PORTRAIT

PORTRAIT

Interview

Laurent Ott

31.01.18

Job : Director of the charity Intermèdes-Robinson
Mission : To organise news projects, to educate, to foster a collective and social life outside traditional institutions.
You founded Intermedès Robinson with your partner in 2005. What was the aim?
 We wanted to get people out and about, socializing and taking part. We agreed that in cities everyone lives closed up, and that can be harmful. We created community gardens for families to enjoy, where they can meet and socialise. Then, we realized we needed to create a link between the gardens and the local area. We set up ateliers for cooking. Recently we have been going directly to social housing, in disadvantaged areas where there is a large population of travelling children. Our local centre is also a social charity in Chilly Mazarin : we have a permanent reception from Monday to Saturday, with lots of different activities. The team is made up of 6 permanent people, eight civil servants and interns.
 
Your charity helps children especially.
Yes, we have even set up a singing and dance troop, who perform tzigane music ‘Aven Savore’. We welcome at the centre children who come from social housing, the area or the slums. Most of them are from African origin and are temporarily housed. They need to housed urgently…but families stay them for years in precarious situations.
We also have a education and awareness social programme that organises fun activities during the week, for children that have not been schooled.
What does a normal week look like at this social centre?
On Tuesday mornings, team members go to a food bank to pick up 300kg of food. We prepare to distribute the food to families with limited resources, who often do have the right to work in France. In the afternoon, there is a French lesson for men and women in social housing : while they are in the class, we take care of their children. On Wednesday, we organize ateliers in the street around the area. During the week there are about 11 ateliers and events in Longjumeau (south area), Massy and in the slums of Nord Essonne. Friday at midday, we run a cantine for children to come and have lunch. On Saturdays, we have a music rehearsal.
 
You have been a teacher and principal in your past life, before becoming the head of this charity. How did you get into this kind of sector?
When I was principal at a school in Longjumeau, I wanted to make sure the school was an open welcoming environment. I almost got there with a federation of schools…but that was it. It kept coming up an issue by our teachers themselves, the council, and the government…I wanted to create a charity around the school. I resigned, to devote myself entirely to this. The normal social institutions never manage to create relationship with people in precarious situations. That is why I turned to charity. It clicked when I worked on workshops in Ivry. The council wanted us to work with kids in the street. I suddenly noticed this invisible population in French society. If we do not take care of them, we can almost pretend as if they do not exist. At Intermedes Robinson, we work with those who are under the spotlight. Our charity has however won prizes (Droits de l’homme de la République française décerné par la Commission nationale consultative des Droits de l’homme) which is quite unusual for a French charity.
 
« « I suddenly noticed this invisible population in French society » »
 
You have also studied philosophy, which led you to do a doctorate. Whose is your inspiration?
Emmanuel Kant ! He thinks about autonomy and the living being. It is he who says that we cannot incite someone to be autonomous, it is something that comes from within. We cannot teach it, we have to make them live it. He was a great philosopher in my eyes. I am also inspired by the great social pedagogues : Paolo Freire, the father of the development of the power to act, and also Célestin Freinet.
 
Demain, what does that mean for you?
I want to make it mean « deux-mains ». ‘Two hands’. It’s about doing it together. The problem about cities is that tomorrow does not exist. The future is always seen as worse than today. Together, by working with people where they live, without any intermediary, we will be able to change that.