A Catholic Monthly Magazine

L’Arche Kapiti reaches out to L’Arche Kenya

Kapiti Kenya Map 1Words & Pictures: Valerie Roberts

Visit to L’Arche Kenya

A two to three hour journey by road  through the Rift Valley to the  rural town of Nyahururu, in Kenya, was hot and dusty after months of no rain on a road that was in parts more potholes than tarmac.  This is the home of St Martin Catholic Social Apostolate, started in response to the needs of several groups of vulnerable people in the area. A community programme for people with disabilities  is one of the projects.  L'Arche Kenya was born out of this and the first home opened in November 2008.

L'Arche (meaning Ark in French) is an international organisation started by Jean Vanier in France in 1964.  He felt it was not right that adults with intellectual disabilities were institutionalised with no encouragement to reach their full potential as God's children, who all have something to offer the world.  The first L'Arche community started in Troley was Catholic, but now ecumenical and inter-faith organisations are found all around the world. Adults with and without disabilities live together in community where each one's gifts are recognised and celebrated through mutually transforming relationships. L'Arche Kenya is the newest community in Africa.

Card Makers

With Susan and Michael after a productive morning making cards

It was a special connection for me, as I volunteer in a pastoral role in L'Arche Kapiti, New Zealand's only L'Arche community.  I was born and brought up in Kenya and felt a real kinship with the Kenyan community.l_arche_logo_with_title

Once we found Boston House (Day base for L'Arche), a simple cement building with Marleen Crafts Curio Shop on the town's dirt street, we were welcomed with great enthusiasm and introduced to Dominik and Agnieszka (on a 3 year contract from Poland to help set up and support L'Arche Kenya) and Maurice (community Director). A plan was made for our visit the following day.

The next day began with a history of the community, starting in November 2008 with Effatha House, to a second house, Betania, opened on 5 January 2012, and the expansion of workshops for L'Arche members. There are currently 11 members and about 4 House Assistants who live with them. Some of these workshops, like the leather-making, were already set up for the Disabilities programme and it made sense for L'Arche members to join them.  Others were started specifically for L'Arche members, such as the bakery. We were then invited to join workshops; bakery, paper-making and crafts, candle-making.  These products are sold in the craft shop and orders are sometimes taken by companies in Nairobi.  The members are very proud of their work and wear their uniform coats with professionalism.

After lunch and a siesta there was a gym session.

Other days have creative prayer, drama, videos and members’ meetings in the afternoons.

There is mid-week Mass for the community  and on Sundays they visit other churches, raising the awareness of L'Arche and the gifts of people with disabilities, as there is still a traditional view that such people are a curse and a shame  to their families.

There is still a traditional view that such people are a curse and a shame  to their families.

Val Roberts (2nd from L) with Kenyan colleagues Agnieszka, Dominik & Maurice

Val Roberts (2nd from L) with Kenyan colleagues Agnieszka, Dominik & Maurice

We visited the houses, both purpose built, the first one with chickens, ducks and  a vegetable garden and extra rooms for visitors and meetings. Both have lovely chapel areas with beautiful art works.

I was invited to a shared meal at Effatha that evening and the members were overjoyed to have me and I was shown the room that three men share and one that three women share. They are very proud of their house! A simple but tasty meal followed a joyous time of songs (with drums and dancing), prayers and speeches.  Then I was asked to present my gifts from L'Arche Kapiti (our members had made a banner and written a page about themselves) which were received with much enthusiasm.  I was given a gift for our community which was  very humbling.

An interesting fact is that not all members and assistants are from the local tribe, so three languages are used, Kikuyu (the local tribe), Kiswahili (the second official language) and English (the first official language).  Everyone seems to manage with translations where needed. One of the members, Musa, was having a serious conversation with us about who will inherit his coat (one of his few possessions) when he goes to Heaven.

After the meal we had night prayer in the chapel, a very moving experience, after a very inspiring and special day where I experienced the love and acceptance so characteristic of L'Arche communities.

Community Member leads Grace before meals

Community Member leads Grace before meals

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