Here we are in Paris with the excitement and enthusiasm one can only imagine, having come all the way from Australia to complete our UNCC300 Core Program. The unit concerns Human Dignity, a term which has become more common recently, focusing usually on Human Rights as described in the 1948 UNDHR. But what is human dignity and what does it mean to us as students and individuals. The Australian Catholic University in conjunction with The Catholic University of Paris sought to give us a concrete experience of human dignity together with a theoretical understanding. Consequently the Australian students were invited by ICP to participate in an excursion to Roisy-Sous-Bois, a suburb on the outskirts of Paris.
We were unsure of what the excursion entailed but as we exited the train station we were confronted by a gloomy atmosphere, not only as a result of the weather but the narrow untidy streets where citizens of a low socio economic background reside. We made our way to a Community Centre, entering a hall where numerous young men had been watching a world cup soccer game. Their attention shifted to us in an uneasy gaze. Neither they nor the students had any idea of the positive effect our visit would have on both communities.
While the residents marked their territory the students quietly moved into a room where Isabelle Hollebecq explained the role of Fasol. Fasol, whose slogan is ‘Healing by Playing,’ manufactures wooden games that promote concentration, reaction, memory, observation, agility and dexterity. Most importantly however it promotes relationships. Primarily Fasol employs these games in an innovative program which encourages positive relationships, and solidarity amongst the young men and their community, giving them a sense of well being and boosting their sense of self worth. These young men came from troubled backgrounds, many of whom have not finished school and are involved in drugs. They have been scourged by society, have few skills and are pessimistic about their future. The students on the other hand have come from privileged backgrounds and travelled half way around the world to study in Paris, learn French and observe the culture, on scholarships. Could there be any dialogue or common ground between the two groups?
The work of Fasol however is incredible. Through the wooden games, youth become engaged within the community and are integrated in the society. While the games are specifically designed to engage the youth, their sense of pride, confidence and social bonds are increased as a consequence of being respected and listened to. Most importantly however, Fasol considers each individual for their innate value considering the youth as their equal, a basic building block for social inclusion. This has led to Fasol being both respected and accepted in a society where few businesses remain, on account of the tough, aggressive nature of the community.
Once the talk was over the students had the opportunity to engage and play games with the youth. It proved to be an awesome experience and both the students and community gladly engaged in fierce competition to win a game, despite the language barrier. Many of the students were challenged to a rematch and still won! It was a wonderful display of humanity from opposite poles of life coming together as a result of recognising the innate value or human dignity of the other. Finally it was time to depart, but no one wanted to leave. It had been a fabulous afternoon where the students learnt to respect the other and the community were happy to host the visitors. The tension that had existed upon entering the hall has dissipated as students and youth engaged in games and socialising. The visit had a dual effect. The students for their part were humbled at the experience, being reminded that they are indeed privileged and many are less fortunate. The community, warmed to the intruders as they became aware of their good intentions and appreciated the visit, playing games and socialising with the students. Finally, the mutual enrichment and enjoyment was possible as each recognised the inherent dignity of the other.
Heartfelt thanks to ICP for this excursion.