Final Edition – ATD, JOAN BURKE

Sr. Joan Burke lived in Noisy Le Grand, France (a Paris suburb) where she was invited to work with the Fourth World (ATD) organization.This is her last report from this experience.

Sr. Joan (right) and another ATD volunteer enjoying a party.

Sr. Joan (right) and another ATD volunteer enjoying a party.

For many years the ATD Movement has been seeking how it can better bridge the understanding gap between persons living in poverty and professionals who serve them, such as social workers, medical professionals, teachers, etc. The core emphasis is to try to assist the latter to recognize that persons living in poverty have a distinct way of thinking, reasoning, way of expressing and analyzing their experience which is quite different from that of those who work with them. 

At the end of the four-day programme, participants share what they have learned from one another with ‘outside’ invited guests who are then asked to respond to what they have heard. The specific topic explored at the session I attended was the removal of children from families living in poverty to be placed in state-sponsored institutions or foster care.  As is easily imagined, this is a particularly painful experience for the families.  A small example of a learning which emerged from the session was the request that institutions examine the routine language that they use in communicating with families (e.g., rather than writing to ‘convoke’ parents, they might use the more sensitive word ‘invite’).  It was obvious that both the professionals and the people served by them who had participated in the session had greatly benefited by a better mutual understanding of one another. 

It reminded me of my own frequent experience of multicultural communities where we needed to take time to explore our different ways of seeing and doing.


After Sr. Joan celebrates her Golden Jubilee as an SND, she will return to Kenya to teach in a Post-Graduate Programme of African Studies and in a Leadership and Management Programme BA programme at an institute affiliated with De Paul University in Chicago. She will continue to be an Alliée (Associate member) of the Movement.  The ATD International and African Leadership Teams would like her to support them in their efforts to strengthen and expand their presence in English-speaking Africa. She is hoping to learn Swahili this summer.