As one of two volunteers from Germany, Helen 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. We caught up with her exactly one month after her arrival in Mexico.
Simply Smiles: Can you briefly tell us a bit about yourself?
Helen: My name is Helen, I’m from Karlsruhe, but I was born in Berlin and that’s why my whole family lives in Berlin. I have two older siblings, so I’m the youngest of the bunch.
I enjoy spending time with my friends and family. I also play the flute and I like music, and I really enjoy dancing. I started dancing ballet when I was about four years or younger, and I have been dancing regularly until now.
Simply Smiles: What inspired you to go abroad for a year of voluntary service?
Helen: First of all, I knew that I didn’t want to go straight to university or start an apprenticeship after school. And then, of course, there are several options as to how you want to spend a year, and that’s where voluntary service appealed to me the most.
I had a feeling that this would be the best way for me to learn something, while also being able to do something meaningful. That’s why it was important for me to find a project or an organisation where I knew I would also be able to make a difference.
I also knew several people who had already completed a voluntary service program abroad, and fortunately that’s what guided me.
And I really enjoy travelling and have travelled a lot in Europe with my family. I appreciate getting to know new cultures, and the languages and Mexico are of course something completely different compared to Europe!
Simply Smiles: Yesterday we had a conversation where we were talking about the guiding principles behind the work that Simply Smiles does. I would like to ask you: was there anything that you found to be noteworthy?
Helen: I really have a hard time choosing just one single one, but what has stuck in my mind the most is the principle that you should always explain why you are doing something. Whether it’s with the children or with the staff working in the Children’s Village, or just in general when you’re interacting with people.
I’ve often noticed – not necessarily in Mexico, but just in everyday life in Germany – that if someone doesn’t explain why something is being done, misunderstandings happen and that can then lead to arguments or a more negative interaction with another person. That’s why I think that’s a very important principle.
The other thing was „the need always trumps the obstacles.“ If a lot of obstacles are put in your way, to still keep at it because you know how necessary this thing is that you have set out to do. I also found that important, that you don’t give up immediately just because something seems difficult.
Simply Smiles: Is there anything you are particularly looking forward to during the time still ahead of you here in Mexico?
Helen: There are so many things I’m looking forward to! First and foremost, that I will hopefully be able to speak Spanish at some point and communicate better with people, and that I will be able to get to know people better as a result. I’m really looking forward to that.
Trying more Mexican food – I have already tried so much, but there are so many more things that I haven’t tried yet!
And also generally just to arrive a little bit more, to get to know the area where we live and our neighbors a little better, and hopefully also to have a circle of friends here.
And I also hope that I will get a little bit more of a tan. Because at the moment I’m still very white! I hope that will change!