May 2019

Founder Reflections: Jean Vanier

BLOG / Founder Reflections: Jean Vanier

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Zane Wilemon 

Co-Founder and Executive Director, Ubuntu Life

“If we deny our weakness and the reality of death,” Vanier wrote, “if we want to be powerful and strong always, we deny a part of our being, we live an illusion. To be human is to accept who we are, this mixture of strength and weakness. To be human is to accept and love others just as they are. To be human is to be bonded together, each with our weaknesses and strengths, because we need each other. Weakness, recognized, accepted, and offered, is at the heart of belonging.”

These words captured my pursuit for meaning while working in Africa almost 20 years ago. 

They opened me to an understanding and a way to view the world that I had never imagined...that by identifying with my own weakness, I open myself to the deepest needs in others and, therefore creating the bonds of the most intimate connection humanly possible...the bonds formed through vulnerability. 

This rattled my perception of accomplishment and success at all costs that I had inherited in the world that I grew up in and the most widely adopted view in America of how to make it...ON YOUR OWN

These words were said time and again by the abundant and audacious spirit of the man, Jean Vanier. Jean started the organization known as L'Arche, whose mission is to make known the gifts of people with intellectual disabilities, working together toward a more humane society. Today, L'Arches highly personalized model of compassion now inspires 10,000 people who live together in more than 150 L’Arche group homes around the world.

Jean Vanier and L'Arche would be the vehicle that eventually led me down the path of creating Ubuntu Life and our focus on connection...specifically our understanding that we are all in need of one another, all interdependent beings, no one having greater value than another. I had read Vaniers writings years before meeting the community that would become our Ubuntu Kids, but when I met them, Vaniers words came flooding into my consciousness..."though the world sees this part of society, the members living with special needs, as outcasts, I know that we are of equal value and of mutual need", but I had no idea how to start.

Vaniers courage and relentless pursuit to create these special intimate communities inspired me to take a leap of faith and start Ubuntu Life alongside my co-founder, Jeremiah Kuria and we have yet to stop. 

“It has been this life together that has helped me become more human,” Vanier reflected. “Those I have lived with have helped me to recognize and accept my own weaknesses and vulnerability. I no longer have to pretend I am strong or clever or better than others. I am like everybody else, with my fragilities and my gifts.'"

This blog post is dedicated to Jean Vanier who died last week. May your soul rest in peace as you lived a life of radical acceptance of yourself and others. You showed us that living a life of compassion is not something that fits into our tight fit boxes of scale, of efficiency, of perfection and productivity. Quite the opposite, you showed us that to be human is to share in the weaknesses and strengths of each other, to slow down so that we can all rise, with each other, as one family, as UBUNTU!  Thank you for having the courage to live your life so boldly for others.

Big love,


photos courtesy from the Association Jean Vanier



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