Vol­un­t­a­ry Ser­vice: Leni

As one of two vol­un­teers from Ger­ma­ny, Leni is curr­ent­ly spen­ding a year vol­un­tee­ring at the Sim­ply Smi­les Children’s Vil­la­ge in Oaxa­ca. She arri­ved in Mexi­co at the end of August 2023 and has star­ted working at the Children’s Vil­la­ge at the begin­ning of Sep­tem­ber. Exact­ly one month after she arri­ved in Mexi­co, we had a con­ver­sa­ti­on with her.

Sim­ply Smi­les: Would you mind brief­ly intro­du­cing yourself?

Leni: My name is Leni, I was born in Ger­ma­ny in 2003, but I grew up in Roma­nia becau­se my par­ents had deci­ded that they wan­ted to live the­re. I went to school the­re, I had my pets, my hob­bies and fri­ends the­re. My main con­nec­tion to Ger­man cul­tu­re has always been my fami­ly, which I used to visit seve­ral times every year.

Sim­ply Smi­les: What encou­ra­ged you to spend a year abroad for a vol­un­t­a­ry service?

Leni: It all star­ted with my par­ents, who were vol­un­teers in Roma­nia almost exact­ly 23 years ago and deci­ded to stay the­re. That means that it defi­ni­te­ly had a big impact on them and as a result, on me too. Essen­ti­al­ly, I always knew that I would want to spend a vol­un­t­a­ry year abroad after gra­dua­ting from school.

I beca­me inte­res­ted in FÖF (the Vol­un­t­a­ry Ecu­me­ni­cal Peace Ser­vice) becau­se in Roma­nia, I had been living near two pla­ce­ment loca­ti­ons whe­re FÖF vol­un­teers had been working for the last three or four years. So I was real­ly able to see just what a gre­at orga­niza­ti­on they were, and I deci­ded pret­ty quick­ly that if I was going to do a year of vol­un­t­a­ry work abroad, that I would do it with them.

There’s a say­ing that goes, „whe­re your talents and the needs of the world cross, the­re lies your voca­ti­on.“ So for me, this year is about fin­ding that inter­sec­tion, to see whe­re I can use the skills that I have, whe­re are they needed?

And yes, in the end I might find out: okay, that fits or that does­n’t fit. So that’s the per­so­nal moti­va­ti­on behind doing this vol­un­t­a­ry year.

Sim­ply Smi­les: Yes­ter­day we tal­ked about the foun­da­ti­ons and under­ly­ing prin­ci­ples of the work Sim­ply Smi­les does. I would also like to ask you: was the­re one thing that stood out in our con­ver­sa­ti­on, or was the­re any­thing that you found par­ti­cu­lar­ly noteworthy?

Leni: I think all ten prin­ci­ples of Sim­ply Smi­les were incre­di­bly memo­rable and valuable. They also hel­ped me to cla­ri­fy some things for mys­elf and to reflect on a num­ber of aspects. So I think they were all real­ly well thought out!

Of cour­se, „always explain why“ was par­ti­cu­lar­ly suc­cinct. That’s pret­ty self-explanatory.

And the next one would be „pre­ser­ve and build digni­ty“, becau­se it empha­si­zes again the level at which Sim­ply Smi­les ope­ra­tes and how much value Sim­ply Smi­les places on the inter­ac­tion – not only on the action its­elf, but also on how some­thing is accom­plished and how it is recei­ved. And I think this prin­ci­ple high­lights that very well.

Sim­ply Smi­les: Is the­re any­thing you are par­ti­cu­lar­ly loo­king for­ward to during the time you have ahead of you here in Mexico?

Leni: I’m pro­ba­b­ly most loo­king for­ward to the time when lan­guage will no lon­ger be a bar­ri­er bet­ween me and the child­ren and young peo­p­le I work with here, or also with the staff.

Then, of cour­se, I’m loo­king for­ward to a point in time whe­re I’m a litt­le bit more used to the heat, if that ever happens.

I’m loo­king for­ward to con­ti­nuing to explo­re the sur­roun­ding area here, get­ting to know Coyo­te­pec bet­ter and, of cour­se, the peo­p­le here. At the same time, I’m also loo­king for­ward to expan­ding my under­stan­ding of the com­plex pic­tu­re of Mexico.

Becau­se every day you learn some­thing new, and every day the­re is some­thing new and exci­ting, and it always goes in so many direc­tions that we will pro­ba­b­ly be lear­ning new things until the end of our vol­un­teer year.

And I’m loo­king for­ward to that!