L'Arche Canada

Lisa: An Assistant's Story

Lisa has a Sense of Adventure and a Compassionate Heart

One thing to know about Lisa Wilianto is that she loves adventure, especially if it involves travel. Over a decade ago, she left her homeland of Indonesia to pursue a Master’s degree in Rural Systems Management in Australia. After graduation, she took on a role in L’Arche Liverpool’s Ark workshop in the U.K., crafting greeting cards, candles, and woven accessories, among other products. “I’d never worked with people with intellectual disabilities, but I like just to go with the flow. It was a challenging but rewarding experience,” Lisa says. “I loved it!” And L’Arche Liverpool loved her. They celebrated their 35th anniversary with an awards ceremony during a Christmas dinner. Lisa received the Pleasantry Award, an Oscar-like statue. “I was amazed to get an award just for being myself,” she says.
While in Liverpool, Lisa met her future husband, Andry, a fellow Indonesian volunteering in the UK to aid refugees and fight poverty. Even amid young love, the bonds she forged at L’Arche Liverpool stayed with her when she returned to Indonesia. There she pursued a long-term career at the British Council and her husband grew a business distributing a bountiful resource from their homeland — seaweed. Together they had two children.
In the fall of 2021, Lisa was itching for a new adventure and feeling that she’d like to try living in Canada. She noted a posting for an assistant’s position in Sudbury. Lisa felt a pull, but signing up for this job did not come without sacrifice for Lisa. She had to leave her husband and her children, who were still in school, and to make the long journey alone.

She landed in Northern Ontario just in time for her first real experience of winter. “I was excited about it,” she says. “When I lived in L’Arche Liverpool, it snowed only once and the snow melted that same day.” An Ontarian might say, “Be careful what you wish for!” but she’s loved her winters in Sudbury, especially the winter walks and hockey games. She’s learned that “there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing, and the best way to embrace winter is through sports.” Early on, she went with assistants and core members to a Sudbury Wolves game. Seeing a hockey game in person for the first time, she fell in love with the sport. “The adrenaline is great,” she says. “I have to admit I like the fighting too.” She also likes watching figure skating, where her favourite star is Elvis Stojko.

However, another, even more profound experience than a Canadian winter awaited Lisa in the coming months in L’Arche Sudbury.

Over the past year, Lisa had the opportunity to connect with everyone in the Sudbury L’Arche community on some level, though she holds the memory of a core member named Alain particularly close to her heart.

Lisa and Alain spent time together one day in the spring of 2021. “Alain really wanted to watch Home Alone. “The warm day didn’t quite evoke the Christmas spirit of the film, but it was Alain’s favourite, so I went along with it. Of course, a movie is made all the sweeter with snacks, so we went to the corner store to get Alain’s favourites — root beer and an Aero bar. He was full of energy, talking about this and that in French, and being his usual kind self.”

“But when we returned from the store, I could tell something was not right with Alain,” she said. Paramedics would later rush Alain to the hospital. He had a cardiac arrest. Early that same evening, Alain passed away.

“That was tough, really tough,” she says. “I’d never experienced anything like that. I went to Alain’s room every day and cried silently.”
The leaders at L’Arche Sudbury offered to connect Lisa with a counsellor. However, she felt it was better to talk with loved ones, referring to her husband and children back in Indonesia and also the L’Arche community members who, she says, feel like family.

She grieved with Teresa, the Homes Coordinator, Heather, a board member, and her fellow assistants. Everyone would recall their fondest memories of Alain, such as when he’d sing his favourite French songs while rocking out on his air guitar. She also received a lot of comfort from the house leader, Cheryl. “Alain got to spend his last day doing all the things he loved, because of you,” she told Lisa. “You gave him the last gift he’d ever receive. It’s an honour.”

That idea of a last gift has stuck with Lisa as she works through the trauma. “My wound is still open, but I’m fortunate to have a community that really listens,” she says. On her worst days, she knows she can rely on Carole for a hug.

Even on the coldest days in Sudbury, there’s always warmth within her L’Arche home. “We help each other cook, do the dishes, fold clothes — whenever something needs doing, everyone wants to help,” she says. “On special occasions, she cooks Indonesian food for Even on the coldest days in Sudbury, there’s always warmth within her L’Arche home. “We help each other cook, do the dishes, fold clothes — whenever something needs doing, everyone wants to help,” she says. “And when I’m sad, one of the core members, Carole, always gives me a hug.” On special occasions, she cooks everyone Indonesian food for everyone, including opor ayam, a beloved chicken and coconut dish. “When people in the house compliment me on my Indonesian cooking, I feel lucky to be accepted for who I am,” she says.