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Volunteering in Nantes

Recently, I was given a wonderful opportunity to travel abroad and be a live assistant for the Little Sisters of the Poor in Nantes, France. On 29 July 2019 I arrived at Nantes airport and received a very warm welcome from Mother Mary Joseph, Sisters Cecelia and Monique, one of the many wonderful volunteers who is part of the extended family.

This greeting set the tone for what was to be a most enjoyable and enlightening stay at the home.

The purpose of my visit was to assist the Sisters in their day-to-day duties wherever possible.  This involved a range of various tasks from counting donations to assisting the residents with their eating and getting around.

I also spent time assisting staff in the laundry room, dining room, garden, and being involved with social activities; these included Friday morning gym sessions, visits to the nearby parks and attractions and bingo, which was very popular indeed!

I found it particularly entertaining when I spent time with the residents as part of a team of Sous-Chefs helping prepare the lunchtime menu! I must point out that everyone survived my involvement in the kitchen.

Throughout my stay I was welcomed into every aspect of daily life at the home by everyone there. Consequently, I witnessed at first hand the real compassion shared by all and I tried my best to help the cheerful, caring team. These activities gave me the opportunity to experience the true spirit of community living.

Although my French has a lot to be desired, it was obvious that staff and residents shared an aura of care, compassion and a true sense of belonging. It is true that through care we have the gift of a universal language and a friendly smile goes a long way! My mission of hospitality was to help others, and my daily phrase was ‘je vous en prie’ which translates as ‘you’re welcome’! 

I had many unforgettable moments during my three-month stay, and it was especially memorable to be there during the Feast of Saint Jeanne Jugan, and the Semaine Bleue – a national event to honour the elderly. Being part of the celebrations that are important to the foundress of the Little Sisters and the local community it serves will always be cherished moments.

It was a real highlight to visit La Tour, the motherhouse.  As well as it being a special place in the life of St. Jeanne Jugan’s, I had the privilege to witness Sisters of nine nationalities make their final vows there. It was a humbling and special occasion, seeing people from across the world, with their families, being united in their mission of serving God by caring for the elderly.

I cannot thank the Sisters and the volunteers enough for the time they spent with me. I not only learnt more about caring for the elderly, but they also gave me a deeper understanding of sharing and the true spirit of giving.

I experienced many happy moments during my time with the Sisters and residents – everyone is truly an exceptional gift and blessing within the organisation.

Merci Beaucoup pour tout

Bonne et heureuse nouvelle année!

Louise Lilley