Blog

Storytelling “with”

By John Guido with Jonathan Boulet-Groulx and Dr. Pamela Cushing

The classic L’Arche story (told by an assistant) goes something like this, “Every week Sally and I go out for a coffee. When I’m with Sally, I feel accepted just as I am. It’s changed my life.” Every assistant who hears this story goes, “I know just what you’re talking about!” Everyone else thinks, “I’m not sure I get it, but these L’Arche people sure are special.”

In L’Arche, we love stories and have a strong storytelling culture that goes back to our founding. However, our stories don’t always have the impact we want:

  • L’Arche can be focused inwards and our stories often make sense only if you know the people or have similar experience.
  • L’Arche words sound like a foreign language to people outside L’Arche.
  • Sometimes, we tell stories without sensitivity to the history of how people with disabilities have been portrayed.
  • Sometimes, we tell stories about or with people without finding out how they might choose to tell their stories.
  • We can be too busy and don’t have the time to learn how to improve our skills and practice storytelling.

Jean Vanier has a gift for telling stories, stories about sharing life with persons with intellectual disabilities that make a deep connection with people. The stories aren’t really about disability but about encounters between people that teach us about being human, living with our vulnerabilities, and flourishing. Today, we’re called to build on this legacy, to find creative ways to tell stories with and by persons with disabilities that speak to the hearts and minds of the people we encounter.

Co-creating the Story

At L’Arche, we believe in the power of community art that supports each person to discover and develop their unique voice while working together on collective works. With his partners in L’Arche Arnprior and L’Arche Joliette, Jonathan Boulet-Groulx created short videos to share this vision of creative collaboration in photography and in all types of storytelling. Jonathan is a photographer, blogger, and video maker who has lived in L’Arche Haiti and worked with L’Arche Quebec and Canada.

Jonathan says, “It’s all about putting inclusion at the centre of the process” so that each person can develop their skills and discover their passion through creative teamwork. This process includes exploring different media and styles, looking at others' work for inspiration and to see what each person likes. Once people identify their interests, they learn techniques and develop their abilities.

Jonathan cautions that this way of working takes time. It means listening to every person’s ideas, taking the time to understand why a small detail means so much to the person. It may be the very detail that will bring people into the story and allow them to connect to the character. Once all ideas have been heard, there is a process to identify the story the team wants to tell, what ideas really serve that story, and which ideas may become their own stories. The goal is not perfection, but a story that connects to people and has impact in their lives. And that’s good enough!

Imagine the world differently

This tagline from the L’Arche International #AsIAm series reveals our goal to help people reimagine the place of persons with disabilities in society. In future months, we will hear from storyteller Michael McDonald about what he is learning about the co-creating process, cultural diversity, and telling stories with persons with disabilities. We are also part of this conversation in Canada in the values campaign and in many communities. We will also share what other storytellers are discovering.

We have work to do! Dr. Pamela Cushing is the Coordinator of the Disabilities Studies program at King’s College at Western University. At a retreat for L’Arche assistants, she named the challenge, “The public needs your stories. People with developmental impairments who cannot represent themselves in words need you to tell your stories about living with them. There is a dishearteningly small pool of positive cultural scripts out there about people with disabilities. If there are not good stories out there, how can we be surprised that the public imagination is so negative? Stories that do exist often idealize or romanticize the person so they are not seen as credible.

By ‘positive’ stories, I do not mean to imply that your stories should be all happy and upbeat – that kind of one-dimensional representation is not helpful. Your stories can have a powerful influence on the public imagination precisely because they are ‘polyvalent’ – they have many sides and range across diverse emotions. I have heard assistants tell stories that bring people to tears because they are so genuine – they blend acknowledging the hardships that the impairment entails with other elements like the hope that can still show forth, or the way that others can aggravate those hardships through exclusionary acts, or with humour at life’s complexity… But almost all of your stories convey an image of members with intellectual disabilities as real, complex people – just like everyone else.”


Jean Vanier: Remembering an Icon, Not an Idol

Jean was uncomfortable (being called a saint) if a saint was a model of inaccessible perfection alone on a pedestal, but if the word was used as a member of the Christian community, he was happy to be part of the community of saints, living and dead.

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.

Companions on the Journey: Part Two

The road of transformation has its breakthrough moments, yet it takes many twists and turns along the way. That’s why we need to nourish ourselves and the fellowship we share.

Companions on the Journey: Part One

John and Greg talk about how their friendship took root and has grown through mutual support for over thirty years.

Creative Connections

Creative Connections is a space for making art with persons with intellectual disabilities. It promotes belonging, diversity, and inclusion while extending the impact of L’Arche in the city of Saint John, New Brunswick.

Continuing the Journey in Unity and Hope

With people around the world, the family of L’Arche mourned the death and celebrated the life of our founder, Jean Vanier. We are called to stay on his path.

L’Arche Joliette’s Zoom Media

This team of creators, designers and technicians offers full sound, image and video services to make their collaborators shine!

The important work of the Vanier Institute of the Family is a call to L’Arche

Today, L’Arche’s relationship with families is changing as we support more persons with disabilities living with their families and welcome them and their family members into our community life.

Sage and Time

Making community art unleashes creativity and builds bridges between seniors and the wider Sudbury community.

Inclusion Begins With Me

A conference on inclusion organized by L’Arche Agapè was an occasion to deepen understanding and recognize that “change will be achieved by breaking down barriers and creating awareness among people”.

Birds Make Me Think About Freedom

A play inspired by the stories of persons institutionalized for having intellectual disabilities, their families, and friends.

