Serving the Homeless : Serve and be Served
“Giving food, clothes, or money is one of the ways to show your empathy, but simply being a friend gave them confidence and dignity,” Juanitasari Winaga – A volunteer from JPII Youth for Sant’Egidio “Serving the Homeless”.
My Friday night agenda on June 12th was quite different from my usual socializing or working activities. I, along with 20 volunteers from JPII Youth, participated in “Serving the Homeless,” a program by Sant’Egidio Community. Most of the social activities I have been involved with in relations to the homeless were centered in giving donations. This time, it was something different; we got to experience direct contact with them. Not only did we serve them food, but we also got to sit down together and chat with them. There were approximately 110 homeless in the area we went to and they are mostly scavenger hunters, street tailors, or simply beggars with various part-time jobs.
We started off with a brief introduction and praying session led by the Sant’Egidio Community to prepare us spiritually for our service. Afterwards, we were divided into four groups along with one leader each to serve in four different locations : Carrefour Hasyim Ashari, Tarakan 1, Tarakan 2, and Tarakan 3. Once we get to the location, we could see their excitement and delight in seeing their regular visitors from the program. We took turns introducing ourselves and gave each of them a dinner box and a glass of hot, sweet tea.
We took our time to talk to them about anything. Just like us, some are extrovert and some are introvert. They answered our questions happily and some even asked questions to us. A participant, Emiria, regretted the fact that many of those who are more well-to-do often hold negative stereotypes about the homeless, where in fact, once you get to communicate with them, they turned out to be friendly and interactive.
Many are from outside Jakarta and have never gone home ever since. Some who can manage, go home during harvest season or Lebaran. They decided to leave their countryside for Jakarta to seek better opportunities, hoping to provide better living condition for their family, Each breadwinner—one per family in most cases—can earn approximately Rp.35.000,- to Rp 50.000,- per day. That income allowed them to survive with the bare minimum, and some with a heartbreaking condition. They rest and find sanctuary under the bridges, around public parks, and next to wooden carts they push everywhere they go.
Saying ‘goodbye’ was hard, as they were so happy to spend time with us as we were as well. From our service, we realized that the homeless friends also served us with valuable moral lesson. They warmed our hearts with their spirit and opened our eyes to realize that we have so many things in life to be thankful for, and yet we are still complaining. “We should be thankful for what we have right now. No matter how bad we think our life is, their life is much worse, yet they are still going strong and never giving up even what they do is nothing much,” reflected Winny, one of the participants.
We finished at 9:30 PM. It was tiring, but we learned many things that we can do for these people. We learned that giving materials helps to provide their basic needs, but giving a smile and being a friend to talk to, is priceless. Once, a homeless said something that melted my heart, “Thank you for at least smiling to me.” And that night, I experienced it again!
Written by : Astrid Veronica