On 1 October is the UN Day of Older Persons. On this occasion, we interviewed Jacqueline Pareys, 65, who worked long years for Inclusion Europe as an office helper. She told us about her life, what has changed and about the advice she has for younger people.
Can you tell us how you grew up?
I grew up in an institution and spent the weekends in a host family. They had another daughter. I never got to know my parents, but my host family in a way became my real family. During the week, I spent the days in a day centre. We learnt sewing, cooking and doing basketmaking – not much more, unfortunately.
What happened when you became an adult?
I stayed in different institutions, first in a Belgian town and then in Brussels. We were a small group of people there. But I didn’t like it. I could not really decide about my daily routine because they did not want to leave us alone. This meant that I needed to take part in activities even if I didn’t want to, as I was not allowed to stay on my own. Also, the staff there did everything for us, for example enrolling us for leisure activities outside the centre. In this way you cannot learn to sort things out on your own.
How did you manage to leave the institution?
My life changed when a member of staff said that he thought I was able to live on my own. So I finally moved out! I have been living at my own place ever since. Twice per week a so-called “family aid” comes. Together we prepare the meals for the week. At weekends, I get meals on wheels. I am quite satisfied with this set-up.
What kind of jobs have you done in your life?
First, I worked three times per week in a clothes shop where I was responsible for putting the clothes into the shelves. I did this several years, but then the shop closed. So I was unemployed for some time. And then I found the job at Inclusion Europe! I have been working here as an office helper for many years now. I got to know the three different offices where Inclusion Europe was based, and I have seen many employees and directors come and go. My tasks have stayed the same, though: I clean the desks and other parts of the office, prepare coffee and I also proofread easy-to-read texts in French.
Tell us about some experiences you have had when working at Inclusion Europe. What are things that stick to your mind?
There was one employee who was piling up impressive amounts of documents on his desk. I always needed to tell him to make some space so I could clean it properly! Of course, we also do some banter with the colleagues here.
At the moment, you are on sick leave, and you will soon take your retirement. What has changed since you are not working anymore?
I have more time for other things. I sing in several choirs, do sports, play with my cat and meet with a friend I got to know via an organisation. There are a lot of activities organised by two centres I am connected to. And there are always things to sort out, for example I bought a new bed recently.
Which advice would you give to younger people who are “different”, as you prefer to say?
They should go and find a job! I know it is not always easy. But in this way, you can earn some money and also get out and meet new people. It is very important.