German volunteer in Mexico
I came here to do something meaningful in my life, to make a difference, to help make our world a little bit better.
I am working as a Jesuit European Volunteer in an underprivileged township called Nezahualcóyotl, which is located on the outskirts of Mexico City, one of the world’s biggest cities. While in Germany I always had everything I wanted it and was able to do everything I wanted to do, as a result I decided to take part in this two year program, and changed my life in order to help people who are not as lucky as I am. I came here to do something meaningful in my life, to make a difference, to help make our world a little bit better. It sounds rather idealistic and I must say, that in reality a lot of the time it is difficult to see the improvements to the situations and the living conditions of the people because improvement takes place very, very slowly.
In my first year I worked as a teacher in an all-day nursery and pre-school in ‘Tlatel-Xochitenco’ a district of the city of Chimalhuacán. I was shocked to see the poor conditions in which people live there. Of course, I have seen such things on television but it is completely different to actually see it in close up. This part of town is 50 meters away from the rubbish dump and as a result the air pollution is unbelievably high, also because people burn their rubbish in their backyards. The air does not improved since old cars and trucks are still being driven. The streets are unpaved, there is no telephone, some houses do not even have drainage nor a direct water access – the water comes by truck and the people keep it in buckets or in a cistern, if they have one. You really have to take care of yourself in order to prevent yourself from getting ill or catching an infection. In spring the wind is quite strong and the dust from the unpaved streets in blown into everything, into the house, the food, your eyes, your hair. I missed the green mountains, clear lakes, fresh air and the freedom I had in my country to go anywhere and at any hour of the day without feeling uncomfortable.
Fortunately I got used to everything pretty quickly. I started to love the Mexican food and the people were really nice. They had to learn that I am not "la Señorita alemana", but Alice, the volunteer worker, who is doing exactly the same work as they are.
Now in my second year I am working in the district "El Sol" in the city of Nezahualcóyotl. I am giving English lessons to middle school students and adults. I have four groups, which come twice a week; there are about seven students in each group.
Another part of my work has to do with public relations. I keep contact with our donators and benefactors in Europe. I write reports about our improvements and make information leaflets. When we have visitors, I take them around our projects and tell them about our work.
As for every Jesuit European Volunteer the second year is much more valuable then the first one, because you now know the culture well, you have made friends and lastly you can express yourself precisely in Spanish. Now I understand Mexicans better. Sometimes I feel more Mexican than German. I learned to love this country which is so beautiful and rich yet so full of problems and in despair. I also started to love the Mexican people who are so friendly and open, full of ideas and dreams. Young and old celebrate incredible parties together throughout the night.
Unfortunately they are quite lazy, disorganized and do not plan ahead. For example there are often water shortages but they waste water, washing the outsides of their houses, taking long showers, etc. Many people do this where there is not water shortage, I know. There is also a great deal of corruption in the country.
I was most impressed to experience how wide the gap is between the different classes of society. It is almost impossible to change from one to the other. I am lucky being a volunteer from another country and therefore accepted in all classes. It is sad to hear the different opinions.
I have been asked why I did not chose to work in a nicer place. The answer: There, I am not needed: In general there is much ignorance and little respect. People have seriously told me that people are poor because they are lazy. Does that mean that people who are rich is because they work hard or because they have good connections and a lot of money?
It is true that some poor people do not work as much as they could, but they think differently. When they have earned enough money for the day they stop working and start enjoying life. It is difficult for us, the children of capitalism, to understand this way of life. Mexico is not really poor but wealth is not well distributed. Much of the wealth goes to rich countries which are not good, but there are ways to change this. A few years ago we received all the financial aid from Europe but now some Mexican foundations are donating.
I have learned a lot from the Mexican people. Now I do not worry about everything, I do not have to solve every problem immediately. I have learned to dance salsa, that you can actually eat the tiny legs of a chicken, to walk 4000 meters above sea level in the mountains surrounding Mexico City and that tequila can cure everything.
Jesuit European Volunteer
Fundación para la Asistencia Educativa, I.A.P.