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What belonging, diversity, and inclusion mean to me

L’Arche Canada is launching an online reflection to Celebrate the Gift of belonging, diversity, and inclusion by listening to the voices of persons with lived-experience and those who share life with them.

By John Guido

Garrett Sinclair is a man with something to say. He’s also a man with an intellectual disability. He hasn’t always felt that people respect him enough to listen. “I didn’t like the way people were treating me.” But with the support of family and friends, Garrett has found the courage to speak up.

In September 2018, Garrett was a delegate to the L’Arche Canada General Assembly in Halifax. It was his first time at this large gathering of hundreds of L’Arche members and leaders with and without intellectual disabilities. In fact, it was the first time that delegates from the new L’Arche Fredericton project participated in a L’Arche Canada Assembly.

Above: Garrett enjoying the fiesta at the L’Arche Canada General Assembly

 
At first, Garrett found the gathering a little disappointing. He liked meeting people from all over Canada, but with all the Assembly business and celebrations, when would he have the chance to have his voice heard? Then Garrett took the time to head into “the studio” set up so delegates could share their thoughts on the themes chosen to Celebrate the Gift of 50 years of L’Arche in Canada. Under the lights, with a large microphone before him, the camera operator and interviewer giving him their full attention, Garrett finally felt that he was heard.

Garrett Sinclair

 
The Halifax studio was set up to meet a goal of the 50th Anniversary of L’Arche Daybreak and L’Arche in Canada. “Throughout this 50th year, L’Arche Canada will put a spotlight on the ways our vision and values respond to our world today, on what we are learning within L’Arche and with our partners that promotes the vision and practice of belonging, diversity, and inclusion.” We will do this in a variety of ways, yet we want to begin by listening to our members with and without intellectual disabilities.

Over the next six months, we will share some of what we heard in the Halifax studio through short clips on social media. We hope that these clips will be ‘conversation starters’ that get people thinking and talking about their own experience of relationships and belonging in community; about discovering and developing their unique voice and gifts; and about what happens when people who have been excluded from public spaces – such as persons with intellectual disabilities – take their place and contribute their ideas, gifts, and abilities.

In addition, we have chosen a few testimonies – including one by Garrett – to take a step further in that conversation. These longer clips will be incorporated into the Values campaign that L’Arche Canada launched with partners in 2017. The goal of this campaign is Listening to and amplifying the voices of marginalized people. “We believe that it’s not up to us to empower them, yet when they are listened to, their voices have power. We have the responsibility to transmit their voices publicly so that their lived experience, ideas, and learning contribute to the process of global social reflection and action for change.”

 
The image of the microphone reminds us of the power of the studio space (like the photo shoot space in Mon Ami Gil) in our culture as a space of inclusion. It was powerful to watch each person take the risk to sit centre stage, to be seen fully and share what is important to them. Most of the participants seemed to blossom under the lights and in front of the microphone. They were not looking for fame, but for us to pay attention to what they have to say, to value their contribution and share it with others.

In the studio, we asked each person to reflect on the gift of relationships and belonging; of developing their unique gifts and living with difference; and of people once marginalized helping build their communities. What we quickly realized is that these themes cannot be spoken of separately – they are deeply interwoven strands of what it means to be human. We hope that these reflections will be the beginning of real dialogue in your homes, workplaces and communities, as well as on-line, as more people take their place and contribute their gifts and voices.

 


A Hero Behind the Scenes

Beyond firefighters, medical staff, social workers and police officers, the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that there are even more heroes among us. Truck drivers, grocery store clerks, cooks and couriers now rightfully hold an esteemed place in our collective consciousness as they put their health at risk to keep society functioning.

From Hyderabad to Lethbridge Who Would’ve Thought?

After Roop Chittineni finished high school in his hometown of Hyderabad, India he moved to Southern Ontario to pursue a degree in Kinesiology at the University of Waterloo. He liked exercising and thought that if he learned more about the human body he could use that knowledge to elevate everyone’s life experience.

Memory Box: Pinewood Floorboards

What does a set of 1940s floorboards have to teach us about COVID living?

Stepping Up

When Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer stated that non-medical masks limit the transmission of COVID-19, L’Arche Saskatoon’s artsy residents also got to work. Out came the fabrics, scissors, thread and needles. Brock wanted to contribute using two of his greatest assets: his feet.

A Light Ahead

The social distancing caused by the pandemic has been trying. Thankfully, aside from those who have donated their time, money and ingenuity to help L’Arche, there are the health care workers, grocery store clerks and all those on the front line who are helping the L’Arche community get through this crisis. With their help, it won’t be long until the Gathering Place opens again and the community starts making new memories.

Second Life

Kris first met Joanna in L’Arche London, Ontario. She encouraged Kris to join L’Arche, and he did. They lived and worked side-by-side for six years until Kris moved to Nova Scotia. Still, they managed to see each other a few times a year and occasionally called one another about matters of life and faith. But this call was different.

The Gift of Dance

Dance is a profound gift; it’s an artistic expression, a mood enhancer, a workout, a surefire way to impress a date and a form of magic. A dancer can transform into a flower, a lion or their favourite pop star. Above all, dance is an act of joy. (We dare you to wiggle around for a minute and not feel happier than you were before.) The gift of dance, and all it provides, has found its way into L’Arche.

Life’s Tough Obstacles

It was late June. A park in Edmonton had been reserved. Food was stacked on picnic tables. Local students of all ages were dressed in taekwondo uniforms, preparing for their annual Break-a-thon. The Break-a-thon is an innovative fundraiser where martial arts students showcase their skills by breaking boards. For each broken board, donations are pledged and raised for L’Arche.

Taking our place in the inclusion movement

It is an important time for the accessibility and inclusion movement in Canada and the world, and L’Arche Canada is developing our capacity to take our place.

Silent encounter with the “man who repairs women”

Denis Mukwege begs us empathetically to remain attentive, to listen deeply to what is inherent in our human condition: our sensitivity and vulnerability.

L’Arche Canada’s monthly e-mail review of news, stories, and commentary about what is happening in L’Arche, with our partners, and within Canadian society.




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