Journey to the Greatest Gift

In a Gala celebration, L’Arche Daybreak celebrated 50 years of creating the Beloved Community, discovering the sacred in the ordinary stuff of daily life – albeit with magic and space travel thrown in.

From Presence to Citizenship to Community

In order to promote meaningful inclusion, we need to build communities that welcome the gifts and contributions of all their members.

Give People their Place

As we celebrate the 50th of L’Arche in Canada, we’re amplifying the voices of persons with lived experience, sharing insights on creating belonging, diversity and inclusion in Canada.

Building a model of Inclusive Housing in Elmira, Ontario

Over the past decade, L’Arche has been connecting with the Elmira Developmental Support Corporation to learn how they are building “supportive affordable housing” for persons with intellectual disabilities, and to share our vision and experience.

Building Community through Art Discovering our Creative Potential

Hearts and Hands, the creative arts space of L’Arche Antigonish, is promoting creative expression, belonging, and inclusion in Nova Scotia through community arts.

Building Inclusive Housing

Innovative housing options that promote choice, autonomy, and inclusion are changing the landscape of disability supports in Canada and offer L’Arche an opportunity for greater impact.

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.

An Innovative Model of Life-Sharing in the Comox Valley

Innovative housing options that promote choice, autonomy, and inclusion are changing the landscape of disability supports in Canada. The Vanier Suites of L’Arche Comox Valley are a new model of shared living renewing the vision of L’Arche.

Presenting… Ross!

Now we’re delighted to introduce you to Ross Moncrieff, the second of the two individuals with intellectual disabilities selected for a session with a professional photographer.

Measuring Impact in the Movement for Inclusion

L’Arche delegates reflect on their experience and learning from the December 3rd Federal Policy Forum on Inclusion titled “What Gets Measured Gets Done.”

“Painting is the song of the heart”

This artwork embodies the innate human desire to create a personal, physical mark which holds our fragile identity in the strength of an intentional creative gesture.

Presenting… Tiana!

Our friend Gil invited us to think about the importance of being “in the camera,” and inspired us to invite others to take their turn. We are delighted to introduce you to Tiana!

Community arts create a world where everyone is valued and belongs

The community arts movement and organizations like Art Hives build stronger communities and a more human society. L’Arche celebrates the unique gifts of artists and the community creative spaces where they thrive.

Celebrate the Gift

In October 2019, we will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of L’Arche Daybreak and of L’Arche In Canada. We will take time in the next 12 months to share our stories in many creative ways. L’Arche Canada will put a spotlight on the ways our vision and values respond to our world today, celebrating the gifts of belonging, diversity, and inclusion.

L’Arche Tova Café promotes Belonging and Inclusion in Winnipeg

Social purpose businesses or enterprises focused on food and hospitality are vibrant and innovative ways to promote belonging and inclusion. For over 6 years, L’Arche Tova Café has led the way not only for the city of Winnipeg, but also for L’Arche in Canada.

Storytelling “with”

L’Arche storytelling puts belonging, diversity, and inclusion at the centre to help us “imagine the world differently.”

Where is happiness, where is it…?

Happiness is a trendy topic. There are as many definitions of happiness as there are individuals, yet never has a civilization developed such precise models and ideas of what happiness should be.

Institutional life – a bit of context

Raphael Amato offers some background on the role of institutions in the 20th century

Listening to and amplifying the voices of marginalized people

Each message pays tribute first to a person’s story, highlighting and sharing the richness and diversity of these heartfelt testimonies.

L’Arche International Family Day

The first Saturday of October is L’Arche International Family Day. Discover the gift of L’Arche around the world and celebrate our solidarity with one another.

Setting our course for the next 50 years

Looking forward to an era where L’Arche people with and without disabilities join with others of like spirit to advocate and change society – making it more inclusive for everyone.

L’Arche London’s Gathering Place

One example of the increased impact L’Arche communities are having across Canada

Celebrating Jean Vanier at 90

Jean Vanier is 90. L’Arche in Canada extends sincere gratitude and best wishes to our founder, guide, and companion in the journey, our friend Jean.

Investing in Justice for Institutional Survivors

Patricia Seth, an institutional survivor, put it this way, “It was like living in a prison. The only thing is, we didn't know when we would even get out.” Inspired by the founding story of L’Arche, L’Arche in Ontario is engaging in Investing in Justice, a series of projects promoting healing and belonging, truth and reconciliation for survivors.

L’Arche Beloeil Art Workshop “Le Pot-en-Ciel”

Le Pot-en-Ciel is an art workshop that would not be if it weren’t for one member of L’Arche Beloeil who dreamed of a place where he and fellow artists could draw and paint together in a spirit of sharing and mutual teaching. Photography by Jonathan Boulet-Groulx.

Summer in the Forest: One L’Arche Perspective

Summer in the Forest is an extraordinary film – a feature-length documentary by British filmmaker Randal Wright beautifully shot and scored. The subjects of the film are Jean Vanier and several members of his community of L’Arche Trosly in France and of the L’Arche community in Bethlehem. (Vanier speaks in English with dialogue in French and Arabic with English subtitles.)

Holocaust Education Week: Remembering Aktion T4, the Nazi Euthanasia Program

A few years ago, I went with Mel Kirzner, a man with an intellectual disability who welcomed me to L’Arche in 1985, to visit the Maxwell and Ruth Leroy Holocaust Remembrance Garden at the Reena Community Residence in Vaughan.

Social Inclusion Cannot Exist without True Community and Friendship

L’Arche Canada is participating in a series of round tables on the theme of “Living Together” – sharing life with and including persons who are vulnerable and marginalized in the heart of our communities.

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.