Fiona Koefoed-Jespersen is starting a revolution in Luxembourg: a serving revolution that brings the community together. Serve the City is a movement of volunteers, run in the belief that many people doing small things together makes a big difference.
Fiona has always looked for ways to serve her community; the community, for her, being the whole world. At 18, she decided to leave the English village she’d been brought up in to work in a children’s home in South Africa. Many had been orphaned through AIDS or poverty. It was an eye-opener to look after children with such different experiences, some of whom were not much younger than herself and didn’t always take kindly to her authority. The country itself was a challenge for a young white girl:
I got every other weekend off, and spent many of them going back with my Zulu colleagues to their homes in rural KwaZulu Natal. It involved being crammed into tiny minibuses together with chickens, babies and massive bags of rice to get there. Their homes were frequently without running water and electricity, the toilet a “long drop” in the next field. It was a huge eye opener. But their hospitality to me was incredibly warm and I loved every moment (except the toilets).
Nothing daunted, Fiona went on to explore more of South Africa; again on a good cause, but now one that measured the long-term success of charity-schemes. Youth for Christ had initiated a scheme called Phakama where they had invested funds and resources into the poorest township schools in order to raise awareness of HIV&AIDS. Fiona, as their representative, went on to evaluate the impact in previous schools they’d worked in. What she found was that it was the individuals who made the difference; the passionate young student leaders and the great teachers who’d been trained were the ones who were changing lives over the country.
Out of Africa
Returning home after these adventures inevitably resulted in some reverse culture shock, but it wasn’t long before Fiona was off to university, to study at St Andrews at the same time as Prince William. A year spent as part of her course in California offered the chance to see different styles of teaching and many different nationalities, not to mention an ocean-view.
Following the finish of her degree, Fiona knew that she wanted to help people and understand the process behind that help. Faith and philanthropy came together in a posting at EU-CORD in Brussels, where Fiona worked to lobby on development issues such as children’s rights and help NGO’s access EU grants for their programmes. She learnt a lot working for this disciplined, professional body: influencing skills, an in-depth understanding of policy and theory, as well as the politics that happen in a large-scale institution. More than this, she learnt about herself: realising that immediate results and being personally involved was what made her feel fulfilled.
That fulfilment was near at hand. Joining ‘The Well’, a church in Brussels was probably Fiona’s most life-changing event. She met her future husband in a whirlwind romance that took less than eighteen months from meeting to marriage. Together, through ‘The Well’, they became involved in the exciting and innovative project that is Serve the City.
‘A global movement of volunteers showing kindness in practical ways to people in need’ was the simple but huge ideal behind the organisation. Fiona was at the heart of this movement, helping at events and volunteering to aid refugees directly. It was personal acts of kindness forged into a way of life.
Serving a new city
When Fiona’s husband got the opportunity to move to the Grand-Duchy, Fiona seized the chance to build a whole new community, this time through the medium of her blog, www.fionalynne.com. Writing was a passion of Fiona’s, but the blog has proved to be a way of reaching out and charming a whole new audience. She’s also been a wedding planner, run a silent auction and of course, turned her focus back to Serve the City. In December 2012, it was launched right here, in Luxembourg.
Starting small, the original team of 6 planned different ways to make people feel appreciated. They handed out Christmas cards, took coffee to the homeless and started making contact with local organisations to see what they could do. They were greeted with surprise and enthusiasm; Luxembourg has not had a strong ‘volunteering’ culture. This is truly a revolution and one that promises to bring the city of Luxembourg, with all its multiculturalism and differing needs, together. As a poem on the website states:
We know them by their needs.
What if we knew them by name?
Cross the line.
Serve the City.
Fiona comes from the UK and is married to a Danish man. She is fascinated by culture and people’s stories, so she loves living in a community with so many different nationalities. She has a background in the International Relief and Development sector, and co-founded Serve the City Luxembourg in 2012. She’s a writer, event planner and loves gathering people together for celebration and collaboration. You can follow her on her blog or on twitter.
Feature photo: Almyra Knevel Persson