Emmaus International

The Director of the Abbé Pierre-Emmaus Centre, Philippe Dupont, is also an activist for human rights. On 7 September he will swim across the Strait of Gibraltar with other members of Emmaus in order to raise awareness about Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

So why are you participating in this event for article 13?
In 2015, when I heard that two Emmaus community leaders had crossed the Strait of Gibraltar to defend Article 13 I asked if I could get involved. This Emmaus campaign to defend Article 13 is something which really motivates me. I know many people who have fled poverty, war and horrific living conditions and have spent much time with them at the Abbé Pierre-Emmaus Centre in Esteville (the village where Abbé Pierre lived and is buried). I lead social monitoring work for a family of Georgians who had to leave their country due to the war in Abkhazia and I have seen the inhumane administrative barriers that they have had to face. I swam quite regularly so I thought my I could combine this sporting activity with my commitment as an activist. As the Director of this Abbé Pierre heritage site I know the story of our founder well - he showed us the importance of symbolic action to enforce change. A fairer world is not built just by signing petitions, you have to give something...

How have you been preparing for the crossing?
The training takes time and when you work for Emmaus you don't have much free time available! I've had to get organised - setting aside time for regular cycling, running and swimming. When I'm getting tired I say to myself: "keep going a bit longer or you'll never make it to Gibraltar!" When I see that I’m making progress I feel reassured that I can complete the crossing. In April 2017 I participated in a group training session in Saint-Etienne - we swam for 4 hours in a pool, there were 6 of us including Alain Gomez (one of the two community leaders that crossed the Strait in 2015) who gave us some good advice. I saw that the others are strong swimmers with a solid physique, good lungs and a steely will to succeed! Since May 2017 I have been swimming once a week in the cool water of the Channel - my weekly cold blast! I follow the coastline, I don't want to take risks because I go there alone. Sometimes it rains and I don't see anyone else swimming but when I swim near to the cliffs the gulls and the cormorants come to look at what's going on. Once in Dieppe, after 2.5 hours of training, I struggled climbing back up a stony slope because my foot were cold and because it was hard to walk on the stones. So I started crawling forward, thinking no-one was around to see but a man came rushing over to me thinking I was injured. He wanted to help and called an ambulance but I was fine!

Has your group been involved in the discussions about the crossing?
I pay close attention to the messages sent on the Article 13 group. It pleases me to see that there has been a collective mobilisation for migrants. I also spend time reading about the topic of migrations and learning as much as I can about it. On 7 July I organised a day to help the Emmaus community in Grande-Synthe - 8 volunteers and staff members from the Abbé Pierre-Emmaus Centre distributed food to the people living in terrible conditions in the woods of Puythouck (link to the images). We spent some lovely moments with the Iraqi-Kurds that are there. I'm going into the water for people like them!
I am disgusted by the lack of aid in France for people in danger: for migrants, vulnerable minors, homeless people, mentally ill people, drug addicts, prisoners, etc. If you're not well off and healthy then life can be very tough, even cruel. We have noted that often, too often, society leaves the most fragile to deal with their distress on their own.

Would you say that the spirit of Abbé Pierre is pushing you on?
Crossing the Strait of Gibraltar is quite an unusual adventure, if I hadn't worked at Emmaus then I'd never have attempted anything like it. Abbé Pierre showed us the way - doing things that aren't usually done in order to reach our goal of "building a fairer world by serving first the most excluded".


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