In these times of crisis, support our actions to bring the elderly people out of solitude!
Once a week, I am missioned to the Evangelical Center for the Care of the Elderly run by nuns in Homs, to give some comfort to the residents who very often feel very lonely. There, I had great encounters, including that of Aida with whom I had long conversation in French.
A true achievement as language is an obstacle that I am facing on a daily basis. Yet it was in the retirement home in Homs that I understood the meaning of the proverb "You understand better if you listen with the heart."
Every second was filled with joy, affection and gratitude for all that life has given me. Being in contact with the elderly is a source of learning, because they share with us a whole life of adventures filled with twists of all kinds.
The past few days have been moving. No sooner have I crossed the threshold of the door, than their faces light up. The majority speaks only Arabic, few understand English, but with a smile everything is said. They tell me about their day, emphasizing the most important part: lunch. They are curious about our French eating habits!
In several rooms, they offer me sweets and chocolate so that I can stay longer, a sign of great loneliness. Here, many are really lonely because no one visits them. I am touched to see that a tiny little gesture can seem so big to them. With them I look at the photos of their marriage, the birth of their children, and every time that I remember the first name of one of them, they say to me: "hug". My heart is torn when I see them cry when I leave, but I am moved to see that they all want to say to me in French: "See you soon".
Every week, I have the joy of meeting new residents. There are so many that it is hard to stay with each one for long. While some need a presence, a smile or just a little attention, others, on the contrary, expect a long conversation to feel supported.
I had the chance to forge a special relationship with Aida, one of the residents. One day, she came to me when she heard about a French volunteer on a mission in Homs. We quickly speak about personal and moving. She said to me "You are French and you left France to see the Syrians!" My children, they have their life in France and do not come to see me. Red eyes, her hands clutching mine, her gaze filled with grief, I am speechless. I do not know what to say. Compassionate, I try to put a smile back on her face, and say, "Now that I'm here, every week I come to see you.” Her eyes light up, but her pain is deep, and the loneliness intense.
In this center, where the profiles of the residents are as varied as the stories, it is always difficult to adapt to everyone, to find the right words.
I am always surprised by the way they look at me! They are always full of admiration, congratulate me, and I feel that they expect a lot from my presence. They have a great image of France, of the French, and are grateful to be so present at their side. Often they don't believe me when I tell them I'm 18. With astonished eyes and a certain incomprehension, all have the same answer: “You are courageous. Well done and thank you.” This situation is embarrassing, and I feel a certain pressure, a certain duty not make a false step.
They have known war! They lived in a rich country, a true museum of the history of the East, and in 7 years everything has been destroyed. They grow old with these ruins, these images and for many with the idea that their family has fled, and that they will not return for a few years. They are therefore alone, unable to act. These subjects of loneliness and of war are in every conversation. They don't ask me anything, but they tell me their story.
After a few weeks of visits, for the feast of the elderly, we came with drinks and many pastries. Everyone gathered and each in their own way enjoyed the party. It was a touching moment as the elderly were the center of attention and proud that this day was theirs. With the other volunteers we embarked on a fiery “dabke” and it was to the rhythm of the music that this afternoon took place, between laughter and dancing steps.
Now that my stay in Homs is coming to an end, and my mission is about to continue in the city of Aleppo, I am getting nostalgic for the times I spent here. Gradually I became attached to these residents, as to all the people who crossed my path. What I saw here touched me deeply. And this week is going to end with this feeling of having been useful, of having succeeded in giving. Indeed, my primary goal is to be useful, and to give what I received. I hope that the inhabitants of Homs will have the same feeling, because this beginning of mission was rich.
This party, which embellished the elderly people's afternoon, cost €26. In these times of crisis, support our actions to bring the elderly people out of solitude!