Monday, March 3, 2014

Simona: From Slovakia to The Netherlands to Mumbai

Simona has always dreamed of spending time in the developing world working on alleviating poverty and hunger. Originally from Bratislava, Slovakia and now living in The Netherlands, the vibrant and intelligent 24-year-old is passionately committed to the welfare of children. She was searching for a way to taking part in an innovation to help children, and decided to volunteer with Gabriel Project Mumbai. After a month as a GPM-JDC fellow, she couldn’t be happier.

“This program is awesome,” says Simona, who holds a Master’s Degree in Political Science and a degree in Business Administration. “What we are exposed to makes me think about inequality in the world and how we can fight it. In Europe and in the West we have certain ideas about how to help the poor and vulnerable populations, but being here opens my eyes to the complexities of the challenge. I think through volunteering and experiencing the extreme conditions you also get to know yourself and who you are.”

Simona is part of the eighth cohort of GPM volunteers, which includes participants from all around the world including: United States, Israel, United Kingdom, Australia, Italy, France and now Slovakia! Simona, who is fluent in English, German, Dutch and Slovak and has spent time studying at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, lives with the other volunteers in the Mumbai neighborhood of Thane, close to the slums where the volunteers work every day providing nutrition and literacy to 750-school-age children. The volunteers are also located in proximity to the Jewish community of Mumbai with whom they collaborate on many facets of the program.
Simona, who spent two years as the President of the Slovakian Union of Jewish Youth president for two years, serving the communal needs of 120 Jewish youth and university students as well as the local Jewish community, is surprised herself at how attached she has become to the children. “I did not expect the children to show so much enthusiasm in learning,” she admits. “Their smiles when we arrive every day give us so much.”

Simona and the rest of the volunteers have in fact taken a keen interest in the dental hygiene of the children.  “I have a hard time seeing these children living with certain difficult realities,” she says. “There are some children, as young as 4 or 5, who have rotten and decaying teeth and even though they are now receiving good nutritious food from GPM, their teeth have rotted from years of malnutrition and neglect. It breaks my heart every time I see them smile.”
The group of volunteers decided to launch a program to help provide the children with toothbrushes, toothpaste and soap, as well as basic information about oral health, hygiene and healthy living. The program, called H.E.A.L., which stands for Hygiene Encouragement Awareness Learning , has raised over $1000 to date.

 For Simona, this wonderful achievement, which will drastically improve the lives of 750 children, is inspiring. “It is not difficult at all because the children are so worth it.”
Simona teaching a class

Simona participated in the Fifth Forum of the United Nations in Vienna, Austria, worked in the German Parliament and recently completed an internship at a Dutch engineering consultancy Royal Haskoning DHV in the field of corporate social responsibility with a focus on UN Global Compact. At the end of the program Simona will be returning to The Netherlands, where she will pursue a career in Corporate Responsibility. Thank you for being part of GPM, Simona and veľa sťastia-good luck!

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