Thursday, October 19, 2017

Questions and Doubts

The decision to come to Chicago and work with Franciscan Outreach was not an easy one for me. While I have always known that I wanted to do a social service year abroad after High School, I never thought I would end up in the United States – the country I was probably the least interested in. Having lived here for three months now, I am slowly realizing that doing this program was probably the best choice I have ever made. Not only do I get the chance to build incredibly strong relationships with the other community members, but it also means a lot of personal growth as I question and understand my own bias and prejudice much better.

When I told my friends and family that I was going to live in Chicago to work with people experiencing homelessness, the reactions were diverse. My parents, first of all, seemed to be relieved that I chose a  comparably safe location where I would at least understand the language.

However, some other family members had a hard time understanding why I chose to live for a year in a country whose deep social disruptions are so hard for us to comprehend. A country that seems so rich but at the same time struggles with so much poverty. "Why don't you go to a place where people need help more urgently?", is a question I also asked myself several times. In addition, I felt like helping out in a soup kitchen is not exactly treating the problem of poverty and food insecurity at its roots.

Despite all these doubts I chose to fly to Chicago to cook food, wash laundry and offer showers to the guests that come to the Marquard Center every day searching for our assistance. And as I have already stated: I couldn't have made a better choice.

Ever since I have been here, I have not for a second felt like our work is not needed or I should rather spend my time fighting for social justice as I had slightly expected. The people we work with are real and so are their problems. Every individual deserves the attention and services we offer and I begin to understand that talking about social justice is rather senseless if we forget the people we named ourselves to represent. I am incredibly grateful for the connections we are able to make with our guests and all the things they teach me day by day. Learning about their perspectives on the world is often challenging but always rewarding and possibly the best part of our work. Even though we might not be able to give everybody all the attention and resources they need and even though we might not get along as well as we would like to with all of our guests, it feels good to know that we are doing the best we can.

Still, we don't forget about the bigger issue. Talking about social justice in the United States at our curriculum nights and reflections is a big part of the program. We stay aware of the fact that no soup kitchen or shelter could possibly make up for the fact that nobody deserves to be homeless. As much as we try to create a home and a safe place for our guests, we always keep in mind that every human being deserves so much better than this.

"Know that no one is silent
though many are not heard
work to change this,"

is what a poster in the hallway of our community space says. If anything, I have learned in the last three months that every story, every perspective and every individual is worth listening to.

By: Selma Buengener
Hometown: Norderstedt, Germany


  1. Selma,

    Thank you kindly for sharing your story and reminding us of our purpose here in this community. Everyone may not understand why we chose to do what we do. I've learned that life is meaningless if we are not serving or helping someone else. Continue to be amazing.

  2. Great Blog entry!
    Your words remind of what I experienced during my year. You and the Franfam are doing good work. I am looking forward to hear more from you guys!

    Greetings from a Alumni