Going Out for Coffee with a Friend: People with Special Needs are Teachers of Love
LvBS team visited the Emmaus House at the Collegium (residential college) of the Ukrainian Catholic University that accommodates people with special needs and those that take care of them.
“The Emmaus Center aims to break down the stereotype of the disabled as being poor and miserable. It’s not true. These people are ready to share love more than anyone else. We should accept them as they are, and then they may reveal a great gift of love to us,” says Christina Angles d’Auriac, Director of the Emmaus Center.
The Center’s staff call people with special needs ‘friends’ and emphasize that the disabled lack socialization as society often rejects them and is afraid of interacting with them. “However, as soon as that initial contact has been established, friends will change you for the better,” they state with certainty.
Apart from conducting awareness raising activities, publishing books, organizing support groups for people with special needs and their families, the Emmaus Center also looks for employment opportunities for friends. For example, autistic Sashko works as an assistant accountant at Nestle. He is talented, responsible, and extremely committed to his job. “The employment project holds a lot of promise. It’s key to ensuring the human dignity of people with special needs. Through employment, they can utilize all their skills. Having a disabled person in your team also changes other staff members. They become more open to otherness and thus start breaking down societal stereotypes,” says Nadiya Nadilna, an employee of the Emmaus Center of Spiritual Support for People with Special Needs
Sashko works as an assistant accountant at Nestle
Openness, sincere smiles, warmth, and conversational frankness are those qualities that are so scarce in the modern world and that we can learn from people with disabilities. Hence at the UCU Collegium students live side by side with friends because the latter are real teachers of love. These people are a testimony to the fact that each person has their own God-given potential that does not depend on their physical or mental abilities and that they can share with others. Every student of the Ukrainian Catholic University is welcome to visit friends with special needs, hang out with them, or offer help to them. Inhabitants of the Emmaus House work at the university chapel, help out in the Rector’s Office, Collegium, library, cafeteria, etc.
It is noteworthy that entire Ukraine is part of the social initiative #coffeewithafriend. LvBS team invites you to join as well. By simply inviting a person with special needs for coffee, you can plant seeds of genuine friendship forever.
In 2000, at the invitation of Father Borys Gudziak (now Bishop Borys Gudziak), a team of young people founded а center of spiritual support for people with special needs and their families at the Lviv Theological Academy (today the Ukrainian Catholic University). The Emmaus Center followed the model of OCH – Christian Office for Disabled People in France (Office Chretien des Personnes Handicapees). The Center aims to spread throughout society the awareness of the beauty, gift, and special vocation of people with disabilities, provide spiritual support to them and their families, promote friendship and community building with them.