Volunteers help target older people’s loneliness

If you are offered a flower on October 1, the UN International Day of Older Persons, it is likely to be from the charity Les Petits Frères des Pauvres who will be suggesting that you pass it on, with a smile and a few kind words, to an elderly person, who may be living alone and lonely.

Les Petits Frères des Pauvres (petitsfreresdespauvres.fr) was founded in 1946 to support an elderly population which felt abandoned after the ravages of war.

Today the need for it is just as great with an ageing population and an economic crisis which has left many older people with few resources and often alone. The charity helps by setting up teams of volunteers who visit people in their home.

Chantal Saint Marc, is a volunteer from Langon, Sud Gironde who visits two people in their homes regularly and talks to another by phone.

A retired nurse who worked with the elderly, she did not want to lose contact with this generation. “It is terrible the number of people who do not speak to anyone in a day. On a first visit we ask the person about their life to get used to talking again.

“Later, we talk about other interests to revive their enthusiasm in doing things, so they become less introverted.

“Elderly people feel they no longer have a place in society and it is important to show them they have a lot to offer.”

Mrs Saint Marc says being a visitor is a long-term commitment but the hours are flexible. “There is more than one volunteer assigned to each person, so no-one becomes too involved in a one-to-one relationship.”

Spokeswoman Isabelle Sénécal said the 12,000 volunteers were crucial with actions such as Christmas meals and holidays, where someone can have a first holiday in years in one of the 16 holiday homes. Last year it helped 37,200 people with 13,600 getting visits.

The charity would welcome English-speaking volunteers. They need some French to communicate but Mrs Sénécal says their input would be positive: “Many of the people we work with show a great curiosity, and I am sure some would appreciate a few basic lessons in English and hearing about a different way of life.”

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