They make the Université de Lyon: meet Louise Chabert

On The August 31, 2020

The Université de Lyon met with Louise Chabert, a student at the Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3. Louise decided to end her studies with an internship at the Université de Lyon’s Science Shop and to use her skills to work on social creativity.

Louise Chabert, a Master’s student in Ethics, ecology and sustainable development at the Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3, joined the “Oasis des Babayagas de Saint-Priest” organization in March 2020. The organization specializes in designing and building housing for able-bodied and self-sufficient retirees who are alone, isolated and who have low retirement income.

What is your Science Shop study about?

The “Oasis des Babayagas de Saint-Priest” organization was founded as an extension of the Montreuil Maison des Babayagas, a kind of “anti-retirement home”. The organization was founded back in 2009, and is run by a team of about 20 people who are constantly working to create an environment where people can live out their old age in a friendly atmosphere with a sense of community and solidarity, even if their budget is limited. The 20 social housing units will be located in the heart of Saint-Priest and will include a 100 m2 common room, a garden, a shared deck and walkways, all of which will be designed to provide a friendly living environment.
The project has been funded and designed in partnership with several public services and authorities (Est Métropole Habitat [OPH], Saint-Priest City Hall, Lyon Métropole Habitat, etc.), and is still a work in progress. The organization has asked the Science Shop to help it summarize its journey so far, using both verbal accounts from the Babayagas residents, as well as documents provided by the different partners involved in the project. Since the beginning of this project, a number of points have been clarified (such as its status, meaning and values), a project timeline has been established, and an organization chart has been drawn up. This work will be summarized and presented in an exhibition that I helped put together with the Babayagas organization, which will provide an opportunity to share ideas, discuss and meet with others.
Finally, this study has also given me material for my philosophy dissertation, with stories about independent living and accounts from retirees and aging people.

How did you adapt your project in light of the epidemic in the spring?

The Saint-Priest Babayagas organization mainly works with people who are not necessarily familiar with computers. So video meetings and e-mails simply aren’t an option for us. Our first idea was to ask the Babayagas residents to write letters. We assumed they would find it easier to express themselves in writing. But writing is not necessarily an easy task for our residents. The majority of the Babayagas retirees come from working-class backgrounds and some were born between the two world wars. As a result, most of them did not attend school regularly, and are now concerned about their spelling and writing skills... So I had to find a way to encourage verbal communication during the lockdown. In the end, we decided that the telephone was our best option. We were pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to talk over the phone and with the content of the conversations. Each personal account was carefully transcribed at the end of each call. In this way, we gathered many different life stories. In the end, the telephone proved to be a great way to create a sense of trust. The Babayagas residents were very comfortable talking over the phone. Perhaps they felt more comfortable because they didn’t have someone looking at them when they spoke. We were able to establish a relationship based on the conversation itself and not on appearances. As a result, the age gap was no longer an issue. On the other hand, the health situation made it very difficult to understand the group dynamics of the organization, even though we were able to meet in small groups.

How can this study help to change the issue of housing for senior citizens?

We prefer to use the term “aging people” rather than “senior citizens”. We all age, every day of our lives. This name avoids categorizing people. I myself also like the term “retirees”, which indicates a legal status, while covering a wide range of individuals. After all, the issues surrounding the words we use to designate them are the same as those surrounding their living conditions: feeling trapped in a world full of perceptions that do not match how they feel (this is an especially common feeling for women). The Saint-Priest Babayagas insist that the project was founded in response to facilities for the elderly, which are said to treat residents like children, while also being too expensive. These people do not want to go there themselves, let alone have their loved ones pay for such a facility. Additionally, they often have a painful experience of having to support a parent or spouse while living in an institution. Thus, the members of the Babayagas Organization were able to express how they would or would not like to live out their retirement. The Babayagas retirees are changing the landscape of housing for aging people by highlighting the lack of control associated with caring for aging individuals and the desire to make retirement a part of our lives that we can choose rather than be subjected to. What’s more, the Babayagas organizations have translated their vision into a real-world model that can be duplicated, while at the same time remaining totally unique since each organization has its own charter. Most importantly, this place was co-designed by the members of the organization, Est Métropole Habitat and the architect. This meant that the people who would be living in the residence could be heard, and that they did not have to speak through specialist representatives: the use of an intermediate often causes misunderstandings of the true needs and rationalizations that lead to suffering.
My biggest takeaway from this internship is that we should work alongside the elderly to ensure that they live out their retirement with dignity, based on their own ideas and choices!