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.

Unsure exactly how he would accomplish that lofty goal, he signed up for the five-year co-op program. Over the course of his degree he’d spend several semesters in paid positions to figure out how he could help people.

There were a wide range of fulfilling co-op opportunities. Roop could be a chiropractic assistant, a health and safety program coordinator or student ergonomist. While scrolling through the list of jobs, he found a posting as a live-in assistant at L’Arche.

As he researched L’Arche, it felt like a place where he could learn and grow. It wasn’t a care home for disabled people; it was a home for a diverse range of individuals. The organization provided a level of freedom he’d never really experienced: the freedom to be himself within a community. Coming from a city of 10 million people in the middle of India, the chance to live in an inclusive community was too good to pass up.

Roop applied for a co-op position at one of the closest L’Arche houses to Waterloo, one-hundred kilometres away, in London. He polished his resume, wrote a detailed cover letter and had a great interview. Nonetheless, he was turned down. It was probably time to start looking for a different type of co-op program in Southern Ontario but now his heart was set on a position with L’Arche.

He applied to L’Arche Western Canada. His confidence was shaky coming off the rejection at L’Arche London (not knowing at the time that he was turned down for logistical reasons) but he stayed positive through the interview and was offered a job. From January to April 2020, he’d be working at a house in Lethbridge. He made the three-thousand kilometre journey to the windy Alberta prairies. The opportunity was worth the trip!

Right away the sense of community was evident within his house, Amani, one of three L’Arche houses in the city. He made quick friends with core members and assistants in all three houses. When providing assistance to core members and doing chores around the house, he took pride in his responsibilities. Everything within the house was accomplished with a joint effort between assistants and core members. By simply doing the dishes or laundry, he really felt like he was contributing to his newfound community. This was an idyllic place to spend the semester.

Of course, early 2020 proved to be anything but idyllic. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Roop’s house, like L’Arche houses across Canada, went on lockdown in the middle of March. Day programs were cancelled. Visits to other houses were cancelled. Roop went from following his house’s scheduled routine to creating a schedule from scratch, while addressing individual needs. One core member who used to go to the YWCA instead had to run on a treadmill at home. To stave off boredom, the house got an Xbox Kinect and went for morning walks. They had to create an emergency plan in case someone got sick, which created a bit of tension in the house. Roop helped everyone stay positive. (To date, everyone has remained healthy.)

The lockdown was made manageable with a full staff but that was going to change at the end of April. One person from Australia and a couple from Brazil who were meant to fill positions as long-term assistants had their flights postponed indefinitely. The house would really be short-staffed once Roop’s placement ended in April. He could’ve turned away, with no hard feelings from L’Arche, but instead he chose to look forward. If his community was going to continue to thrive, he felt he needed to stay a L’Arche.

Luckily, this was the first of several co-op placements that Roop would have over the course of his degree. He got in touch with his university and shifted around his schedule so that he could do two placements consecutively, extending his job at L’Arche by an additional four months. All his friends in L’Arche were happy to hear the news, but nobody was happier than Roop; he’d get to battle through the pandemic with his friends.

Roop’s looking forward to staying at his house through the summer. Inevitably he will return to Waterloo as he has three more years until he completes his degree. Beyond graduating, he’s still not 100% sure what he will do with his life, though he would love to remain within the L’Arche community, however he can. 

Recently, while he was sweeping the dining room, a neighbour, and former community leader, Pat Lennon, dropped by. “Oh look at this,” Pat said, “a student from the University of Waterloo came all the way to Lethbridge to sweep floors. Who'd have thought that sweeping floors would lead to a better world.” Roop never would have believed it just a few months ago, but here he was.

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.

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.