Today on GoAbroad we bring you an interview with the Founder and Director of Projects Abroad, Dr. Peter Slowe. In addition to founding Projects Abroad, a leading global volunteer placement organization. Dr. Slowe has a Bachelor of Arts in Geography from the University of Bristol, and a Doctorate in Philosophy from the University of Oxford . During college, he spent a gap year in India, teaching English and cricket at St. Joseph’s School, Baramulla, Kashmir.
Our interview today jumps into some of the new and exciting developments at Projects Abroad!
Projects Abroad is one of the largest international volunteer organizations sending over 10,000 volunteers abroad from Senegal to Samoa. If you could attribute your growth to one factor what would it be?
We’ve developed a work ethic around the word “worthwhile”. Each project should be worthwhile for the volunteer, worthwhile for our partner organizations, and worthwhile for our host families. It’s a simple idea that has guided us well in this rapidly-changing field.
Projects Abroad began by sending university students to Eastern Europe to teach English. What did you learn from those early experiences?
I learned very quickly that visiting a country to live and work in it was totally different for everyone involved from any kind of tourist visit. I learned that there is a real cultural exchange. By that I mean that, without anyone really trying, young people from worlds apart become close, sharing their aspirations and their music, their impressions and their languages. They become part of each other’s worlds. On a different note, the immense importance of English as a global medium for communications came home to me then; its growth in Eastern Europe was breath-taking and it still has momentum everywhere.
Can you tell us about Projects Abroad PRO?
Projects Abroad PRO is the skilled and qualified arm of Projects Abroad. It’s for people with a higher level of qualifications or education: doctors, lawyers, physiotherapists, nutritionists, engineers, etc. While these people have always been among our volunteers, a few years ago we decided that that these people had skills and goals that would be better served by a program that was developed for them specifically from the ground up.
The Global Gap Program is pretty extensive with stops in Ghana, South Africa, Peru, India, and Thailand. This has even garnered attention from NBC Nightly News. How many gappers participate each year?
There are 10 Global Gap volunteers in the 2012-2013 program. Right now they are working on the Teacher Training project in Cusco, Peru – one of our most impactful teaching projects anywhere. In 6 weeks, they give high school English teachers in the Sacred Valley a chance for intense conversational English practice. It’s the only continuing education those teachers receive.
For 2013-2014 we’re expecting the Global Gap program to fill up completely, with a maximum of 15 participants.
What do you tell volunteers who question the idea of paying to volunteer abroad?
I think it’s important to remember that Projects Abroad volunteers aren’t actually doing volunteer work to support Projects Abroad. They are working with Projects Abroad to do volunteer work in support of local orphanages, schools, hospitals, NGOs, etc . Projects Abroad is there as a partner -- to make the experience as worthwhile as possible for everyone involved.
This might not matter for everyone; perhaps experienced aid-workers or well-traveled adventurers don’t need the support of a professional program with a continual presence overseas. However, for most people – those who want to travel to a new place, experience a foreign culture and probably learn a foreign language – this kind of reliable support and guidance is absolutely essential.
What are the most popular Projects Abroad destinations for volunteers?
Ghana has been our largest destination for many years, although Nepal and South Africa have been catching up. India and Peru are also perennial favorites.
There have been 40 different nationalities that have volunteered with Projects Abroad. What nationality volunteers with Projects Abroad in the greatest numbers?
We were founded in the UK so it isn’t surprising that the largest group is still British. French, Germans and Americans are also quite numerous.
What nationality makes the best volunteers?
As we’ve grown, each nationality has brought its own set of skills and needs to the program. That’s helped us learn and grow as an organization, and it’s helped our partners as well. For example, our Japanese volunteers have pushed us to develop an infrastructure for supporting them in Japanese, which was very challenging. Because our kind of program is new for most Japanese, they tend to plan their trips with us in exceptional detail and the whole family is usually involved; even more than other volunteers, the Japanese often join us with a good knowledge of local cultures and languages, so their experience of cultural exchange is more profound.
Projects Abroad has been granted 476 hectares in the Amazon Rainforest to use as an ecological reserve. Can you tell us about this project?
It was really ground-breaking when we started it. It was the first time the Peruvian government had ever granted reserve status to a private organization. We’ve been working there for over ten years now and we’re making a real impact on the local environment and community (you can’t do conservation without taking into account the “human factor”). Aside from that, we have established a major animal release center at the reserve and our director has published several important research papers proving the existence of dozens of species previously thought not to exist in that area.
What is the one piece of advice would you give a volunteer before they head abroad?
Regarding fundraising, I believe that most people should simply add up what it costs to go abroad and earn the money yourself.
Stack shelves, fit tires, do whatever you like, but give yourself the dignity of earning your own money to do your own thing. Of course, you can also try to fundraise in other ways, but you're not Oxfam so it's always going to be difficult. Other people's money usually comes with hidden strings. Your own cash is guaranteed strings-free.
Thanks for chatting with GoAbroad, Dr. Slowe! Be sure to check out Projects Abroad on GoAbroad to learn even more about their programs!