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‘Life can change with just a word’
Friday, 08 July 2011
By Lindsay Burns
JEAN-Pierre Kouakou knows how lonely it can be to live in a foreign country where you can’t speak the language and the culture is unfamiliar.
That’s why, when the French speaker moved to London 12 years ago, he set up La Pierre Angulaire – a society for French-speaking people.
La Pierre Angulaire means “cornerstone”. Mr Kouakou, who lives in West Norwood with his wife Albertine and children Arielle, nine, and Nathaniel, five, encourages the 150 members from nine nations to volunteer in the community.
The society also supports an orphanage for children in his native country, the war-torn Ivory Coast in West Africa, and educational excursions to learn about British culture, language and history.
Mr Kouakou has been nominated for an Our Heroes Award for his efforts, as part of this paper’s campaign to highlight the achievements of South Londoners. The civil servant said: “Most of the time when you come from another country and don’t speak the language, it’s quite lonesome – you want someone to talk to.
“My first instinct was to speak to people who knew my language but you need to know other people, to fit in properly. “You need to know your rights and how to do the right thing – to really contribute to society.”
Mr Kouakou, who grew up in southern France, said society members love getting involved in voluntary work, whether running Christmas parties for kids or visiting people in hospital.
He said: “We want migrants to engage with people. To speak to people, learn from them and to understand, if they are quiet is it because they are reserved or they have something to hide?
“In hospitals we say to patients, ‘How are you feeling?’ so they know they’re not alone.
“I used to be shy, but then I realised how important it was to try to speak to people.
“Just one word someone tells you can change your life.”
La Pierre Angulaire meets in Virgo Fidelis Church, Central Hill, Upper Norwood.
Copyright Tindle Newspapers Ltd Saturday, 25 May 2013
Other Our Heroes Awards 2011:
Sir Ray Tindle
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