BeLonging Beginnings

29 Jan

For years I had heard about this man, Jean Vanier, and this community, L’Arche. It always peaked my interest but never enough to actually pursue more knowledge around the subject……UNTIL a few years ago.

Back in 2007 I was working for a day program here in the city for people with disabilities. It was there that I fell in love with spending time with people with disabilities; however, I was not overly fond of the “us and them” mentality so prevalent in the organization. The people with disabilities were often simply viewed as our “charges” for the day – there was no sense of equality among “them”, the participants in the program and “us”, the workers. It was a fairly obvious and easy transition from that organization in Regina to L’Arche in Saskatoon.

So what is L’Arche? L’Arche is actually french for “the ark”…as in “Noah and”. It is an international community (in over 30 countries worldwide) that was started in France by a Canadian named Jean Vanier. He welcomed two men with intellectual disabilities from a local institution into his home and a phenomenon comparable to that of sliced bread was born.

Jean Vanier believes that “people with disabilities are among the most oppressed and excluded in the world”, primarily because our society is highly competitive. We are expected to contribute through our work, family, etc. But what happens to those that aren’t able to contribute and therefore compete?

In L’Arche, people with disabilities are called the core members – they are the heart of the house. The assistants are those of us that live(d) with the core members. Assistants often help the core members with any physical needs they may require…but the core members help us assistants with more important things: our spirtual and emotional needs. We mutually assist one another in daily life. From experience I can say that my time as an assistant has formed me in ways I could never have imagined and it was because of the authentic relationships between myself and the other assistants in L’Arche, but primarily through my relationships with the core members of L’Arche Saskatoon.

Regina is sadly lacking L’Arche. When I returned from my year as an assistant in Saskatoon I knew that we needed something comparable here in Regina. I was pointed in the direction of several others feeling the same way and a community called BeLonging was born.

BeLonging is a community of people with and without intellectual disabilities that gathers on a monthly basis. We share soup, pray, and talk about life together. All are welcome and all are valued. We are all nourished in so many ways through these gatherings…ALL of us, from the physically weak to the strong. It is a place where people can freely let down their guards, knowing that they will be accepted as they are rather than judged for what they are not.

We hope to continue growing this community, inviting more people, developing more ideas. Though we may never become a L’Arche community, we are happy to promote the same values and perhaps one day build similar homes and workshops that celebrate life in the same way as L’Arche does here in Regina.

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One Response to “BeLonging Beginnings”

  1. PLU February 1, 2011 at 3:08 am #

    “Assistants often help the core members with any physical needs they may require…but the core members help us assistants with more important things: our spirtual and emotional needs.”
    This placed a tear of joy in my heart. Thank you for your witness. Never has it been put more beautifully and yet so simply. All too often those with disabilities are seen as having to sacrifice for or do extra work for, as in all they do is take, even if they have no power to change their needs. Rarely are they seen as the giver or for their contribution to society that they are all to willing to share, but that we have to slow down and connect to long enough to be blessed to witness it. Sounds a lot like prayer life and our individual relationships with God, doesn’t it? We have much to learn from them.

    My prayer is that more and more may see through eyes of Love over judgement. Most of all I pray that our fears may be cast aside, to at least open ourselves to the chance of this witness more often. I speak amidst my own condemnation of self in falling prey to these very same fears. Even in this, let us not bear shame or lay blame for our (society’s) faults; rather, may those of us guilty be blessed with the capacity and will to make the first steps to change. GB the progress of choosing love over fear and GB them!

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