Sr. Joan Burke lives in Noisy Le Grand, France (a Paris suburb) where she was invited to work with the Fourth World (ATD) organization. Familiar with poverty in Africa, Sr. Joan hopes to get some learning about poverty in first world countries as she serves the people in Noisy Le Grand.
I am currently writing from the lovely setting of a deep, wooded valley along a fast-moving clear stream that wanders its way collecting water from the escarpment above us on three sides. This is where ATD has a beautiful country home (La Bise) it obtained in 1978 to serve as a family vacation spot for families in the heart of the Jura Mountains. La Bise welcomes families six different times of the year to spend ten days together in the midst of natural beauty. The current session is for families with young babies and toddlers.
Frequently the parents who come have children whom the State has placed in foster care or institutions and only allows them in a setting such as this to have time with their children. ATD staff and volunteers meet every morning to plan the day and evaluate how things are going and consider any ways we can be a better support to the families.
The aim is to encourage the parents to enjoy one another, their children and have a genuine vacation. They have their own living quarters, share meals with one another in a common dining room and decide themselves what kind of activities and outings they would like to do while they are here. As always, ATD puts great importance on fostering relationships within the family. The ATD Team sees its role principally:
To provide a peaceful, caring and beautiful environment;
To do whatever they can to offer the parents encouraging and a reinforcing support;
To offer quality workshops appropriate for the different age groups and suggest a range of interesting outings for the families to enjoy together;
To encourage all in a spirit of discovery of oneself, others, nature and their surroundings.
All this recognizes that the members of the family will be returning to the difficulties and challenges of their daily lives as lived in deep poverty, and serve for them as vivid experience of how they were able to enjoy and mutually support one another.
I am grateful for this experience, and after only a few days can already observe how the families and their members are literally "blossoming" in this loving, beautiful environment.