The first steps in Ukraine
The spirit of “L’Arche” and “Faith and Light” was brought to Ukraine in 1992 by Zenia Kushpeta – a Ukrainian who was born and grew up in Canada. Before her meeting with disabled people Zenia was a promising pianist, giving concerts and teaching at the Conservatory and University in Canada.
Still in 1984 Zenia felt that she lacked something, that there was something more she was called to discover for herself and in herself… Then she decided to take a one year break from her professional activity and become a volunteer, willing to live somewhere in the world with poor people. By God’s providence Zenia found herself in the community “L’Arche-Daybreak” in the suburbs of Toronto. It was there that she met Rosy – a severely mentally disabled girl who changed her life. As Zenia says, Rosy was very small, as a child (although she was 21 then, she weighed only 20 kg), she did not speak, did not walk, did not eat on her own, she needed help in everything. Before she was taken to the “L’Arche” community, Rosy had lived in an institution in very difficult conditions. But in spite of that, Zenia was moved by the fact that Rosy was a very free person, she was really her true self. Living together with Rosy, Zenia started to discover as she, as well as probably most of us “normal” people, pretend very often, try to be different, to make an impression, by all means try to meet expectations of our close ones, but at the same time it is difficult for us to be ourselves, we do not live our life. Thus Rosy and L’Arche captivated her heart, and that is how Zenia chose the new way of her true vocation.
After a while Zenia asked the community “L’Arche” to send her as a volunteer to Ukraine, which she always considered to be her native land. Having come there, Zenia started her activity right away – she started to visit parishes, to ask about people with disabilities, to visit their homes, invite them and their families to create communities. Simultaneously she started to invite young people interested in weekly meetings in order to share, pray, discover for themselves what “Faith and Light” and “L’Arche” are.
In Ukraine Zenia Kushpeta could personally witness the painful condition of disabled people – their birth was often considered to be a big tragedy, their family and relatives not infrequently had to hide them or give them away to institutions, seldom went outside out of home with them. Likewise, there was practically no support from the state. Thus, closed in their homes or institutions, abandoned by the society, people with mental disabilities lived in suffering and loneliness. Many of them, unfortunately, still live this way.
Beginnings of “Faith and Light” movement
In May 1992, together with the interested group of young volunteers, Zenia organized in Ukraine the first meeting in the spirit of international “Faith and Light” movement. This first meeting was attended by 10 families, which have children with special needs, and 12 young people. Since then there have been regular meetings of the community, where everyone could share their life, be friends, celebrate, pray, participate in common Liturgies, retreats, pilgrimages, camps, etc. During the following years “Faith and Light” movement spread throughout Ukraine, there were born new communities. At present there are 29 communities in 14 cities and towns. The “Faith and Light” meetings mostly took place at weekends, while during the week people with special needs mostly stayed closed at home all alone, feeling useless and unwanted by anybody. There was a big need for day programs for children and adults with special needs.
Beginnings of day programs – workshops
Together with parents of the organization “Nadiya” (Hope) there was founded Rehabilitation Centre “Dzerelo” (Spring) in 1993, and with young people, “Faith and Light” assistants, there were started first day programs-workshops, where people with special needs together with young assistants spent time together, made different handicrafts, went for a walk, prayed, and celebrated. These workshops, rooted in the spirit of “L’Arche” community, were at that time a new thing for Ukraine.
With time, 5 workshops had been created in Lviv, including one workshop for people with more severe disabilities. Тhe workshops were first affiliated with “Faith and Light” and since 2000 – with Emmaus Centre.
Beginnings of “Emaus” Centre
In 2000, at the invitation of Father Borys Gudziak, together with a team оf young people, Zenia Kushpeta founded а Centre of spiritual support for persons with special needs and their families at the Lviv Theological Academy, later the Ukrainian Catholic University. The Centre’s goal was to spread throughout society the awareness of the beauty, gift and special calling of people with disabilities, to spiritually support them and their families, to promote relationship and community building with them, especially through communities of Faith and Light and to continue preparing the ground for a future L’Arche community in Ukraine.
By giving the Centre a status of the structural department of the Ukrainian Catholic University, the academic community realized the importance of the mission and tasks of the “Emaus” Centre in the context of the University’s programs, as well as expressed their wish to be in mutual cooperation/partnership with the communities of “Faith and Light” and “L’Arche”.
The day programs-workshops which had been affiliated with Emmaus Centre for 8 years, benefited from a defined administrative structure and support which in turn ensured the coordination, sustainability and further development of the workshops.
Birth of “L’Arche-Kovcheh” community
Members of the Advisory Board of Emmaus Centre contributed to the incorporation of a new NGO and the creation of a founding Administrative Board for a first L’Arche community in Ukraine, based on the life of the 5 existing day programs-workshops which were accepted into the International Federation of L’Arche as a project in 2007.
In March 2008 the 5 day programs-workshops, carrying the name of L’Arche-Kovcheh, were recognized as a full-fledged member Community (in probabion) of the International Federation of L’Arche. From an operational standpoint, in 2008 the workshops started to function autonomously as a new L’Arche community, with their own leadership and coordination team.
The life and work in the workshops of “L’Arche-Kovcheh” community is developing and growing. The workshops became a place of belonging for nearly 65 “core members” (people with mental disabilities) and 20 assistants. The community members continue to create various handicrafts (woven bags, decorative candles, wooden icons, hand beaded necklaces, postcards, etc.), prepare meals, learn new skills for daily life, deepen in their relationships of friendship and sense of the community, discovering the unique qualities and gifts of each another.
In November 2011 there was opened the first house of “L’Arche-Kovcheh” community for temporary residence. It became home (a temporary one for the time being) for several people with mental disabilities and their assistants.
At present the “Emaus” Centre continues to support “L’Arche-Kovcheh” and “Faith and Light” communities, but has as well a wider mission in favour of all people with special needs and their families in Ukraine.