Key people: Helma Eleveld

'It sometimes feels wrong for an animal lover to work here.'
Helma Eleveld – Medewerker Wageningen Bioveterinary Research (WBVR) | Photo: Guy Ackermans

They are indispensable on campus: cleaners, caretakers, catering staff, gardeners, receptionists — it’s a long list. Resource looks up these key people. This time, meet Helma Eleveld (58), Wageningen Bioveterinary Research service employee in Lelystad.

‘Together with Anita, I run the laundry, buy in the clothes and sterilize them. It has been a madhouse here recently because they’ve also been analysing Covid tests. We were suddenly washing an extra 100 kilos of clothing a day, up to 250 kilos in one day! They’re no longer doing the corona analyses: there was a bird flu outbreak and it got too busy.

Anything that is worn in the High Containment Unit (HCU) could become infected with viruses. Those clothes have to be sterilized at the unit and then we wash and dry them. After that, we fold them up and put them on a shelf like in a shop. We’ve got something for everyone in every size and shape: sterile clothing, lab coats, ordinary clothes for animal keepers and technical service staff, even socks and underwear.

Next year, I will have been here 40 years. I like the contact with people. If I see people are feeling down, I ask them if everything’s OK and sometimes they talk about it and feel better. I listen to them and they like that. I am naturally a cheerful person and I don’t like complaining, however hard the work is. Sometimes the pain in my hands is so bad it wakes me up. But now I have a brace and that makes things go better.

Sometimes you hear the shredder that takes the dead animals

I wanted to work with animals when I was young but after doing animal care training, I couldn’t get a job. Then I ended up here. It sometimes feels a bit wrong for an animal lover like me to be working here because we do work with lab animals. I once saw 10 ponies brought in and I felt awful because they’d never be coming out again. But of course you do save other animals that way.

The laundry is underneath the destruction room. Sometimes you hear the carcass shredder that takes all the dead animals. Then Anita and I cover our ears. When I retire, I want to start working with animals. I wish I’d had a small farm but I do have eight cats at the moment, which is also nice.’

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