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Portrait – Clementine and Louise

1 February 2022 - Last week, at La Ferme, we hosted an AES formation course organised by the L'Arche Formation Centre in France. I had no idea what an "AES formation" was but I now know that AES stands for Social and Educational Support. Ever curious to meet any visitors to La Ferme, I had a few questions to ask. Two of the trainees agreed to answer them.

Clémentine and Louise arrive at the library for our meeting. They already look like old friends, even though they only met five days ago. I realise that the group has gelled together well, which is a blessing: the assistants in the group have signed up for a year and a half of training together, investing one week per month.

Louise and Clémentine have volunteered to share their impressions: as luck would have it, the two of them give me a fair idea of what L'Arche assistants are like today: one has hair as red as her trousers and looks me straight in the eye, while the other has a warm, slightly broken voice, full of character. One, aged 22, is at L'Arche in Anjou / La Rebellerie. The other is 35, and her commitment to L'Arche in Pays Comtois for the past year and a half came as a career change, after years in the restaurant business. One, a Christian, came to L'Arche attracted, among other things, by the organisation’s Catholic roots. The other, an atheist, was initially put off by the religious aspect. Both agree that today in L'Arche, spirituality is a point of discussion, open to question. How to live in a society that has become post-Christian, a trend that L'Arche itself is not immune to? How do you support a person with a disability at Mass when you yourself don’t identify with this spirituality?

We have run over the time allotted for our interview, but the two young women continue to chat. I do not discourage them. Quite the opposite. They think it's great - they probably used a more modern adjective, to be honest - and really vital, that this AES training is allowing them to step back and take a professional look at their daily experience, helping them unlock its significance for them. They are united in singing the praises of the talk by Fabien from nearby L'Arche Trosly, on the subject of sociology.

All in all, this first week "makes you think"; “it makes the connection with one’s inner reality". Well done, to both of them! And then, after a short photo session, they leave as speedily as they arrived: that evening is their last, which means it's burger night in Compiègne for the whole group. This training is not just stimulating, but clearly also digs deep.