This past week we had 26 St. John’s students volunteer at three different local organizations. In total, each of them volunteered 2-3 hours of their time, providing service and learning about two different causes. Two groups were assisting the elderly in senior homes (Brussels, Waterloo), and one returned to organize activities for children of asylum-seeking families (Alsemberg).

Below you can read the reflection of our regular CAS blogger, Eva, Grade 11:

Along with five other 11th grade students, and Mme Froidcoeur, we volunteered on Wednesday to help out at the Little Sisters of the Poor in Brussels by serving food to an elderly people’s home. Little Sisters of the Poor are an international group of nuns, also based in Belgium who care with respect and dignity for 100 elderly people in the Marolles, one of the most deprived and poorest communities in Brussels. Their activity is also promoted by Serve the City. Once we arrived we were asked to divide into two different groups, one group (Lara, Olivier, Jessica and José) assisting the elderly residents on the first level, considered as the most independent residents, whilst I along with Natalia and Mme Froidcoeur helped out on the fourth level, in which the most vulnerable and frail resided.

Being assigned to the more vulnerable residents, with mental and physical difficulties and often an inability to communicate to each other as well as ourselves, was upsetting, as their lives appeared so restricted. We were very conscious to communicate as best we could and not offend anyone unnecessarily by not being able to hear or understand them. However, I was aware that perhaps some of the residents with mental and physical fragilities might be very uncertain of their future and perhaps not receive many visitors during the week. Therefore I believe these visits and small acts of kindness are worthwhile. 

Once we had finished serving dinner, we were allocated to serve on the first level. The atmosphere was much more animated and we felt we could provide a more personal approach by being able to approach and speak to them more openly.

We met an elderly lady called Bernadine, who goes by the name Nadine who really made my day. Little did we know that Nadine had been a basketball player for over 40 years and like many of us at St. John’s, had traveled and considered herself as international rather than Belgian. This contact with Nadine really made me understand how much we have to learn from our elders. Although we had only spent a very little portion of our evening talking to Nadine, it was so wonderful to hear how positive and proud she was of her life when reflecting on it with us. She even admitted that she found it hard to make friends in the home as people can be so unpredictable, mental care issues can result that her companions can be completely lucid one day and unable to connect or function the next day. I hope that this visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor was as worthwhile for the elderly people of the as it was for us.

After this experience, I have reflected on the fact that we all live in a cycle of life, and that old age, mental health issues and loneliness can happen to anyone. When many of the elderly in this home are perhaps at their most vulnerable and lonely, any visits and kind words may matter to them. I have also reflected that we cannot make assumptions on people and their previous lives, nor assume that people with mental difficulties are unable to respond to a kind word. Although we may think their lives are difficult, we cannot underestimate how much impact we have made with a visit and we can all learn from their knowledge and principles. The elderly are the most vulnerable in any community and this opportunity to serve dinner, have a chat with people and listen and learn from their life experiences will make our society more enriched and stronger. It is the key to humanity to take responsibility for vulnerable communities and reach out to our elderly community as best we can. I can genuinely say that it was a really eye opening experience and I would be very inclined to go back and visit again.