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Simply Smiles provides bright futures for children, families, and communities. The organization partners with populations in need to create physical and emotional environments where suffering is alleviated and from which local leaders can emerge.

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Simply Smiles blog

Follow our blog and read insights from Simply Smiles staff, volunteers and other individuals whose lives are affected by our work!

Filtering by Tag: simplemente sonrisas

"Esperamos, Sam" - Final Reflections from Mexico

Timothy Nurnberger

“Esperamos, Sam.” “We will wait” is what Mari Cruz said to me as I forced out my goodbye to her and her family on my last day in the Santa Maria Tepexipana this summer. I had just explained to them, above the roar of pouring rain, that since I am now graduated and in the Smile Corp, I’ll be back soon, but unfortunately had to leave a day early. That morning I rushed over to say goodbye while tropical storm Ernesto was making its way through Oaxaca and was at full force in Santa Maria, so we had to postpone the food distribution for a week and decided we should leave before the road out of the jungle was too bad. But right as I made my way out the door intending to run back up the hill to help the group finish cleaning up the camp, Mari Cruz’s father, Don Aron, said to me, “Wait, you all are leaving right now?” And I explained that we thought that was the best plan because the rain could go on for days, but he disagreed because the rivers we drive through to get to Santa Maria would already be too high for the vans to pass. So we walked back up to our camp together, where we found Juan, Lula, Javier and Pete, and all decided we better wait until the rain was over and the road cleared before we made our departure. Lula and Javier thought the rain would end in just a few hours (while I was pretty convinced it would actually last a few days), and the truck used to clear the roads would be able to come that afternoon, so ultimately we decided to stick it out and leave in the morning. It was quite fortunate that Don Aron had our back, as word came that the roads were indeed too bad to go down, so we would have had to turn back anyway.
So, since flexibility is always fun, we made the best out of the situation. Emma and I heated up some leftovers, we all played cards, listened to Eli and Pete play the guitar, and fortunately the rain did in fact end early in the afternoon. Even though my morning started off with being stuck in the rain, our plans being cancelled, and thinking my last day in Santa Maria with all my friends would be cut short, it actually turned into one of the best days of the summer and of my life. When the rain stopped, all of our closest friends came up to our camp simply to hang out and enjoy the crafts that Lissa, one of our dedicated volunteers, brought down with her. We had blank white hats and fabric paint for people to decorate, and a polaroid camera, both of which everyone LOVED. Fathers, mothers and kids painted hats together for hours. A few families asked Emma and I to decorate hats for them, which was actually a little stressful, trying to make them perfect as they all wanted their names written out nicely along with “Recuerdo de Simply Smiles” or “Memory of Simply Smiles” next to a special design like a flower or star. Mine ended up coming out well enough, even though doing anything artistic takes up all of my concentration and effort, so since that wasn’t entirely possible, I’m pretty sure a couple of the people who asked me to decorate their hats were a little envious of the ones Emma did. I tried my best.
Word about the Polaroid camera spread quickly too, and a bunch of families from around the area made their way to our camp just to get their first family picture taken. Emma, Pete and I, as well as many of the volunteers, were also asked to join in many of the pictures which made it a unique, unforgettable experience for all.
That night, we had goat for dinner. The goat was retrieved by Javier who walked 2 hours away to a village to buy it, then 2 hours back, putting the goat on his shoulders to carry it through the rivers. He was quite proud of this feat, and the goat was great. We shared it with at least 30 people as we watched Disney’s “Tangled” which everyone adored.
Finally I said my goodbyes all over again
and then again at 6am the next morning before we actually left Santa Maria Tepexipana. Those goodbyes were a lot easier as I felt that after spending a relaxed day with our closest friends, sharing food, laughs and smiles, I could leave without any regrets. I was also assured by Mari Cruz, Ana Cristina and their whole families that they will be awaiting my return, and I promised them that I will be waiting to too.
Every week this summer I grew more aware of the impact we can have on peoples’ lives. Day after day I was truly humbled and grateful to be apart of such an incredible organization, and such a strong community of people, who are willing to help others through extending their hands as friends. Simply Smiles focuses on relationship building first. Throughout my last three years as an intern I can truly say that I am constantly amazed at how quickly we were able to establish such strong relationships with our friends in Santa Maria, and how we are able to sustain strong friendships at Casa Hogar and the city dump. Whether it was making a hat for Lula in the jungle, forcing Nacho to have a conversation with me about his dreams for the future in English at Casa Hogar, or playing basketball with Edith’s girls at the park, I continually saw how small acts of compassion can have huge effects, and that is the foundation of Simply Smiles. As an intern, I am lucky enough to return week after week and year after year which has allowed me to make lasting friends throughout Oaxaca, as well as form lifelong friendships with my fellow interns, and am able to become friends fast with all the incredible volunteers that I meet throughout the season.  Building relationships, community, and friendships is how Simply Smiles improves peoples’ lives.  The friendships that I have made from this summer alone have brought me countless laughs, a few tears, and have helped me grow as an intern and a person. Now, being back in the office in CT, working to support all we do in Mexico and South Dakota, all I can do is wait patiently to be reunited with them all once again.

