Wrapped in a cloak of gold
By Inica Loe
Saint Martin of Tours gave half of his cloak to a person in need. His feast is celebrated on 11 November. It happens to be on this day that our editor Inica Loe pays a visit to the province of Limburg, in the south of the Netherlands. She is paying a visit to a small organization that provides social care, called Pallium Zorgbemiddeling. Here, she discovers that a single person in need of care can set a lot of wheels in motion.
'After three weeks of care, my third client told me in her Limburg dialect: "Now I feel safe and secure." That was the biggest compliment she could have paid to the people who were providing her with care. Later, she asked if it was possible for her to continue to live in her own home. During our meeting, everyone answered this question with a whole-hearted yes: we will continue to care for her until she passes away. Next month, she will be ninety-five and she is still living in her own home. She is counting on us to make this happen, and that is exactly what we do.'
Today is Martinmas, the day of Saint Martin - a fitting day to pay a visit to an organization that provides social care. In the province of Limburg, the eleventh day of the eleventh month also means the start of the carnival season and the election of the local King Carnival. The city of Maastricht looks festive: everywhere I look, I see people in pink wigs, wearing elaborate costumes. I ring the bell at the home of Mariel van Knippenberg-Carré, owner of Zorgbemiddeling Pallium Portam. 'Providing warm care', as it says in their leaflet. For two years, her one-woman business has served as an intermediary to facilitate care based on anthroposophic principles. I am given a warm welcome by a friendly woman who speaks with the local soft 'g'. Her caring nature is reflected in the interior of her stately town house, with its beautiful things and harmonious colour scheme, as well as in the delicious Limburg flan I am served.
'What are the benefits of warm care? It benefits everything,' is Mariel van Knippenberg's answer to my first question. 'The circle of carers surrounding a client creates a small community in which everyone can make use of their talents, whether they are a wonderful cook, have excellent conversational skills or are a good nurse. Everybody can be different, as long as they work well together, with a central focus on the client. Pallium's work first began after I received a request from someone who only had a few weeks to live. He did not want any strong measures to alleviate his pain: I don't want to miss my own end, he said. He asked me whether I knew someone who could provide home care and support. I asked around and an initial group was formed, with a few others joining later on. Without artificial anaesthetics, he lived for a number of months. In the meantime, several professional nurses and carers had contacted me, in their search to find a more people-friendly way of working. That is how my first circle began. Just as the sun is surrounded by planets, so a person who is ill should be surrounded by carers. They should not have to depend on just one or two people.'
'In the area of home care, I am the first one who is working based on the principles of anthroposophy. Our clients agree to Pallium's care subscription and are guaranteed a care circle of their own. Their is practically no overhead, so all the money from the care budget goes to the people who provide the actual care. Currently, we provide care to twenty clients. We also provide palliative care. Once we come to an agreement with a client, they can count on us until they die. The factor connecting all care circles is the Pallium training, which takes place once a month. By now, all care providers have met and got to know each other through these training sessions. They have been studying the twelve senses, and this year, they are also taking eurythmics classes together, which helps build a mutual connection. After having been introduced to the anthroposophical view of mankind and the fourfould human being, this year we are also working on biographies. Sharing this knowledge strengthens the care that we are able to provide.'
Professional social care
‘Pallium means “cloak” in Latin. The Dutch word for care that is provided in a social context is 'mantelzorg', with 'mantel' meaning 'mantle, cloak'. Our logo contains a representation of the Golden Fleece, the fleece of the gold-haired winged ram that was stolen back from Colchis by Jason and the Argonauts. This royal cloak can be seen between the person receiving care, and the person providing it. I wished to provide professional social care, with the client truly being treated like royalty. The clients are happy with their caregivers. The carers are not just employees, they are Argonauts, wrapping their clients in the Golden Fleece. Because they know how beneficial that is. For example, there is a lady for whom today happens to be her first day in Valckenbosch, an anthroposophical care home. The people from her care circle continued to visit her when she was temporarily staying somewhere else, because Valckenbosch did not have room for her yet. They are still in touch with her.'
'In February of 2008, we started the vigil group Portam (Latin, meaning 'through the gate'). Myriam Driesens, priest of the Christengemeenschap in Eindhoven, a Christian movement promoting religious reform, visited us to talk about death. Now, our vigil team can be reached 24 hours a day. For a while, I had been thinking about providing care in the period leading up to a person's passing. The need for peace, quiet and embedding may clash with the provided measures to alleviate pain. As a result, a number of people worked together to start the Foundation for the Promotion of Anthroposophic Medicine (in Dutch: Stichting ter bevordering der antroposofische geneeskunst), which has taken over the organization of training and education. I still advise on the content, which is focused on the actual practice of providing care and the internal development of the participants.'
'At the moment, I also work 20 hours a week as a team co-ordinator in regular care. Now that Pallium is really taking off, I will have to reduce those hours. I support the care circles by planning the schedules, organizing team meetings and taking care of the paperwork. I have an excellent advisor who knows everything about Dutch legal issues and our system of personal medical budgets. We also regularly work with Buurtzorg, a large organization for home care which also provides small-scale care. If their clients are interested in anthroposophic care, we can provide additional care on top of the allotted hours of regular care.'
'I grew up in the northern part of the province of Limburg, in the south of the Netherlands. I was first introduced to anthroposophy when I was 18 and studying to be a librarian. For a school assignment, I had to summarize Rudolf Steiner's The Philosophy of Freedom - a random book from the philosophy section - in five sentences. I cannot honestly say I understood it all, but I was touched by its moral imagination. In the late 1970s, my husband - who was working for Rijkswaterstaat, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management - was transferred from Arnhem in the east of the Netherlands to Maastricht in the south. At that time, I worked in a library for children's books. I had a passion for British children's literature, so after the birth of our second child, I went back to college to study English. For years, I translated historical children's books for Dutch publishing house Christofoor; all the while reading work after work by Steiner. Our children attended a Rudolph Steiner school, also known in the Netherlands as 'vrije school' or Waldorf schools.'
'As I felt I wanted to make a contribution to society, I started to volunteer at a care home by reading to blind and visually impaired people. Next, I volunteered to help bathe the residents. That's when I knew: this is my calling, I am going to work in health care. Furthermore, I had always wanted to study theology, with a special focus on Judaism. I wrote my thesis on Levinas, and the theme The self and the Other. Levinas is focused on the encounter with the other; the human countenance makes an appeal - to me, as myself. Getting to know his work touched me deeply. To me, his philosophy provides the foundation for a caring society. Based on the anthroposophic portrayal of mankind, I wanted to work from self to self. The way our organization is set up is reflected in the local landscape with its shelter offered by the hills. Limburg's population is comparatively old, as many young people move away to other parts of the country. To me, it is a beautiful thing to be where there is a demand for what I provide. My next goal is to start a centre for day care, where people can come together to join in purposeful activities. But I have to take it slow. This year was the first time I hired someone to replace me during my holiday. In addition to organizing care, I run a biography therapy practice. Given enough time, I would like to expand that practice, too.'
'You can become a better person by simply doing what is good. That requires nothing more than two people who wish to contribute to each other's lives. When I was a little girl, I once gave our strict neighbour a kiss. She burst into tears. I can remember thinking: this is as it should be. All I want is for many others to experience the same.'