Working together: from Commitment to Shared Joy

by | May 28, 2024 | Formation | 0 comments

What does our dedication to the most disadvantaged involve? Does it always imply a clear separation between the giver and the receiver? Alongside traditional charitable organizations, working together invites us to rethink the roles and reasons for our commitment. What if we were to discover that giving ourselves can also bring sincere joy? Report by Marianne Aubry-Lecomte.

Do “with and together” instead of “for”

In the field of social action, it is common to distinguish between “doing for”, “doing with” and “doing together”. “Doing for” refers to a mode of interaction in which caregivers and cared-for are clearly differentiated and only the former take action. When “doing with,” both parties act but remain clearly identified in their respective roles, whereas when “doing together,” the boundaries are blurred in favor of sharing and co-creating.

Each of these approaches is legitimate, depending on the situation. As Meriam Longomba, public outreach officer at Secours Catholique, explains, “even in a participatory event, ‘doing things together’ does not mean forcing people to do things, but giving them the space and confidence to do so.”

Respond as best as possible to the needs

One of the specific characteristics of working together is to involve the people we help from the conception phase of the project or action, in order to get as close as possible to their expectations rather than imposing solutions on them.

For example, the Entourage association has developed a mobile application that puts people in very precarious situations in contact with their neighbors; it includes a Street Committee in its governing bodies. “Since the association was founded, the idea has been to draw on the experience of people living in precarious conditions to create, modify or reject projects,” explains Caroline de Pontac, the association’s deputy general manager. “Our latest sports infrastructure project, for example, came entirely from this committee,” she adds.

It is also for this reason that the Fondation Abbé Pierre, as part of its “Supporting the commitment of neighbors” program, has chosen to directly finance associations in disadvantaged neighborhoods. France Michel, the Foundation’s deputy director of social missions, describes the great creativity shown by these small organizations, especially during the health crisis. “By giving the people concerned the means to express themselves and develop collective projects, it also helps to recognize everyone’s capacity for action,” she says.

“Leverage people’s experience to create,” Caroline de Pontac (Entourage).

At Hostel 15 in Paris, volunteers and residents prepare lunch.

Recognizing others and their talents

Working together means recognizing others as subjects and protagonists. The need for recognition is fundamental to every human being. Following in the footsteps of Hegel and Durkheim, sociologist Serge Paugam demonstrates in La desqualification sociale that, for excluded people, being valuable to society is almost more important than relying on society. As Charles, one of the disabled residents of a shared house in Simon de Cyrène, explains: “I’ve been taken care of for ten years, so I came here because we take care of each other, we are all useful to each other.”

Working together brings out each person’s skills. Meriem Longomba, from Secours Catholique, explains that thanks to the shared organization of Christmas Eve parties, one of the people she welcomed revealed to her that she had been a pastry chef in her home country. And that is exactly the premise of Les Petites Cantines, an association that brings together people from the same neighborhood to share a meal at no cost. “Getting to know others through our talents is an immense source of enrichment and allows us to rub shoulders with people we would not otherwise have met,” explains Ariane Derville, co-president of the association. She also points out that “by preparing meals together, everyone develops not only self-confidence, but also confidence in others.”

Dare to meet and be creative

Encounter is the essence of working together, which is not the same as peer support. “‘Doing things together’ is not a question of doing things ‘among each other’ (…) but of doing things ‘among all’. Working together when everyone has the same skills, the same cultures (…) is not a ‘doing’ in the sense of a creation,” Roland Janvier, a social science researcher, considers. And that requires courage and creativity.

Two qualities demonstrated by Pierre Daix, a bodybuilding enthusiast who, following a motorcycle accident, found himself in a wheelchair. Realizing that most sports halls were not accessible, in 2020 he created Adaptateam, a cross-training association (fitness training sessions) in which sessions are conducted in pairs consisting of one able-bodied person and one disabled person. “One person is not there to help the other, but there is mutual support and a real joint effort, and that shows in the shared enjoyment that comes out of each session,” he explains enthusiastically.

A source of joy

Working together requires courage to move forward without necessarily knowing where you are going, creativity and a great capacity to adapt— but it is also a source of deep joy.

For all these reasons, the Frédéric Ozanam association (affiliated with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul), which organizes vacation stays for seniors and young volunteers at the Château de Monceau near Mâcon, chose this model: “People come above all for the intergenerational encounters, even if the setting is magnificent,” explains its president Éric Jeantet. “And this is only possible thanks to the friendliness that everyone must show in order to understand each other.”

A transforming experience

Pierre Durieux, Secretary General of Lazare, an association that develops shared housing for young workers and homeless people, sees this mutual enrichment on a daily basis. “We knew that housing would be an opportunity for our street friends. What we discovered is that this experience also transforms the young professionals who get involved,” she says. And then he tells us his impressions: “They testify to the richness of moving from a life based on competition to one based on communion: shared meals, confidences… Living with people in difficult situations allows me to be myself, not to hide my wounds.”

In short, says Pierre Durieux: “It’s not that there are people who do well and people who don’t. There are partners, who choose to grow through others.” What if this were ultimately the case for everyone who commits to working together?




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