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!