Looking at the bigger picture…

By Erin Steiner, FC 17 Costa Rica

Hogar 3

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.

 

Advertisements

I always turn right…

By Marie Schrampfer, FC 17 Syracuseimg_0782.jpg

Every day on my way home from work, I find myself sitting at the stoplight at the corner of Newell St. and S. Salina. And every day, I also find myself with a choice to make: left or right? Turning left would mean taking Salina through town all the way home. It would mean stoplights and traffic and more time on the road. Turning right, on the other hand, would mean taking the highway back. It would mean 55 mph speeds and fewer cars and getting home in half the time. So every day, when I sit at that stoplight, I have to decide: left or right?

It sounds like an easy decision. I mean, why turn left and take all that extra time when I could zip home so quickly?

Well, because I’m an introvert. Because sometimes, I want that extra time to myself after being around people all day. It’s not that I don’t want to get home, it’s just that there’s so much about this volunteer experience that’s so new to me – new people, a new culture, a new way of seeing the world –  and sometimes I need that time alone to process it all. And so occasionally, I turn left instead of right.

Except that’s not true. I’ve never turned left. I mean, I’ve thought about it. I’ve even come close to doing it, but I never actually have. For even as I flick on my left turn signal, I remember the community waiting for me at home. I remember Ana, Blake, Corrinne, and Joe, and I turn right because I can’t wait to return to them. It’s true, I am an introvert, but I know they understand that. And although – or perhaps, because – they care so deeply about me, they won’t push me to talk about how I’m doing if I’m not ready to. They’ll give me the time I need to process all that is so new, and they’ll support and encourage me through that by simply being there. And that “being there” is what I really need. Something that my community gives so freely that all the driving in the world can’t.

I turn right for another reason, too. It’s because coming home to this community also means returning to an overwhelming and contagious joy – a joy that buoys me up no matter how rough my day was. Not a day goes by that we don’t find ourselves laughing together over a funny story (or pun), a noble but unsuccessful attempt at adulthood (Cooking? Paying our own bills? Filling the gas tank?), or one of Joe’s famous one-liners (famous here at the FC house anyway…) And often, the smiles and the laughs come from simply being together. For that same “being there” that encourages me every day also brings us all a joy and laughter and love without which, we couldn’t do the work we’re doing.

It’s a community that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world, and so when I get to the corner of Newell and Salina, I turn right.

Every time.