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A day with Zenia Kushpeta

 
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adria



Joined: 18 Oct 2007
Posts: 21

PostPosted: Thu Apr 03, 2008 2:22 am    Post subject: A day with Zenia Kushpeta Reply with quote

Several months ago I had the pleasure of attending the 15 year anniversary of an organization called Faith and Light (???? ? ??????) at the opulent Lviv Opera House. At the time, I didn’t know much about the organization, but knew it helped people with developmental disabilities. I finally had the opportunity to meet the woman who initiated this community in Ukraine and had been the instigator of so many other projects for people with special needs in Lviv. I finally met the legend: Zenia Kushpeta.

In early 1992, while most Ukrainian diaspora was celebrating Independence, the former concert pianist and Queens University and Royal Conservatory of Music instructor, Zenia Kushpeta, had a different undertaking. Zenia was initiating a first “Faith and Light” community in Lviv.While on a year's sabbatical from Queens University, she decided to pursue a field she had always been interested in but also one in which she did not have any formal training or qualifications: social work. Finding a community service volunteer position was not an easy task, but ultimately she found the L’Arche Daybreak Community in Richmond Hill, Ontario. This experience would change her life and impact community development and attitudes to those with special needs in a very dramatic way.

L’Arche ("The Arc") communities were founded in France by Canadian, Jean Vanier, after responding to an interior calling he invited to men with mental handicaps to come and share their life with him in the spirit of the Gospels and Beatitudes that Jesus preached. The first community of L'Arche was born, with many other communities developing around the world in various cultural and religious traditions, united by the same vision and the same spirit of welcome, sharing and simplicity. L'Arche aims to create living communities which welcome people with intellectual disabilities, whom society often rejects and neglects, offering them a place of belonging, a home, a place of relationship, dignity and growth.

While living in the L’Arche Daybreak community, Zenia learned a lot from Rosie Decker, a young woman with a profound physical and intellectual disability. Zenia spoke of her experience, saying that It’s not simply about caregiving, volunteers live full-time with their disabled friends and experience a mutual giving and receiving, especially at the level of the heart. The commitment is huge, but the experience - invaluable. She credits her friend Rosie with opening her eyes to what she calls the “interior wealth” of persons with disabilities. People with special needs remind us of real human values, of the need for simplicity and authenticity, of the innate desire to love and be loved which is common to every human being. In L'Arche, which is often referred to as a "school of love", they are our teachers of the heart.

It is in this spirit that Zenia travelled to Ukraine, hoping to eventually start a similar L’Arche community for people with disabilities, but also realizing that in 1992 Ukrainian society was not quite ready for this undertaking and that the groundwork would have to be prepared first with other initiatives. Cooperating actively with the “Nadiya” (Hope) Association, a parent support group promoting the rights of disabled children in Ukraine, she helped found the Dzherelo Children's Rehabilitation Centre in Lviv. Creation of 5 daily workshop programs for persons with intellectual disabilities and the Emmaus Centre of spiritual support at the Ukrainian Catholic University followed. In Church and Society awareness was being raised regarding the unique gifts and special vocation of people with disabilities.

Starting with humble means and modest goals, the first “Faith and Light” communities were also organized in Lviv. In "Faith and Light" people with intellectual disabilities are able to love and feel loved, to share the wealth of their hearts; parents, to feel support and compassion, and experience new ways to see the gift of their child; and young people - volunteers, through friendship and commitment, to discover different values and find new meaning in their lives.

“Faith and Light” is an international Christian movement that unites people with intellectual disabilities, their parents and young people. Origins date back to 1971 during the international pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, organized by Jean Vanier and Marie Helene Mathieu. During this pilgrimage people with developmental disabilities from various countries took part, along with their parents and young people who wanted to show their love and support. Uniting twelve thousand people from across the world, people continued to meet collectively in parish-based communities. To date, there are over fourteen thousand “Faith and Light”communities in over eighty countries. Participants meet regularly to share their troubles and their joys, to celebrate and pray together, to support one another, to develop friendships of faith and love. Collectively they take part in summer camps, retreats and pilgrimages.

Today in Ukraine there are twenty- eight "Faith and Light" communities in 11 different cities: Lviv, Kyiv, Zhovkva, Ternopil, Zhytomyr, Uzhhorod, Khust, Tiachiv, Stryj, Truskavets and Kamyanets-Podilskyj. Zenia had laid the ground work for serious social change, and now, after fifteen years, the Board for L’Arche International has authorized the support for a L’Arche community to open in Ukraine based on the 5 existing workshop programs for persons with intellectual disabilities in Lviv.

Zenia invited me for a tour of the various maysterni (workshops) which are scattered all over Lviv – Zaliznychney, Sykhivskey, Naukovey regions. These communities have been operating over 8 years, starting in some borrowed rooms of a daycare in the Naukovey region. Since then, the communities have expanded and grown in the city. Their purpose is to unite people with special needs and to give them socializing opportunities which previously did not exist. While visiting these maysterni, it was evident what an impact Zenia had made in regards to special needs programs. She knew all participants not only by name, but their individual story. She made a special effort to familiarize herself with what seems to be her very large family that she loves and cares for deeply.

The maysterni had members threading gorgeous necklaces and bracelets out of beads, creating colourful candles, weaving textiles for purses and various bags, and most recently, moulding clay to create pots and different ceramics. I met numerous beautiful people who greeted me so openly and warmly that it was difficult to part. At all locations we visited, I was presented with handmade gifts which I will treasure beyond my return to Canada.

While much work remains both for the sustainability of the “Faith and Light” movement and for the burgeoning L’Arche community in Lviv, there is a devoted and hardworking team committed to seeing projects come into fruition. Zenia said that progress is being made for finding land to build the L’Arche spirited community homes, but there are some barriers being presented.

Zenia and her colleagues continue their efforts, and through their faith-filled determination, dreams are being realized. For further information about “Faith and Light” or L'Arche in Ukraine contact centrsup@ucu.edu.ua.

It was an exciting and enlightening day. Zenia is a true inspiration.

Na razi,
- Adria



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My new friend Genia, a participant of the maysterni, gave me a necklace that she had made herself.
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