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How is L'Arche developing today in the world?

How is L'Arche developing today in the world?

New depth, new variety, same motive!

“Strengthening those countries where there are only one or two communities,” is Sophie Baché-Cougnon’s first response to the question on how she sees L'Arche developing today. Sophie, Director of Development with L'Arche International, regrets that as a result, L'Arche has had to put a moratorium on opening communities in new countries, for the next 3-5 years. But she is clear about the priority of consolidation.

“We really need a leadership team in each community, so that the leader and assistants can grow in responsibility. This should naturally lead to the founding of a new community in each so-called ‘isolated’ country, building in close links to the existing community from the very start. And we already see that happening in Brazil for instance: the project is Sorocaba is now helping the original community in Sao Paolo by sending assistants. In Egypt too, their first L’Arche community, in El Minia, is supporting both a new foundation in Alexandria, as well as a seed group in Cairo. And then there is Japan. L’Arche first started there in the 1970’s, in Shizuoka, but now seed groups are springing up in several towns.”

But development can take several forms. Another way is in deepening the identity of the community. In Toulouse, France for instance, L'Arche en Pays Toulousain runs an organic fruit and vegetable stall each Saturday morning. “This is a win-win” says Sophie, “as it both meets a local need, and gets the community better known. Tahoma-Hope, in USA, have also jumped on that particular bandwagon.”

Serving the neighbourhood brings out the best of L'Arche’s creativity: whether it’s handing out cakes and tea to the people in the queue for food bank (Vancouver, Canada); or supporting families with disabled children in the poor quarters of the city (Kolkata, India); or singing for prisoners (Nyahururu, Kenya); or training Mental Health Chaplains (Kent, England); or running a dispensary (El Minia, Egypt). “What all these diverse initiatives have in common”, explains Sophie, “is that they each started by asking, ‘what is the need in our neighbourhood?’ And then, having listened, the community works out how to best respond through a team made up of community members with and without a disability.”

It is well-known that a community today does not need to have a house, in order to be L'Arche. That is a development almost unimaginable when L'Arche was founded in France, in 1964. But this change was driven by inculturation: “given the huge diversity of cultures across the world, let alone local expectations and hopes, it is not surprising that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach simply cannot work.” Accordingly, several communities have got going with a workshop: in Bethlehem, and also in Zagreb, Croatia, for instance. In Melbourne, on the other hand, the community meets together to share and celebrate regularly.

But in the midst of all these developments, L'Arche’s purpose remains unaltered: “50 years+ after we started, L'Arche is carrying on doing what it has always done: meeting a clear local need, and in doing so, giving many people the chance to develop their often hidden talents. The only difference now lies in the sheer diversity of our response and that it is happening in 37 countries across the world instead of one!”