Our 50th Anniversary has been a big year for L’Arche. This bulletin offers some glimpses of the life and creativity that are expressed when L’Arche people with and without intellectual disabilities celebrate together. Celebration and forgiveness are at the heart of L’Arche, as Jean Vanier has pointed out. Celebrations in L’Arche call forth great creativity, they nurture our gratitude, and they help build commitment to one another and to those in need beyond L’Arche.
In this anniversary year, L’Arche Canada is working to shift society’s perception of people who have an intellectual disability by presenting positive images of friendship. We do this not only because it is good for people who have disabilities but also because it is good for our society. Our aim is to encourage a more welcoming and compassionate society, one where every person can belong and contribute their gifts.
“The greatness of a human being is to move from Me to We,”Jean Vanier told We Day’s 20,000 students and educators who filled the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Sept. 20th, 2013. This is the second year that L’Arche Canada has prepared a Vanier video clip for organizers Marc and Craig Kielburger. Secondary students in some provinces learn about L’Arche and Jean Vanier
in their curriculum. For example, the new Ontario Grade 10 History and Civics courses ask students about the contribution of L’Arche to the lives of people who have disabilities in Canada and to Canadian society.
I have heard Debbie Turnbull in nursing homes, all along the path to our destination, greeting unknown individuals with a warm “Hello” and, “You look nice today.” Debbie’s marvelous inner freedom draws her to connect with new people and to set them at ease. We gave a talk to a class at the local community college together. Presentation concluded, as I was tidying up our materials, I looked up to see Debbie circling the room, introducing herself personally with a handshake to all 42 students. Debbie transforms the present moment and builds bridges by her candour, gentleness, humour, and warmth.
At the heart of L’Arche are the stories of women and men who have found a place to belong in one of L’Arche’s many communities across Canada. Most move into L’Arche homes, some come into L’Arche day programs. Here are several stories of people who have recently come to L’Arche, each one’s life sacred and beautiful. Among the Bulletin's news items is a report of Jean Vanier's video address to 20,000 students that kicked off WE Day.
When Jean Vanier visited institutions, before he started L’Arche, he was disturbed not only by the loneliness of people with intellectual disabilities but also by the aimlessness of their lives. They might well sit all day in a barren room with no activities and little interaction with others. Fundamental to the vision of Jean and L’Arche is that people with intellectual disabilities should have meaningful daytime work and opportunities for creativity.
We, at L'Arche Canada surveyed hundreds of young people with intellectual disabilities, their families and teachers using a paper survey and an online survey with different forms for each of these three gtroups. The feedback we received told us we would be meeting a significant need with this resource. To the question on the families survey, “What is the greatest challenge you face?” all too often the response was similar to that of this parent:
“Finding people who want to stay in my son’s life and spend time with him. He calls people on the phone and they say they will come over but they rarely follow through. I don’t want people in life that I have to pay to be there. He wants, as do I, people in his life that are there because they care for him in his unique and wonderful way.”
Dear Ingrid and Sarah,
A week ago Thursday I called Emmaus House and spoke with Florian [one of the L’Arche assistants]. We had a good conversation. Florian told me all about Cameron’s activities and how he and Cameron would be going to New Brunswick on an exchange visit. Cameron was out at the meeting with you Ingrid, and Florian said he would get Cameron to call when he came home.
“Astounding” is how one young person describes the story of L’ Arche. In 1964 Jean Vanier left the world of power and prestige to live with two men who had an intellectual disability. He was profoundly touched by their suffering and wanted to help. But he discovered that they wanted more than his help; they needed his friendship. He quickly realized that he had embarked upon a journey from which he would not turn back because of his commitment to the people he had welcomed.
Joliette is a lovely city a century and a half old, located 50 km northeast of Montreal, on the Rivière l’Assumption. Among its notable features are an art museum housing a large collection from the French Middle Ages–and a L’ARCHE community! L’Arche Joliette has now opened a second home and welcomed three new people with intellectual disabilities.
The theme for this bulletin sprang from an email I received one day last June from Julie Gittins, house leader of my L’Arche home for three years in the 1980s. “Today” she wrote, “I am celebrating the 25th anniversary of coming to L’Arche!” In the address line were her closest L’Arche assistant friends from 25 years ago—five of us who are still in L’Arche and four former assistants—a psychologist in Australia working with torture victims, a social worker in the non-profit sector in Canada, and an American couple, he a theology teacher and she a development director for an African American school.
L’Arche is about caring for people with intellectual disabilities and also about changing society through its message of hope and inclusion. Young people are a particular focus. L’Arche helps its many collegeaged assistants discover their gifts and find a vision for their lives; and frequently, L’Arche communities give presentations in schools. Responding to requests from high school educators, in recent years L’Arche Canada has collaborated to produce a body of highly regarded curriculum materials for leadership, civics, social studies, religion and philosophy. Teachers are enthusiastic about them and students are drawn to L’Arche values...
When we made the big move from Toronto to Vancouver in 1996, my husband and I were wanting to change our somewhat “workaholic” lifestyles. Someone told me that the L’Arche Greater Vancouver Board was looking for a new treasurer. I had never heard of L’Arche and was a little hesitant that it might not be the right fi t for me. However, I was convinced to give the Board a try for a few months…
“We should all be so lucky to have a death like Rufus MacKinnon, “ says physician Mark Bennett. Rufus, a member of the L’Arche Cape Breton community, was a man who loved long walks and ice cream and hugs and sweeping the fl oor and drying dishes, and who did not speak and needed assistance with most tasks of daily life. Mark Bennett is a doctor in family practice in Inverness, Cape Breton. With over 3000 patients on his case load, Rufus stood out to Dr. Bennett. “Who can explain why I liked Rufus? I think everyone liked Rufus!” comments Dr. Bennett. As Rufus aged and neared the end of his life, Dr. Bennett supported Rufus’ family and L’Arche community in their decision to have Rufus die at home.
The grade eight students in Mrs. Brownlee’s class at Crossland Public School in Newmarket, Ontario know how to create a welcoming classroom environment where each one belongs and has a place. Two years ago, inspired by the L’Arche curriculum package Belonging: The Search for Acceptance, Laurie Brownlee re-structured a core two-month segment of her class’s school year around this theme.