In Krakow, Poland, as in many other big cities around the world, respectable people pretend the homeless person they pass on the street is invisible. There are, the respectable feel, so many reasons not to respect the man sleeping on the bench: alcoholism, lack of a job, grubbiness, asking for handouts. And if he doesn’t seem to respect himself, why should they? So they pretend blindness… until it turns out that the man on the bench has frozen to death in the winter cold.
In this episode (originally recorded in December 2020), we listen to a Christmas story from Krakow in which volunteers relate their experiences of deliberately seeing those who are usually invisible, and of how offering respect to those trapped in shame can change their lives. Many people living on the street exist cut off from their families, ashamed of what they have done or who they have become. As Brené Brown says, “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.” But in these stories, plus another short anecdote from STC Brussels, we learn that shame can be abolished and relationships restored as people are given respect instead of judgment.
Listen to this motivating episode HERE:
If you wish to know more statistics about homelessness in Krakow at the time this episode was recorded (before the Ukraine war worsened the situation further), consult this article.
In this episode, we met Travis Mielonen, the City Leader of Serve the City Krakow, and Magda Cieślar, one of the Core Team members. Magda and Travis are the second and third people from the right in this photo. It was taken back in 2020 in the kitchen of the women’s homeless shelter that they talk about in the episode. The volunteer team was preparing a Dignity Dinner for the ladies staying at the shelter: not just to make food for them, but to serve it to them and then eat with them and have conversation around the table.
Here, you can see Magda approaching a person on the street to offer them a sandwich and some conversation. In the episode, Magda said:
“We never know what difference we make in somebody’s life. And sometimes it might be just a short conversation with somebody that shows them that we care, and that they’re valuable, and that we want to know their story.”
We also heard in this episode that the project the volunteers were doing—making Christmas cards to offer to women at the homeless women’s shelter—was not the originally planned activity. They had hoped to be making Christmas cards with the women that they could send back to family members… perhaps even people from whom they had become estranged. And they expressed the hope that maybe, in spite of Covid, they might still be able to do the project. As you can see from the picture below, their Christmas wish came true! (Asha and Gosha are in Serve the City shirts kneeling on the right.) And look at all those beautiful cards the women made!
We also shared with you a little story from Serve the City Brussels about worth and reconciliation realized through respect for an unusual volunteer who came to serve with the Breakfast 4 Refugees team back in 2019. Unfortunately, we don’t have a picture of Hilde, but we can offer you a little glimpse of the project, in which it was not unusual for the refugees themselves to volunteer:
This story was recounted to us by Serve the City Founder Carlton Deal and David Anderson, both of whom led this project at its beginning. Carlton at the time was City Leader for Brussels, and Dave was on the Executive Team. The whole Executive Team from that time are pictured below, with Carlton in the blue shirt and Dave in the beige shirt. (The other members pictured are Charles, Marie and Nathan; Nathan is the current STC Brussels City Leader.)
Podcast team for this episode:
- Ani Deal, host
- Shannon Deal, writer and producer
- Frankie Granger, editing assistant
- Parker Deal, sound engineering and original/arranged music
- Jeremie Malengreaux, logo design