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Volunteer Spotlight – Vivien Keller

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Tell us a little about yourself.
I am 16 years old, a student at the International School of Frankfurt, and currently in my senior year. As an International Baccalaureate student I am surrounded by many different cultures and religions, very aware of global issues and very engaged and interested in organizations such as Meir Panim. I am a very creative person and interested in languages. Speaking three languages – German, English and French – I am always able to communicate while traveling, which benefitted me on this trip to Israel.

How did you find out about Meir Panim?
My father, Michael Keller, one of the founding donors of Meir Panim, passed on his passion for Israel and made me aware of the issue of poverty in the country.

What does your volunteer work consist of?
I worked at one of the food kitchens/restaurants in Jerusalem. From 11am-3pm I served food to people in need, as well as cleaned the restaurant at the end of the day.

What is it you enjoy most about the work?
I definitely enjoyed communicating with the diners and I could even have a full conversation if they were able to speak English or French. The goal of the “free restaurant” is to establish a warm environment resembling a normal restaurant. In making people feel welcome, a major contribution is communication – hearing their individual stories and listening to what they have to say.

What do you think of MP’s staff? Any stories?
The staff at Meir Panim is very welcoming and friendly, making it easy for volunteers to integrate and be part of it. They even taught me how to clean more efficiently!   Tell us about a special experience you’ve had. One day a very kind older woman entered the restaurant to have her daily meal. I started a conversation with the delightful and curious lady and found out that she speaks French. We shared our interest in the language and she talked about her background. It was very special to me that we were able to communicate in French in Israel. From that point on we built up a “relationship” – what you can call a relationship in such a short period of time. Having something in common helped me to get to know her better and in the kitchen adjust to her needs personally.

Do you think Meir Panim creates a change in the people they help?
Definitely. I have seen the reactions on people’s faces every day to the warm welcome and the services we as volunteers, and of course the staff, offer them. They have somewhere to go where they are accepted and taken care of. It becomes part of their daily routine and gives them the support in their every-day life that they need.

In your country of origin, are there any similar organizations? How do they compare to MP?
In my country, Germany, poverty is not one of its biggest issues and therefore not a lot of organizations like Meir Panim can be found. The German organizations I know of focus on current global issues or on poverty in less fortunate countries (UNICEF).   How do you think Meir Panim could spread its message in your community?  As a student, the best way to spread Meir Panim’s message is to inform other students and parents. This could be done with leaflets or brochures but even better, in my opinion, is sharing personal experiences. An information evening could be organized to convey the message formally in front of a bigger audience.

Is it hard to dedicate so much of your time without any compensation?
In my opinion, the smiles of thankfulness and happiness are the best reward. You can only experience this if you are part of it. You see and feel the hope you give to people just by welcoming them with a warm smile and meal, and therefore I do not find it hard to dedicate my time. It is important, and sometimes even necessary, to escape the every-day life and volunteer at organizations like this in order to realize the important things in life.