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Powerfully touched by the differences

 

 

“Here I am in a culture far removed from my own,” says James Schreiner about his time supporting in Asha Niketan (as L'Arche is called in India) Chennai, India, “and yet a smile is the same the world over: I love seeing Franci Akka smile. When I am with her, I often think of Linda from L’Arche Erie and the gifts they share. She brings joy to us all.”

 

 

But James has been powerfully touched by the differences as well: “Sometimes it makes me cry, knowing that some members of L’Arche in India were once living on the streets. Najim, for example: The police found him on the streets and brought him to Asha Niketan. Asha Niketan has given back his dignity. Now Najim welcomes many to his home. He works in the garden during the day and is often near the main gate to open it whenever someone arrives. Throughout the day, Najim often shakes people’s hands, looks into their eyes, and grins as if to say, ‘I am grateful you are here.’”

The whole experience is clearly a broadening one, on many levels: “Here in India, spirituality is really woven into daily life; for instance we pray together before breakfast and dinner; I am used to going to mass, but here I have been with Najim to visit the mosque, and with other community members to Hindu temples. This is new for me.”

 

 

One thing that isn’t new, of course, is the feeling of mutuality, which is built into the relationships. But here again, there is something to learn: “I have come to appreciate how mutuality can be experienced, even though we speak different languages, I am grateful for the gift of true two-way tenderness we share each day.” (Speaking of languages, James soon found himself giving English lessons, at the request of community members.)

 

 

James used to be an assistant in Washington, DC community, USA. With 5 years’ experience there, he came to Chennai in response to an invitation from Rajeevan, National Leader of Asha Niketan India. He met Rajeevan while on a 3-month Solidarity exchange at Asha Niketan Asansol, India. He seized the opportunity with both hands, starting in November 2016. His experience has made him keen to encourage others to follow in his footsteps: “it is so uplifting to know L'Arche International hopes to welcome more assistants and volunteers to embrace solidarity experiences. I am beyond grateful, and more than happy to support these efforts in any way I can.” 

Testimonial by James Schreiner

 

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