, they live a summer experience far from home but close to their hearts.
How do you feel about the organization ? What meetings or exchanges have you had with the people you are visiting ?
L: It’s very rewarding! I love history very much and I live it through the stories of the men and women I meet, as when they tell me about their childhood, during the war for example. I find it exciting to have their point of view, to have them share their stories and cultures with me. I exchange with people who are alone and who don’t go out much. What makes me sad is that they tell me that they have children who do not visit them. In fact, some have families, but they have lost contact for one reason or another. Life has made them find themselves alone.
I realize, that each time I visit people, how they are unique, they each have things to share, a story, a life, passions.
M: On my side, every Tuesday, I offer a ballroom dance class and I welcome a dozen people elderly and volunteers . It is open to everyone, even people in wheelchairs, because I adapt to all people, and we can approach dance in all ways. The funny thing is that sometimes they are shy at first and don’t dare, then as they go along, they start moving and, most of the time at the end of the class, everyone dances. The first day, the person who was the first to dance was a 97-year-old lady, she was incredible and delighted to be able to find a space to dance with other people.
During my studies, I did research on Alzheimer’s disease related to dance and music. And I realize that music can be beneficial for all seniors: it can help them to remember memories, to rediscover the joy of life, to make them want to move. Even if they are sitting, they can dance sitting down or just listen to music, and it feels good!
I also do visit at home and nursing home. The people I meet are alone for different reasons, sometimes they are very old, they have lost their families or have complicated relationships with them, sometimes they can no longer move so they really need to see a smiling face, to see someone who wants to talk to them.
I also go to the Toulouse Psychiatric Hospital with the team from the Jardins Des Silos-Garonne and meet people who like to play and dance. During my studies, I did research on Alzheimer’s disease related to dance and music. Here, I’m not necessarily with people with Alzheimer’s disease.
I find it exciting to have their point of view, to share their stories and cultures with me. I exchange with people who are alone and who don’t go out much.
What is the benefit of spending these few months in the organization?
L: What I like is that each person I meet has a great history, and even if life is short, it can also be long, and you can have many adventures. As I am at a time in my life when I wonder about my future, it gives me hope to know that I can live a lot things, that I don’t have to decide what to do with the rest of my life, I can enjoy what will happen. I create strong bonds with the people I meet, I care about them and I want them to be happy and it really feels good to feel useful.
M: The first few days were a little difficult because the elders also talk about illness and death. But it made me realize that it was important to live, and that it was not worth staying alone, when you can move, see people. The people I visit have no choice, while I can go out, enjoy meeting new people, take care of others and I must do it. Of course, sometimes you feel slack and want to do nothing, but you have to know how to take advantage of the chance you have to live and be able to live well with others, it’s really something that these people and my experience in the association have taught me.