Caterina telling us about her volunteering in HAS

H.A.S. is a large organization, involved in social housing projects with various target audiences and operating several facilities. The ESC project that I took part in is aimed at accompanying women experiencing severe socio-economic difficulties. This took place at « Claire Lacombe », an assisted living residence project (maison relais) operating at two locations in the centre of Marseille.

The volunteers joining the project are placed in one of these locations. These facilities consist of apartment buildings with several studios, inhabited by women. On the ground floor, there is a common area with kitchen room, dining room, and various appliances, such as washing machines. The team that running Claire Lacombe consists of a coordinator, two educators, one or two trainees, and a medical nurse. This is the team that I took part in.

Most of the women living at the facility come from difficult backgrounds and have a history of issues related to addiction, psychiatric disorders, and social isolation. Each of them has a story to tell. The experiences that they had made them incredibly resilient and strong, but at the same time fragile. At Claire Lacombe, they were given full autonomy. Our team’s task consisted of accompanying them in their path of empowerment that favoured achieving independence and stimulating their interest. Our work aimed to improve their socio-psycho-physical well-being.

My main tasks as a volunteer consisted of organizing and running a variety of group activities that took place at both locations. The purpose of these activities is to promote socialization and motivate the inhabitants. In particular, these activities consisted of shared meals, outdoor picnics and hikes, trips to the theatre, participation in artistic and creative workshops. The individual activities consisted of accompanying them to medical appointments, bureaucratic assistance, or just keeping them company and spending some time together.

Although simple, these activities are fundamentally important to the inhabitants of the maison relais. They allow them to share their hardships, counter the loneliness, and battle the addictions that they suffer from. The tasks that I have to perform are not difficult in themselves, but they required being sensitive when communicating and keeping an open mind.

I study community psychology, so this project was extremely relevant to my educational background, and I felt like it allowed me to grow as a professional. Observing my team’s innovative working methods was illuminating, and I was inspired by a high level of professionalism in their approach. Despite language difficulties, I’ve built good relationships with my colleagues and the women, and I enjoyed working with them. Moreover, Marseille is an exciting place. Most people describe it as something that you either love or hate. For me, it was love at first sight :). I think it’s a very « open » city, positively chaotic, and rich in culture and socio-political activism.