A photojournalist from Azerbaijan, Ismayil joined L’Arche after being told about it by a friend. Having photographed people with learning disabilities in Azerbaijan, he said he had remembered the feeling of ‘being happier in their presence.’

Being at L’Arche is, Ismayil says, changing him. ‘I think L’Arche is one of those places where you can change the world, and changing the world starts with changing yourself.’

A friend of mine told me about L’Arche and how it specialises in working with people with learning disabilities. This was interesting to me because when I worked as a journalist I went a few times as a photographer to a place where people with learning disabilities live in Azerbaijan and I remembered that being there helped me to feel happier.

On the first day I arrived, Witek (a core member) was not here. He is somebody who can communicate verbally. It was Scott, Chris and Eleanor. Chris and Eleanor don’t speak so you need to know some signs to communicate. To begin with, I wasn’t able to sign. I didn’t know how to ask them things like ‘how are you?’ I was trying to use some hand gestures, which didn’t mean anything! Then I started to show some pictures because I had remembered hearing how photographs are used in L’Arche. I tried to find every image I could and used them to make sentences! Those first days were challenging. 

Coming here, I presumed that people could not do certain things. I wanted to help people with everything – from simple tasks to complicated things. Then I learnt to let people do as much as they can and in doing so I realised how much people could do.

Before coming to L'Arche I couldn’t think that people who cannot speak or hear could communicate. But after coming here I realised that it is not difficult for them. We are the ones who create problems. You can communicate without speaking. I realised through working with Chris, who cannot speak and who is deaf in one ear, that I don’t need to speak any words with him in order to be able to communicate.

I have learnt from Witek how to follow a routine and not to hurry. Because I don’t hurry now, I feel more relaxed. Before I was always thinking to do something and I was always looking for something new. Now I know how to be happy and to enjoy the things when they are happening. I am learning how to be present. Before I was always planning the future - what would happen next week, next month, next year. Now I tend not to make very many plans, but to live presently.

L’Arche is a chance to be part of something big and beautiful. It has mission and you feel like you are part of something important that tries to change something in the world for the better. I think L’Arche is one of those places where you can change the world and changing the world starts with changing yourself.

L’Arche helps people with learning disabilities to become part of society. Not living isolated, or apart from society, but to be supported to be part of society without limits. I love that people with and without learning disabilities live together and share life. It is not just professional – though you follow professional boundaries and provide professional support – people seem to feel at home here. Every member of the community is valued and respected, and everybody has something to contribute to community life.

I believed that L’Arche would change my life. I knew that something would be different and it is.

Find out more about becoming a L'Arche assistant yourself here.