GoAbroad Interview

Martina Kaser - México Team Leader

Martina Kaser - México Team Leader

Originally from Germany, Martina connected with UBELONG’s founders for the first time in Cusco, Peru. After becoming UBELONG’s Team Leader in Cusco, which gave her the opportunity to meet build relationships with diehard volunteers, one in particular who helped her develop the idea for UBELONG’s expansion to Merida. Now leading programs in México, Martina has left an irreplaceable mark on the organization.

How did you first become inspired to work in the field of international volunteerism?

My own volunteer experience in Peru inspired me to work in the field of international volunteering. After graduating in Germany, I went to Peru. I studied Spanish in Cusco for four weeks and volunteered at a shelter for girls in Arequipa, another city in Peru; it was inspiring! I enjoyed every minute of it and knew I would like to work in the field of international volunteering, and here I am.

Two women at Machu Picchu
Martina enjoying Machu Picchu

What does a typical day at work look like for you?

There is no typical day; that’s what we tell all UBELONGers and it’s the same for me. I work as a UBELONG team leader in Merida, Mexico as well as a UBELONG program officer and mentor. As a team leader, I’m in charge of all logistics in the field. I meet so many different people from all over the world. We support different projects, so every day is different. As a program officer and mentor, I’m in charge of the pre-departure preparation of the volunteers and other (marketing) projects. Each day varies a lot, but that is something I love about my job.

In your opinion, what makes volunteering abroad with UBELONG unique?

UBELONG has a unique team - our employees, partners in the field, hosting communities, the range of individuals and corporations that work with us, it is an exciting global community. We have recognized professionals and our programs are built on practical knowledge gained through years of international experience. We are flexible; we offer programs across many areas and for different time frames. We are affordable and want to make a positive difference in the local communities, on volunteers, and the world.

What makes Merida, specifically, a great place for volunteering in México?

The people and their culture. The people are so kind and happy in Merida. They open their hearts and make you feel like part of their family, and they really appreciate the help volunteers provide. Furthermore, Merida has a lot of traditions and culture, from typical dances and clothes to delicious food, Mayan ruins, and cenotes (sinkholes).

Woman holding a parrot in Peru
Martina and a new friend in Peru

How do you prepare volunteers for your program before they arrive?

UBELONG volunteers receive an extensive pre-departure preparation. They receive preparation materials, which come in easy-to-follow text and videos, and we pair them with a UBELONG mentor, a wonderful member of our team who works one-on-one with you to prepare you for your experience.

What is your best piece of advice for aspiring volunteers?

Enjoy every moment. Be open, flexible, and positive!

Why are international volunteers valuable in the Merida community?

Merida reflects Mexico’s significant disparity between rich and poor. Poverty exists, especially among the large indigenous population. Chances to advance are limited for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and life is a struggle. International volunteers are valuable to help out in different areas, such as education, caregiving, health, environment, and NGO support to help the less fortunate.

What is one thing you hope volunteers take away from their time in Mexico?

I hope they learn to appreciate more what they have at home and to see how happy people can be without having a lot.

UBELONG team members in Merida, Mexico
Martina in Merida with other UBELONG team members

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part of my job is to connect people of different cultures and traditions. Even though volunteers come with an open mind, language and culture barriers can be challenging.

What can we expect from the Merida program in 2017? Any exciting developments or changes?

New projects coming up!