Humane: Do Some Good
Is any life more valuable than another’s? Some may say so, believing that a life is measured by individual productivity, societal contributions, or outer beauty. Those who cannot perform up to such standards, those who are physically, mentally or emotionally challenged, and not fortunate enough to have a loving family care for them, are viewed as society’s “throwaways”, cast aside, often placed in institutions where care is utilitarian, human connection is minimal, and love is scarce. Is there anywhere that you can turn for help if you are experiencing such challenges yourself or for someone you may know?
Thankfully, there’s Jean Vanier, who started L’Arches in France, as a place for people with intellectual disabilities who share their lives in the same home with people who do not have disabilities, working together to create a community of shared learning. The format works so well, that it has spread to 35 countries in the past 50 years. Here’s a little on the story as written on their website:
The roots of L’Arche International lie in the first L’Arche community, founded in 1964 in Trosly-Breuil, a small village north of Paris. Encouraged by Father Thomas Philippe, a Dominican priest who became his spiritual mentor, Jean Vanier invited two people with intellectual disabilities – Philippe Seux and Raphael Simi – to leave their institution and come and live with him in a small house in Trosly-Breuil, which he named “L’Arche.”
The small community grew fast, soon welcoming new people with an intellectual disability and young people from around the world to share their lives. Unforeseen by Vanier, it did not take long for people to decide to create new L’Arche communities in their own countries. And so 1969 saw the creation of the first home in near Toronto, Canada, called Daybreak, the first of many later communities in North America. In the 1970’s, the vision of L’Arche also inspired people to found L’Arche in India, the Ivory Coast and Honduras.
This expansion meant that L’Arche needed to open up to a wide variety of cultures, languages, and social backgrounds. Although founded in the Catholic tradition, L’Arche communities rapidly became ecumenical or inter-religious, finding their point of unity in a common set of human values. Open and engaged in the world, they seek to be a sign of hope and solidarity. The unexpected expansion of L’Arche on five continents revealed the need for proper structures in order to maintain the unity of L’Arche, and accordingly an International Board was established. In 2014, L’Arche, with 147 communities in 35 countries on five continents, celebrated its 50th anniversary.
A PLACE OF MUTUAL RELATIONSHIPS
People with intellectual disabilities
For a person with intellectual disabilities, L’Arche may be a place to live independently, or in a household with others, as well as a place of work: industrial production, craftwork , services… or a place of activity; at all times, it is a place of support and guidance that adapts as well as possible to the needs of each individual; it is also a place of commitment, to share daily life with the support assistants and other members of the community.
L’Arche International aims for a true partnership between all community members, and strives to put in place the conditions that will help this happen. The way in which people with disabilities are included in the mission of L’Arche varies from culture to culture: for example, some communities put the accent on autonomy and the person being in charge of their personal project, some stress taking responsibility as a public citizen, some emphasize the importance of working together to inspire each person’s growth and development, while some help encourage people with disabilities to speak for themselves. The exchange of experiences allows each person to learn, making for better inclusion of all.
For employees and volunteers, L’Arche is a place of work that is oriented towards accompanying and supporting people with intellectual disabilities. Such support shows itself in the simple gestures of everyday life at home, or in the workshop or activity centre. For those living in the community household, L’Arche is also their home. Wherever, it remains a place to be committed to sharing daily life with other people, whether or not they have intellectual disabilities.
For volunteer Board members, L’Arche is a place to share their know-how, networks, and experience, so that the Board can support the identity and life of the community from a material and administrative point of view. They also commit themselves to get to know the members of the community with intellectual disabilities, assistants and friends.
For the friends who support our communities, L’Arche is a place where volunteering can take many forms: mutual invitations, becoming a friend of a particular member, helping regularly with meals, or maybe art or other recreational activities; for some it will be about sharing expertise and introducing other friends… but whatever form it takes, it is always a commitment to be in relationship with members of the community with and without intellectual disabilities, assistants and leaders.
A L’ARCHE COMMUNITY IS…
At the heart of L’Arche communities are relationships. “Mutuality ” implies that these relations are lived in mutual respect, that the interaction between individuals is marked by honesty. These relationships foster the growth and development of each person. They create the possibility to truly appreciate each person in their uniqueness, whatever their strengths and weaknesses.
Whether you are a board member, an assistant or a person with an intellectual disability, beyond each person’s personal project the daily lives of L’Arche members is enriched by the community dimension: sharing in the chores, the decisions and issues needing reflection, festivals and gatherings, caring for one another… everyone participates in community life according to their abilities and desires.
Fifty years of experience, of partnership with people with intellectual disabilities and collaboration with doctors, psychologists, educators and other professionals in the field, have enabled L’Arche communities to develop a high quality approach to the reality of intellectual disability. In several countries, governments look to L’Arche to assess their policy.
… a place with a spiritual dimension:
Each community welcomes and respects the beliefs and traditions of the people living there, encouraging them to deepen their spiritual life, whether or not rooted in a traditional religious affiliation.
Since the creation of the first L’Arche community, founded in France in the Roman Catholic tradition, many communities have been established in a variety of cultural and religious contexts. Today, whether or not its outlook is ecumenical, inter-religious or linked to a single denomination, spirituality is essential to L’Arche communities.
Jean Vanier is the 2015 recipient of the Templeton Prize. Valued at £1.1 million (about $1.7 million or €1.5 million), the Templeton Prize is one of the world’s largest annual awards given to an individual and honours a living person who has made exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.
Jean Vanier, 86, joins a distinguished group of 44 former recipients of the Prize including Mother Theresa, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. Established in 1972 by the late global investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton, the Prize is a cornerstone of the John Templeton Foundation’s international efforts to serve as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality.
To listen to last week’s interview with Jean Vanier, “The Wisdom of Tenderness”, on Krista Tippett’s excellent show, “On Being”, click here.
To learn more about L’Arche and how you can help, click here.
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