“I was completely lost…”
Welcoming people is a pillar of life in Emmaus communities. In the words of the companions…
Whether in France, the UK, Romania, Colombia, Peru, Benin, or any of the Emmaus communities that are offer companions a place to stay, it all starts with making people feel welcome. When you are particularly vulnerable, the state you were in when you knocked on the door stays with you. “I arrived at the train station; I didn’t know where to go…” Sometimes is it pure chance. “I travelled to the south, I stopped…and I stayed”. Often you feel that this is your last chance: “I didn’t know anyone. And I didn’t speak a word of French.” But there is no pressure, “We looked like alcoholics and criminals. Nobody asked me any questions, nobody judged my appearance.” The community managers offer companions time to rest before they suggest participating in the life of the community “as soon as it’s possible. But generally, it happens quickly”.
Integration into the community involves an approach that has a profound effect on the lives of people who feel lost. “At least I have learned to live with others and that’s the main thing, as that’s already pretty hard.” “Since being here, I’ve learned to share. I had never experienced that. And it feels good…” “I’m no longer alone with my problems, there are others.” According to a community leader, “The companions find other people who have had similar experiences. No longer feeling different creates a great sense of security.” Another adds, “When they arrive here, people expect help and think they have nothing to offer. We ask them, ‘help us to help other people who are worse off than you are’.”
And having similar life experiences creates bonds, “because we are talking about human beings, there are no tricks, nobody is cheating”. “Warmth, love, experiencing other people’s mishaps, that’s what binds us.” Feelings are a big part of the picture, going further than mutual compassion. “I’ve met simple and educated people, there are no “clueless people”. There is joy and good humour.” “Generally, the most important times for sharing are not during working hours. As happens at the heart of family life.” The word is out there and it is used time and again. “We’re so close, like one big family! We’re there for each other during the tough times and to celebrate the good times.”
Once they are through the door, little by little their self-esteem starts to grow. “Here everyone is ‘someone’.” Work and the recognition given to companions contributes to this greatly. “An individual’s dignity lies in work; it gets us back on our feet.” “Being given another chance without getting handouts fosters self-respect and pride!” A community lead sums it up, “Those welcomed are no longer passive. They decide where the money goes and feel empowered to help other disadvantaged people in turn.”