My friend Pavlo wakes up in the morning. Not being fully awake he immediately starts to read the Bible. From time to time he takes his eyes off the book, stops for a moment and tells out loud: “Dear God, please give us big and reach wisdom”. After that Pavlo open the door of his room and heads to the kitchen. On seeing me and many girls he smiles, comes up to every of them with a compliment: “You are very beautiful today”, “You blossom like a red rose. You have to believe in this”, “You are a goddess today”. And teaches: “Frowning doesn’t suit you, as well as humping”. Every girl smiles broadly after such pleasant words. We are really lucky actually. Many dream about such a friend. But Pavlo is not a middle age knight who magically appeared in our century. He is a person with intellectual disability. And he didn’t have to wait for the 8th of March to tell the compliments. That is how an ordinary morning starts in the house of L’Arche-Kovcheh.
Let us go 20 years back when Zenia Kushpeta, a Canadian with Ukrainian roots, from international L’Arche came to Ukraine. Walls and barbed wires of the Soviet Unions were destroyed. But the darkness of fear and un acceptance remained. It particularly concerned people with disabilities who were either locked in specialized institutions or in their houses that were like a prison for them. The world was not there for them as well as they were not for that world. As when parents had a child with an intellectual disabilities they were recommended to give him in to the orphanage right in the hospital, and to give a birth to a “normal” child. When parents were brave enough to accept a child they had to hide it from friends, relatives, neighbors. After all, he often was the object of derision and condescending attitude of others. There was no place neither for Pavlo nor for other people with intellectual disability in this society. By that time international "L'Arche" has existed for almost thirty years.
On seeing such situationin Ukraine, Zenia started to look for parish families who included people with disabilities and also you thwho would like to be friend with them. This is how appeared centers “Vira and Svitlo” where first workshops were launched. There friends together with assistants were making works from beads, icons, postcards, and also prayed, celebrated birthdays and Angel days. And what is most important – they were friends. Every year there were more and more people in the community. In 2008 those workshops and coordination center were included into L’Arche international community. In 2011 L’Arche house was opened, where now friends (this is how people with disabilities are called) and assistants live and befriend.
Towards the dream
«I will collect money, buy an accordion and will be a musician, will play” – says Myron with a smile, moving his fingers as if he is holding this accordion and hears its first sounds. “I am good at waltzing and want to learn to dance more”, - Vasyl says. “And what are you dreaming about?" –I ask Olena."I would like to be a chef and work in some cafe". "I ... I want to marry," - Vitaliy says confidently, immediately turning to me with a business offer, "Organize me a wedding". Each of our friends from L'Arche has a dream. These dreams are very human and ordinary, like the dreams of each of us: to realize our talents, to do things you love, to have a family, to spend quality time with friends. This is what allows a person to feel their dignity, to be happy. And this year's celebration of the 5thanniversary of L'Archein Ukraine is a celebration of one of the dreams that came true. It is in this community that friends and assistants, volunteers found a true friendship. Frontiers of misunderstanding, rejection and loneliness have been erased. And everyone discovered what a great and rich for a variety of gifts is a person.
Invitation to friendship
L'Arche community is aware that it cannot unite all people with intellectual disabilities as there are so many of them both in Ukraine and abroad. But as its founder Jean Vanier says, it is a sign to all people, a kind of invitation to friendship without borders, friendship with people who are in some ways different than we are. But it is wheelies their uniqueness and gifts: the gift of openness, acceptance, honesty, fidelity, simplicity. If you become a friend of at least one person with a disability, she will fill your heart with these gifts. You can change the world for better even a little and awaken the morning of hope and love in it.