In September 2021, I moved into a L’Arche community in Edinburgh for a gap year before starting University. It turned out to be the best year of my life.
Throughout the year I laughed, cried, grew, found deep joy and I was able to make a real difference. I am writing this article because I think you should consider getting involved too!
What is L’Arche?
L’Arche is a worldwide federation of communities, where people with and without learning disabilities share life together. There are over 150 communities in 38 countries, including 13 in the UK.
In an L’Arche house there are ‘Core Members’, who have a learning disability, and ‘Assistants’, who do not. A unique aspect of L’Arche is that most assistants live in the house. This allows deep friendships to be formed and a sense of home to be created.
L’Arche is doing something remarkable. Here are four reasons why I think you should consider joining their work:
1) The fun and joy
Most Tuesdays, Jonathan (a core member I lived with) and I would go swimming together in the local pool. He would dive in and show off his signature stroke: somewhere between a dolphin and doggy paddle. Jonathan would create huge splashes, embrace strangers as if they were long lost friends, do acrobatic handstands and afterwards would embark on a long comedy routine of hair drying his completely bald head.
On the walk home, I would often think to myself how lucky I was to be living with people filled with such joy. During the year, I found I was constantly laughing – every conversation was filled with jokes and silliness. And the openness and joy of the core members rubbed off on the assistants, creating a community of deep friendship and constant fun.
A community of such diverse ages, nationalities and abilities was brought together by the gifts of the core members.
2) The gifts of people with learning disabilities
Before I lived in L’Arche, I didn’t know anyone with a learning disability well. And as a society we misunderstand many disabled people – seeing them as people needing care but unable to give very much. How wrong we are!
It was such a joy to witness the God-given gifts of so many core members. Seeing David’s remarkable paintings (one of which now hangs in my room), Kirsty’s care and compassion for others, Sian’s love for his friends, Jonathan’s insatiable hospitality.
And L’Arche allowed me to give and discover my gifts too – I found great joy in playing my guitar, starting a prayer evening, organising a holiday and so much more.
L’Arche is not divided into those giving care and those receiving it. It’s a community where all relationships can be mutually empowering. Just like the core members, I was changed by both giving and receiving.
3) A challenging year
There are far easier gap years than L’Arche. There were moments of serious challenge: exhausting shifts, medical emergencies, and a sense of real responsibility. But what better way to spend a year than growing in character by doing something genuinely important?
A year in L’Arche taught me so much. I grew up. I became more compassionate, more patient, more understanding and resilient. Best of all, I became more joyous.
L’Arche was once described to me as a ‘conveyor belt’ of people from all around the world being changed by amazing core members. And this was true for me. Jonathan taught me the value of a good hug, David the importance of a comfortable silence, and Kirsty that I should express my enthusiasm more enthusiastically!
4) Make a real difference
Those with a learning disability are so often marginalised. One study estimated that they experience loneliness at seven times the rate of the non-disabled. L’Arche is a real solution – providing communities of togetherness and love.
But L’Arche really need more live-in assistants, and so a year with L’Arche is a chance to make a tangible and significant difference to the lives of others. Unlike some other gap year programmes where the volunteers are more of a burden than a help, the value of every assistant is obvious. It’s a growing and radical movement – but it needs more people involved.
After my year out, I left behind a community which I have helped to thrive, and which will always feel like home. And I’ve been able to go into university with brilliant memories and a changed perspective.
If you are thinking about what to do in a year out, then why not join L’Arche? It’s an opportunity to imagine the world differently.
- Danny Kuhrt is now studying history at Jesus College, Oxford
- Please share this article with anyone considering a year out
- Find out more about joining L’Arche
2 thoughts on “Imagine the world differently: a year with L’Arche – by Danny Kuhrt”
Very moving to read, Danny. Clearly you were an inspiration to those you were alongside. Wonderful photos as well. Thank you.
Hey Danny, great article! I loved that your passion shone through by what you said. I hope that Uni is going well. Tim