My friend Gil

What I bring to my community

By John Guido, L’Arche Canada Communications

I’ve met Gil at the Dépanneur Sylvestre in Gatineau. Although we didn’t talk, he welcomed me to lunch through his remarkable smile. Gil doesn’t just smile the way strangers in big cities communicate, “I acknowledge you, but I won’t let my guard down just yet.” Gil smiles with his whole face, his whole body, and I believe his whole heart. It’s as if to say, “Maybe we haven’t met, but I’m sure we’ll be friends.”

Some time into the meal, Gil sits at the piano gently creating a melody of his own design. He does not play loudly to draw attention to himself, although he smiles appreciatively when I look over at him. This is music to accompany the meal, the heart of community life. Gil seems to take pleasure in offering us this gift.

Through the web series, Mon Ami Gil, I’m discovering more about Gil. Clearly, he has been blessed to be known and loved in several communities: his family and their Portuguese, Catholic community, L’Arche Agapé in Gatineau where he makes his home, and the Dépanneur Sylvestre where he works. He is a man of community.

The theme for World Down Syndrome Day, March 21 is What I bring to my community. Of course, it’s essential that each person has a community like Gil has where they aren’t just present, but are supported to grow and contribute their gifts.

I’m touched by Gil’s insistence that he be in front of the camera, that his voice, his gifts, his contribution be recognized centre stage even though he doesn’t use many words. I’m already discovering some of the gifts he brings to community – his work cleaning the community space, his beautiful piano playing, and above all his capacity for welcome and friendship. In our highly individualistic world, these gifts are of great value, and Gil is leading us to rediscover the power of a whole-hearted smile.


Following Gil’s invitation, we received a great number of smiles in honour of all people with Down Syndrome, in gratitude for the smiles they share with us day after day.

This year, the theme of World Down Syndrome Day, celebrated on March 21, is “What I bring to my community”. Our 4-minute video pays tribute to the gifts that people with Down syndrome, and other people with an intellectual disability, bring to the community.

The regular series Mon ami Gil will resume next week.


Mon ami Gil - 6- Smiles for World Down Syndrome Day from L'Arche Canada on Vimeo.

Subscribe to Gil’s list of friends to receive all information on the series.


Project initiator: Gil Frois
Filming: Voices and Colors New Media
Production: Jean Vanier Association
Web series adaptation: L’Arche Canada
Filming and dissemination partners: L’Arche Agapè and Association des Arches du Québec

Sometimes it takes a long time to truly listen to people who express themselves differently, who don’t fulfill roles in society from which they can be heard.
Most documentaries are inspired by exceptional subjects or unusual situations. In this film, the camera follows Gil as he goes about his everyday tasks. He completes each job with the same tireless enthusiasm, never giving up.
These days, everyone is rushing everywhere, always seeking more, never feeling enough. Yet, you seem to be content being just where you are, present to people and the moment, and open to wonder.
I did not know Aurèle, but I was sad when I heard that he died. I was sad for him and his family and friends, for his friend Gil, their housemates and their L’Arche community.
Do you have an intellectual disability and dream of being a model? Gil invites you to step onto the stage and participate in our ExpressYourself Contest by posing in front of the camera!
Many thanks to everyone who answered our invitation and shared their smile for World Down Syndrome Day. We are now launching a new invitation… to share the stage with Gil. Do you know anyone with an intellectual disability who, perhaps inspired by Gil, would like to be in the spotlight? Write to us at
How can we describe Gil’s music? Innate, intuitive, inspired, free, without reference? Different, for sure!