• International Confederation

    Society of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul

    30 million poor people served in the world

  • International Confederation

    Society of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul

    "I would like to embrace the World in a network of charity"

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Reciprocity of the encounter with the other person

04 October 2016 Projects Témoignage

Reciprocity of the encounter with the other person

The Council for the Département of Hauts-de-Seine (92) in France recently organised training for its volunteers on the subject of home visits, mutual encounters with people and the place of listening in a welcoming approach.   

Forming relationships  

The Council for the Département of Hauts-de-Seine (92) in France recently organised training for its volunteers on the subject of home visits, mutual encounters with people and the place of listening in a welcoming approach.   

Led by Daniel, a retired psychologist specialising in geriatrics, the one-day training session was powerful and fruitful. It led us to question our relationship with others in the context of our service to isolated people.  

Around fifteen French volunteers shared their various experiences (home visits, foodbank welcoming sessions, outreach to the homeless, etc.) as well as their feelings about the way they live out this encounter with vulnerable people. 

Two volunteers from Hauts-de-Seine spoke about their commitment. Jean-François has been doing home visits for some years, and he believes that mutual sharing is vital for offering support. “[…] the person we help has to have the opportunity to help as well. We have to give people who are isolated the chance to give something back in their turn […]”. Jacqueline, another volunteer, says “It’s easy for us volunteers to give, but the gift has to be two-way.”

So mutual support seems essential…though not for everyone. There were some other points of view, such as that of Thierry, a foodbank volunteer. Every Monday morning, he welcomes people in need who come to collect their food parcels for the week. He told how on many occasions he has welcomed street dwellers, alcoholics, whose smell repelled him. In this situation, he acknowledges that he has problems relating to these people, and just wants to give the individual concerned a food bag, without pursuing the encounter any further.   

Such suggestions provoked a response from Lucie Doignon. The President of the Départemental Council of Hauts-de-Seine reminded her volunteers that the SSVP is not just about distribution, but finds its real purpose in the social bonds it forms with the beneficiaries. So she stated: “we must put the person at the centre of the work of the SSVP, prioritising human contact, restoring personal formation and spirituality to the heart of our action”.  

Throughout the day, the trainer reiterated that no action, of any kind, is truly disinterested. This means that a volunteer must seek his or her reward in the work with a person in need, just as this person finds their reward in the relationship formed with the volunteer. 

He explained that supporting a lonely person means forming a relationship with them, walking along beside them where they want to go. Helping doesn’t mean doing instead of, but doing with. It was a very instructive day, demanding of each volunteer that they question their ability to listen to the people they meet and help. For more information about this, contact: ssvp.hauts.de.seine@gmail.com or cgi.communication@ssvpglobal.org

Home visits: detecting invisible forms of poverty

People living alone, isolated, single parents, people in serious physical or material difficulty: how do we identify these “invisible people” and combat their isolation, “a new form of silent poverty in contemporary society” as described by Jean-François SERRES, National spokesperson for Monalisa (Mobilisation nationale contre l’isolement des personnes âgées [National mobilisation against loneliness of elderly people])?

Michel Lanternier, new National President of SSVP France observes that, “the developments in technology, robotics and social networks lead us to believe that people are more closely connected than ever before, and loneliness can be relegated to the history books. Unfortunately, loneliness is a growing problem. It now affects some 5 million people, 1 in 8 of the French population”.  SSVP France is launching a short film to raise awareness of this issue, in the hope of recruiting new volunteers to help alleviate loneliness. Find it on YouTube at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTtUMtDQz5A

François le Forestier, head of the hardship hub for Aux Captifs la libération makes a striking observation, “the people who hide away are those who no longer want relationships, because they have suffered too much or because they are ashamed and feel guilty. And we have to respect their wishes”.  But how far? 

These days, how do we find lonely people and engage in a process of support?  The SSVP advises people wishing to start visiting people at home in order to overcome loneliness that they should turn to a human, regional and social network: local links (neighbours, family, friends, word of mouth), town halls or else medical and social teams (social workers, teachers, district nurses, pharmacies, doctors, etc). Become a volunteer with SSVP France: http://www.ssvp.fr/devenir-benevole/