By Erin Steiner, FC 17 Costa Rica
About a year ago when I began looking for year of service programs, I struggled to discern what kind of program would be best. Not only was I asking myself what I was looking for in a program, but more importantly where was I needed? Was I needed at all? I found myself reflecting a lot on my desire to “serve” and “help others”. Although these sentiments ring true to my vision for my life, I was forced to ask myself if the world really needed another privileged, white woman from the U.S. looking to “make a difference” by volunteering in another country.
What I realized in my discernment process and have continued to realize with my experience thus far with FrancisCorps, is that a year of service is as much (if not more so) about my personal growth as it is about the work that I am doing. As a volunteer at Hogar El Buen Samaritano, a home for older adults who were previously homeless and many of whom have lived with mental illness and addiction, I have the opportunity to work with a marginalized and often neglected population. In my day to day work, I am an extra set of hands to help sort medications, do office work, and organize donations. I also take the residents to the park, plan activities, and am simply present with the residents to hear their stories and get to know them better. While all of these things are important to the daily flow of Hogar El Buen Samaritano, I also must acknowledge that I am not solving the underlying issues that bring about the circumstances of our residents. I do not mean to say that the work I am doing is unimportant, but rather that what is more important is how it is shaping me and how I will use what I learn here beyond this year of service.
It is in this personal challenge that I have found so much joy in FrancisCorps. Our program calls us not just to do service, but also to learn how to live in community, share our faith, and understand ourselves as a small part of a bigger picture. We are challenged to engage in dialogue about cultural colonialism, privilege, and social justice. We discuss how we will bring what we are learning here about service beyond this year and into our future careers. My learning experience does not end when I leave work each day and I am so grateful to come home to a community that encourages me to grow in my understanding of myself, my faith, and the world around me.
When I tell people I am doing international service this year, many respond with praise and view my work with a mentality that I am “changing the world”. While I find so much value in the work I do and truly love the population I work with, I believe the world I am changing is my own. I am humbled day in and day out by the authenticity, compassion, and experiences of the men that I have the opportunity to work with and at risk of sounding cliché, they have truly changed my heart forever. I am so thankful for all that I have learned in my first three months serving with FrancisCorps and I am looking forward to see how the next eight months will continue to shape me as a very small part of a much bigger whole.