When BYU interns with Les Petits Frères des Pauvres go to France, they see beyond the old woman sitting on the bench at the park or the weary old man sipping his coffee in a café. They see inside lonely hearts, good hearts, hearts steeped in rich history and bursting with life. In the isolated elderly of France, they see their friends.
A decade ago, French professor Yvon Le Bras was looking for internships for his students when he discovered Les Petits Frères des Pauvres, French for “the little brothers of the poor,” a group that serves the elderly. He sent two students, who enjoyed the experience and greatly improved their French language skills.
Since then, Les Petits Frères des Pauvres has formed a meaningful partnership with BYU. Over the past 10 years, more than 100 students have participated in what is now one of BYU’s most popular internships.
“They offer me so many positions that I cannot fill them. They love BYU students,” says Le Bras. “It’s more than a partnership. It’s like working as friends.”
BYU student and French instructor Nathan Jellen remembers one of the elderly women whom he would drive to activities. Entire car rides were devoted to simply listening to her talk about her life, express her frustrations, and work through personal problems.
On one occasion, however, this woman reached out to Jellen. “She was giving me advice about life,” says Jellen. “I started to realize that the advice that she was giving was about what she herself had experienced, and after that we became friends.”
Jellen loved his internship and returned for a second internship the following year. “There are a handful of us that are addicts,” he says. “You just feel so good when you’re there, and it’s a great way to experience France.”