L’Arche: A Community for Disabled People


Adam Navis and Liz Waid look at the history of the L'Arche communities. These communities provide a safe, caring place for people with disabilities.

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Transcript


Voice 1

Welcome to Spotlight. I'm Adam Navis.

Voice 2

And I'm Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1

Jean Vanier was seeking something. He had just completed his service in the British Navy. But he did not know what to do next. He did not know what to do with his life.

Voice 2

He looked for answers in books. He read about beauty and the value of human life. As a Christian, he also studied Jesus' message of peace and the value of all people. But these were only ideas. They left him feeling empty.

Voice 1

Today's Spotlight is on the life of Jean Vanier and the communities he began for people with mental disabilities, called L'Arche. Through these communities Jean finally found what he was looking for.

Voice 2

The story of the L'Arche communities begins in France, during the 1960's. At this time, it was common belief that people with mental disabilities were not full people. They were thought of as intelligent as animals. Families had a difficult time caring for a child with disabilities. They often sent their disabled children to large institutions. These places were not like homes. They were colourless and uninviting. In these places, people had nothing to do but walk in circles again and again.

Voice 1

When Jean visited one of these places he realized that what was missing was love. He knew that he wanted to do something, anything that might help the men living there.

Voice 2

Jean began by buying a small house. He named it L'Arche. He invited three men from the institution to come and live with him. He says this about the first day,

Voice 3

"I was completely lost - especially with one of the men. He could not hear or speak. It was difficult talking to him. I should never have removed him from his closed institution into a free situation."

Voice 1

This man had to leave L'Arche. But two men, Raphael and Phillipe, remained. For Raphael, Phillipe and Jean, life was poor and simple. Kathryn Spink, author of The Miracle, The Message, The Story, a book about L'Arche, writes,

Voice 5

They had "...only cold water and one wood-burning stove. They went to the store together. They prepared meals, cleaned the house, and did the washing. The men helped as best they could with the different work in the house and garden. The men made some people afraid and other people fill with pity. The more he became friends with the two men, the more Jean was hurt by such ideas. Even by the people cheering him for what he was doing."

Voice 2

As he lived with Raphael and Phillipe, Jean began to see them in a new way. Again, Spink writes,

Voice 5

"Jean began to sense how living with them could change him. Not by developing his intelligence or leadership skills, but by awakening the qualities of his heart. He was moving towards the understanding that ‘to love someone means being prepared to waste time with them.'"

Voice 2

Jean had looked for the meaning of life in books. But instead he found it in relationships with people with mental disabilities.

Voice 1

Soon, more people joined the L'Arche community. Some people came to assist in the care of the men. Some of these assistants came for religious reasons. Some came because they were looking for a simpler life. But in the end, they were all changed because of working there. One assistant remembers,

Voice 4

"There was a lot of disorder. We were unprepared in many ways. We were young and threw ourselves into this new idea of ‘living together'. We did not think about how late we went to bed. Or saving our energies or having a private life. But it was justified by the fact that we were possibly the first to say to people with disabilities, ‘You are loved just as you are.'"

Voice 2

L'Arche began to add buildings and take in more people with disabilities. People from around the world came to visit and see what was happening. Many were parents of children with mental disabilities. Some of the visitors began new L'Arche communities back in their home countries. There are now 131 communities in over 30 countries.

Voice 1

But L'Arche had its problems too. One struggle was on the issue of religion. The first L'Arche community was based on Christian ideas. But as the communities spread around the world, not everyone was a Christian. Jean Vanier knew that faith was the reason many assistants came to L'Arche communities. It was also a great help to many mentally disabled people.

Voice 2

But if Jean were to say that L'Arche was only for Christians, it would add to the loneliness that many people with mental disabilities already suffered. He had to find a way for many religions to exist together in one community.

Voice 1

Over time, he began to understand that mentally disabled persons are often divided from both family and tradition. What was more important than making people "Christian" was to help each person connect to his or her own tradition. In this way, the pain of rejection may give way to healing and wholeness.

Voice 2

Jean Vanier watched L'Arche grow from one community to many. He began to wonder at the difference between who is able and who is disabled. He wondered at who was really rich and who was poor. His work taught him that things are not always so clear. Everyone carries pain in their hearts. But often it was those with mental disabilities who ended up helping others. Jean says,

Voice 3

"The presence of people with disabilities meant that anything could happen. A server in church could pour water and then walk off and water a flower. A disabled person arriving at Tel Aviv airport at a time of great tension could walk up to a guard, push the man's gun to one side and hold out his hand. The gift of a person with mental disabilities is that they have the heart of a child. Even at the age of 40 or 50, a mentally disabled person can be quite without restraint. They react as a child would. They provide a different understanding of God, humanity and our world."

Voice 1

Today, L'Arche communities continue to serve people around the world. In the words of Jean Vanier, they try to be

Voice 3

"Communities where people, whatever their race, religion, culture, abilities or disabilities can find a place and show their gifts to the world."

Voice 2

The writer and producer of this program was Adam Navis. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. Computer users can hear our programs, read our scripts, and see our word list on our website at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called "L'Arche: A Community for Disabled People." We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight Program. Goodbye.

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Question:

Have you ever felt like you were part of a community? What made that group or place so important to you?

Comments


Avatar Spotlight
egypt
said on March 30, 2010

peace be up on all ..islamic salutation.. in fact l arche is very good and great community i hop all the world becomes like this community i mean all people live together all people are equal   all races are equal all religions are equal   people love each other   people help each other i hop so and i ask   alla our god to do so   thanks for all people who     try to do so and thanks spotlight

Avatar Spotlight
dla'a
said on March 31, 2010

that was so lovely

Avatar Spotlight
adem
said on April 21, 2011

that is a very lovely story. listening this kind of good stories make me so happy and hopeful. on the other hand ? see and read or listen stories in the real life and they are reverse with L’Arche. As human we are so complex and we are so different from each other.