Art of Dying Art of Dying_Volume III_joomag | Page 35

Director. “When I started in this new role, I decided we’re in the Happiness Business rather than the elderly care business,” explains Gea. “I wanted to inject life into our elderly care home. We cannot solve all the troubles that come with aging but we can give a smile a day instead of, or as well as, a pill a day. We can provide joy as well as safety. And my way of adding life, smiles and joy? Asking young students to move in.” However, when Gea suggested this idea to the board members who are in overall charge of the care home, they were shocked. “For them, students represented ‘sex, drugs and rock and roll." They didn’t see how student life could possibly be compatible with a home for the elderly.” But Gea was determined and, as the elderly residents were very positive about the idea, the board finally agreed to one student living at Humanitas for a short trial period. Onno, a 23-year-old spiky-haired party-loving social work student, was given a warm welcome by everyone at Humanitas and the trial was an instant success. “Right from the start, our residents liked the idea of young people hanging around and spending time with them,” says Gea. “Over the next few months, five more students moved into apartments at Humanitas – and as they moved in, the atmosphere of the house changed. It became lighter. There were more positive moments, more laughter, more smiles."  “The students sometimes say they can ‘earn a smile’ because that’s their reward for spending time with the older residents – a smile of appreciation.” At the moment, three male and three female students live at Humanitas. Gea explains that the students move out when they graduate and find a job but there’s no shortage of young volunteers waiting to snap up any vacant apartments. “At the moment, the students who live here are studying communication and urban design,” explains Gea. “We avoid students who are studying nursing or other ‘caring’ When I started in this new role, I decided we’re in the Happiness Business rather than the elderly care business. GEA SIJPKES, DIRECTOR OF HUMANITAS HOME FOR THE ELDERLY subjects as our young residents aren’t here to provide care for our elderly residents. They’re simply here to be good neighbours.” Gea explains that the only rule at Humanitas is ‘no trouble.’ “That’s the rule for everyone,” she stresses. “And because many of our elderly residents are deaf, they’re rarely VOLUME III | 35