‘L’Arche is teaching me about patience. It teaches me to empathise with other people and learn what it means to know people very, very deeply.’

It is early in the morning, but already Cana is awash with activity. The smell of toast floats through the hallway. BBC Breakfast is on in the dining room and on screen, Peter Andre flips pancakes while Sarah, a core member, flicks through her own cookery book. At mid-morning a pot of tea lands on the table, BBC Breakfast gives way to Lorraine, and the house slows down its pace while people drink their tea and relax into the day.

Ramil is a calming presence in Cana. Much loved, he enjoys being here, spending time with the core members even when he is not on rota. ‘I have always liked being part of a big family,’ he says, ‘being around people makes me happy.’

Ramil was an accountant in Azerbaijan before coming to the UK to live and work as an assistant with L’Arche. A practicing Muslim, Ramil says that L’Arche is helping him to live out his faith in the world. ‘When I first looked at the website, I saw that it was a Christian community,’ he says. ‘But then I saw a very good sentence: ‘we are open to all faiths and none.’ I came here based on that sentence and I have experienced that it works.’

Before coming to L’Arche I was an accountant. After graduating I got a job and I had a simple life as an accountant… with numbers! I started to learn English, but I never thought that I would leave my country. After learning English and passing the international exam, a friend recommended L’Arche to me. He said that it would help me to improve my English, but also to improve myself.

My first impression when I came here, and when I realised that I had changed my life, was to notice that everything was different. When I arrived, one of the core members was screaming. But I did not say to myself ‘oh where have I come to?’ I knew that it was normal.

The core members gave me a card. Geoffrey makes the cards in the L’Arche workshop and each core member had written something. I didn’t expect that. Kathy (a core member) hugged me the first time she met me. It was really quite something. 

L’Arche is teaching me about patience. It teaches me to empathise with other people and learn what it means to know people very, very deeply. Sometimes core members do something very unusual, or even rude. But you grow to understand them and to become patient.

People with learning disabilities are not very different to us, though they seem to see life and the world a bit differently to us. Maybe we need to look at the world differently sometimes, too. To see life like they do. 

Kathy was very welcoming to me when I arrived. She likes me and I like her. Sometimes when she plans to do something she will say ‘I am going with Ramil. 

On one occasion we went to the seaside. She wanted to see the sea. The sea was out and she was a little afraid. I said to her ‘would you like to see the sea? Would you like to touch the sea?’ She told me yes, but that she was nervous. The beach was stony and she was afraid that she may slip. I told her to hold onto my hand and I said ‘we are going to see the sea.’ Eventually, we did it.’

Afterwards she was very thankful. I realised that it was a very simple thing I had done, but for her it was a very big thing. It taught me how we can be very happy with small things. We don’t always realise what can bring us happiness.

I am a Muslim and so I do not expect big things, like an expensive house, from my life. I knew that the simple things would make me happy and that is why I am here, I think.

L’Arche is helping me to follow my religion in practical ways. When I first looked at the website, I saw that it was a Christian community. But then I saw a very good sentence: ‘We are open to all faiths and none.’ I came here based on that sentence and I have experienced that it works.

People ask me why I am here when I am not on the rota. I say that I am happy to be around and to be with people. I have always liked being part of a big family and so being around people makes me very happy.

The core members help me to understand myself, but mostly they make me think about God, about nature, about life. We are always busy with work and with our lives, and we don’t have time to stop and think about bigger things. Somehow, being with core members leads me to God.