Seva Experience at an Institution for Dementia 

A couple of weeks ago Netherlands youth started Seva in the north of Holland. The group is now just two people going to a closed institution for people suffering from dementia, but with hopes to grow more numbers in time.  At the first meeting only one youth volunteer went alone and that experience explained the reason to do this Seva. The institution was very happy for the help and said it was very much needed.

The institution provided a tour through the building which was basically just two long straight corridors with chambers where the residents live, one left and one right. On the tour, they ran into a few wandering residents. The tour guide explained that there is a lot of anxiety in the residents’ minds and bodies which causes them to start wandering off without any goal or direction (luckily they can’t go far as they are well protected). Some were just sitting there the entire day on the same spot. Waiting, just being.

Having never been confronted with dementia (and furthermore the energy in the building felt empty), the experience was a bit scary because this was by far not a field of expertise for the volunteer. How to bring light and happiness to these people when they are most of the time ‘away’ (not present)?

Despite the doubts and fears about this Seva project, feeling slightly uncomfortable, the one youth went ahead the next week and brought a friend with a dog. Dogs are very popular in this institute and they lighten up the residents. They were to be placed where most needed and ended up with a man (picture) who was brought to the place about a year ago. He just sits in his chair, all day long. Doesn’t leave the room. He looked very lonely and had a visitor (volunteer) only once a week. The two Holland youth settled around him and started a conversation. He was reluctant to talk much at the beginning, but slowly he melted and half way through he was telling stories from way back in full HD colour! The two could tell he was still very present as he had kept his sense of humour. Only his short term memory was almost gone, but that didn’t really matter anymore.

The two felt that afternoon was an unending stream of love and compassion for this man and all the other beings that they came across in that building. The beauty in all this is that they are all ‘strangers’ but they treated them as though they were their own grandma or grandpa. The love that came forth in doing Seva felt universal, endless and did not discriminate. This has to be Love with capital L that comes straight from Swami, they figured.

After finishing, they felt fulfilled. It was only one man, but just to hear his words: ‘I’m happy you came to visit me’ is enough to keep coming back!