Parrainage Champlain organization: a year of sharing and learning
by Do234 on May 11, 2015 - 7:55pm
Over a year ago, I started volunteering on a monthly basis with Greenpeace, the Phare de Longeuil working with homeless people, and the Santropol Roulant collaborating with elderly and xenophobic people. I always really enjoyed it, but recently, I came to realize that I wanted to engage myself into a greater commitment, something that would maybe not reach a lot of people, but that could have a greater impact on one individual. I wanted to meet and share with someone experiencing a different reality, or at least, more than I was used to. When I learned about the Parrainage civique Champlain organization, I understood that it was pretty much what I was looking for. Their purpose of pairing a volunteer (godmother/godfather) with a person marginalized by his disabilities (goddaughter/godson) in order for them to do one activity a month seemed like a really good idea.
Having a family member living with Down syndrome, I am aware since I was a little girl of disabled people’s difficulties in their daily life when it comes to cooking, cleaning, showering etc. However, I never was so aware of their difficulties in society. My 21-year-old adopted cousin was always well surrounded by his family. He never had to work full time to pay for his food and lodgment. Unfortunately, not all disabled people have his chance, and many of them have to tighten their belt in order to survive their precarious situation.
Recently, at the same time I was experiencing the process of becoming a godmother, I learned about disabled people’s situation in the workforce. Since austerity is launched in Quebec, jobs are cut and disabled people are among the first ones to be touched. Their unemployment rate is close to 50%, although many of them would be able to work properly. This statistic shocked me, but at the same time, I was not so surprised considering to what extent our society tends to marginalize what it considers as "different". However, I certainly was not aware of sheltered workshops, these groups that claim to be tools to help disabled people developing the skills they will need later on in the competitive workforce. The reality is that these groups marginalize disabled people by segregating them in an isolated environment. Moreover, by paying them less than the minimum wage, they perpetuate their advanced financial insecurity. Many of them will stay in these workshops all their lives, and will never know anything of regular workforce. I have no difficulty imagining how this situation contributes to their isolation and how it can be difficult for someone living in constant financial fear to maintain good social relationships. I realized that spending time with a disabled person who lives, to a certain extent, these difficulties could help him or her feeling less lonely. Indeed, I would find later on that my 19-year-old goddaughter is studying at the high school level in a specialized class, and that she cannot find a job because of her intellectual disability.
I also came to know more about sensationalism of disabled people in the news. When the perpetrator of a crime suffers from a certain mental illness, journalists often emphasize his or her mental condition instead of focusing on information that really matter. That was the case for Rocco Magnotta, diagnosed schizophrenic. People felt even less concern with the crime, since "Lin Jun was only a poor young man who fell into the hands of a dangerous mentally ill." This sensationalism is not always good, since it gives a bad image of mental illness. It is only widening the gap between disabled people and the rest of the population. Ironically, studies have shown that people with mental disorders are more often the victims of crimes rather than the perpetrators. Nevertheless, when they engage in violence, it is often turn towards themselves. Everything encompassed by this violence can be attributed to many things, but the marginalization and isolation of mental disorder have certainly a role to play in making these people feel helpless, hopeless and secluded.
My engagement with Parrainage civique Champlain gives me the opportunity to make a little change in the life of an individual who, in his own way, is suffering from isolation and marginalization. I am conscious this relationship ought not become one of superiority where I would consider myself as the "savior" of someone else in "need". Instead, I think it will evolve into a healthy relationship in which we will both share. Of course, I won’t turn the world upside down with this action, but I think if everyone gave a little bit of time for a cause dear to their heart, our concerns would be much more different.
But let me explain more specifically how I got paired. Before the volunteering officially started, I had the opportunity to meet many different people with different disabilities to see with whom I shared the most characteristics. I had to get along well with this person since I would be spending time once a month the rest of the year with him or her. I met Amélie*, a 19-year-old women living with a mild social anxiety disorder and a mild intellectual disability. We realized we shared common interests such as love of animals, nature and outdoors activities. Amélie is rather shy and is not really comfortable in public or any social situations with strangers, but she always answers when we ask her a question. After we met via Parrainage Champlain during a dinner at the sugar shack in March, I officially saw her two times. Last month, we went to Place Longueuil for the 2-day Easter Egg hunt. All the funds raised during these two days went to Opération Enfant Soleil. We spent hours hiding eggs for children looking for them in a thematic setting, or distributing gifts and prizes. After few hours, Amélie seemed to be more comfortable. She even opened up to parents who were thanking her for giving her time to an important cause.
Last week, we spent time together playing bowling with other people from Parrainage Champlain. Once again, I observed Amélie opening up to others while time was passing by. Her face was brightening, and she was smiling and laughing without embarrassment towards the end of the session. Afterwards, we spent time together eating ice cream, learning to know each other a bit more in private.
I can’t wait to see how this relation will evolve and if it will tighten when we will know each other a bit more. We will not always do activities with other people, but I think she is moving in the right direction to manage her social anxiety disorder when she finds herself to be in social settings.
Finally, I created a Prezi in order to virtually present the Parrainage civique Champlain organization. Their official website is certainly more complete, but here’s a brief overview of what the organization offers. https://prezi.com/-saiogqjvrwd/parrainage-champlain/
* The name was changed in order to maintain privacy
Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada. ADAC. ADAC, 2007. Web. 10 May 2015. http://www.anxietycanada.ca/english/index.php
Cliche, Jean-François. "Aux frontières de la folie." Le Soleil. La Presse, 29 March 2015. Web. 20 April 2015.
Picard, André. ''You don’t help disabled workers by hiding them.'' The Globe and Mail. The Globe and Mail, 24 March 2015. Web. 11 April. 2015.
Wolbert, Harry. "’Sheltered workshops’ should be abolished." Winnipeg Sun. Sun+, 1 February 2013. Web. 20 April 2015.