Generación Simplemente Sonrisas

Timothy Nurnberger

Hello again from Oaxaca, Sam here, after my first full week in Mexico with Pete, Emma and Zach. We have had quite the busy week getting ready at our Center of Operations, and we just got back from Santa Maria Tepexipana. There, we cleaned up our campsite as much as we could after the hurricane swept through two weeks ago, and I was able to catch up with old friends who I haven’t seen since last August.

On our way down to the jungle, we stopped at Pedro and Maria’s alebrijes store, and were served Maria’s delicious scrambled eggs with tomatoes and onions, with beans and her corn tortillas on the side--a meal I have been reminiscing about since August. Also, the last time we stopped for a meal at Pedro and Maria’s at the end of last summer, Maria told me that she was pretty sure her son was going to name his newborn baby girl after me, because of all the joy we (the Simply Smiles staff and volunteers) bring to the world. Obviously, this nearly made me die with happiness, only to find out yesterday that they decided to name her Eileen instead. Samantha really doesn’t sound great in Spanish, I will give them that, and I guess being runner up to having a baby girl named after you isn’t too bad, but it was still a bit of a letdown.

Anyway, after the rest of the six hour drive, we finally reached Santa Maria. It   was scorching hot, so even taking the first trip up to our campsite was tiring.   However, we found Juan, Elute, Javier, and a few other men from the town   helping to rebuild our palapa that the hurricane knocked down, so bringing our supplies up the hill seemed a tad less difficult. The heat in Santa Maria always surprises me the first time I go each summer, so as Zach, Emma, Pete and I continued our trips up the hill, I couldn’t help but think of a letter that Mahelet, my ten year old sister, sent me last year during my internship in Mexico. She drew a picture of me holding a basketball, sweating profusely, with the caption: “Hard workers sweat, just like you. I miss you!” Even though it was the most ridiculous, back-handed compliment I have ever received, it did win a few laughs, and to this day it is tacked up in the Center of Operations down here in Oaxaca, just so everyone knows that I am a hard worker. Albeit a little embarrassing, thinking about it made the trips go by a bit faster.

After we tidied up and finished securing the bunk-beds in our new dorm, we went down to say “hi” to all our friends in the center of the village. I saw Ana Cristina and Mari Cruz-- two of my closest friends from last year who are a few of the sweetest, hardest working girls I have ever met. I saw Pinque, Martin’s puppy that has grown 20 times its original size since we gave her to him last August, and I was able to sit down and talk to Cristobalina, Ana Cristina’s mom; Carina, Mari Cruz’s sister in law; and later Matea and Don Aron, Mari Cruz’s parents.

On my very last night in the jungle last August, Haley and I went to say good bye to Cristabolina and Matea, and ended up staying in their home for almost an hour just talking about the summer, sharing words of thanks, and laughing about all the good times we had together over the past few years since Simply Smiles started working in Santa Maria. When I came back to Cristabolina’s home, it seemed like just last week that I had said goodbye.Zach, Emma and I talked to Don Arón about how nice it is to be able to converse in a common language, and we talked with Cristobalina about the upcoming preschool and primary school graduations, and she brought out the program for us to see. She took it out of its plastic cover, handed it to us, and I almost started crying on the spot: Santa Maria Tepexipana named the pre-school graduation class, “Generación Simplemente Sonrisas,” or “Generation Simply Smiles.” After just three years of being in this village, we have been able to have such a big impact on this community. Not only have we made lasting friends, they believe in our ability, as a Simply Smiles community, to change the lives of their youngest children, so that they can fulfill their dreams. This is our true goal. With every penny we raise we hope to strengthen the communities we work in while focusing on building friendships. We care about the smiles we create, we care about the futures we build, and it is obvious that we are successful. Through seeing this project grow over the last three years, I can’t describe how amazing it is to be such good friends with the families in town, to find kids and adults (who were originally very shy and reserved) warm up to us all and bring us into their homes to chat like old friends, and finally, for them to name a pre-school graduating class to all of us. I cannot wait to see what “Generation Simply Smiles” is capable of, and how Santa Maria Tepexipana will continue to grow stronger in the future.

Another update soon about the St. Luke’s and Rangatoto group that arrives tomorrow!

Until then,

Sam