Cultivating Our Differences

by Aude van Lidth de Jeude
(Brussels Unitarian Universalist Fellowship)

As part of its social action program, the EUU recently donated to the farm “La Ferme Nos Pilifs,” which thanks the EUU for its generous contribution to their cause.

“NOS PILIFS” is an example of successful social integration working for the education and career opportunities of persons with intellectual disabilities.

The farm NOS PILIFS (a non-profit organization) is the most well-known organization under the umbrella organization Les Amis des Pilifs (Friends of Pilifs), which serves to care for and integrate the intellectually disabled of all ages. These non-profit entities are linked by a common philosophy: accepting differences and working towards the urban inclusion of persons with intellectual disabilities. Someone with an intellectual disability has limitations in two areas – intellectual functioning and day-to-day living. These are characterized by below-average intellectual functioning or mental ability to learn, reason, make decisions, and solve problems; and a lack of skills necessary for day-to-day living and adaptive behaviors such as being able to communicate effectively, interact with others, and take care of oneself. People with intellectual disabilities can and do learn new skills, but they learn them more slowly.

The history: The specialized primary school and rehabilitation center “Nos Pilifs” was founded by the Belgian Nellie Seiler Filipson, who had been sent to a rehabilitation center as a child with tuberculosis and was a refuge as a teenager during WWII. Subsequently, throughout her life, she has been sensitive to the needs of those with a disability. One of her three children was diagnosed with physical and behavioral symptoms which prevented him from being included in the existing educational and professional network. The lack of support systems to meet her son’s needs prompted Nellie to fight for government subsidies and private funding. In 1971 she founded the school and center for re-adaptation in the north of Brussels, “Nos Pilifs” (an anagram of her name), for youth up to the age of 13. The school is linked to the Belgian educational system and currently has fifty-six type-3 autistic and other intellectually disabled children. The rehabilitation section provides multi-disciplinary assistance in speech therapy, assistance with psycho-motor skills, physical therapy, and behavioral psychology, based on each child’s needs. In 1980, a day center for extracurricular activities after school and during school holidays was included in the school. Over the years, approximately 500 children have benefited from these resources which “put the children at the center of the center.”

As her son grew, his needs changed, and Nellie created infrastructures to meet them.

In 1984 a protected work atelier, “La Ferme Nos Pilifs” (the farm), was created to include him as a professionally active member of society despite his mental disability. In 1985 “La Maison Nos Pilifs” (the home) was established. This is a group of supervised living accommodations so that the adults working at the farm can live autonomously. (It later included people going to the day center.) In 1989, a day center “Le Potelier” was opened by one of the occupational therapists. The aim was to meet the needs of disabled persons not able to work. In 2011 “Ados Pilifs,” a secondary school for autistic and mentally retarded teens, was established. In 2015 “Villa Pilifs,” a shared home was built, and “Les Piloux,” a pre-school for children aged two and half opened.

Cultivating at the Farm

The multi-functional Farm Nos Pilifs has expanded over the years and now has 180 employees, 140 of whom have intellectual disabilities. This is a protected work site for intellectually disabled adults approved by the Belgian government. Its reason for being is both social and ecological. Located on the rural northern outskirts of Brussels, Belgium, it is on a 5-hectare plot of land donated by the city. The farm is comprised of bio fruit orchards and vegetable gardens, a bio greenhouse, a bio garden center selling plants and garden accessories, a store with organic food and produce from the gardens and natural body and home products, a bio-atelier for baking and packaging dry organic foods, a café and brasserie with soups, sandwiches, pasta and desserts and an animal park with chickens, goats, sheep, etc. Eight groups of eco-gardeners also offer mowing, trimming hedges and bushes, maintenance or landscaping services, as well as building  fencing, sandboxes and tree houses, installing swings or playgrounds, under professional supervision. Children’s day activities can be arranged during school holidays or ‘days at the farm’ for school outings or birthday parties. The variety of these activities provides jobs for adults with intellectual disabilities, as well as an active role in their neighborhood and our society.

  • individual donations to the farm “La Ferme Nos Pilifs” can be made to account: BE71 8335 4434 5169
  • Information on other sections of the “Nos Pilifs” organization can be found on the website
  • The biography of Nelly Seiler (1926–2012) and her life’s legacy (in French) ISBN: 9782390150473