GoAbroad Interview

Meg Capshew - Administrator & Volunteer Coordinator

Meg Capshew - Administrator & Volunteer Coordinator

Born and raised in Southern Indiana, Meg has always had a passion for travel and exploring new cultures. After high school she moved to Lima, Peru on a Rotary scholarship and fell in love with South America. Meg returned to United States to complete her degree in international studies at Indiana University and then began working in the nonprofit sector in Chicago. She has been working with Globalteer since December 2014.

Inti Raymi celebration attendees in Cusco, Peru

Celebrating Inti Raymi with our Cusco volunteers

Tell us about your background in volunteering and how you got involved with Globalteer.

I frequently volunteered as a child, but my passion for volunteering really started when I moved to Lima, Peru as a Rotary International Youth Exchange Student. I loved participating in all of the Rotary meetings, fundraisers, medical campaigns, youth leadership conferences, and community projects. During my time in Lima, we helped over 500 Peruvians with disabilities gain access to wheelchairs. Working alongside Rotary made me realize the positive impact that individuals or groups can have on a community. It also fueled my passion for other languages and cultures, in particular the Peruvian culture which had welcomed me with such love. Globalteer’s projects are exactly the kind of sustainable and responsible initiatives that I enjoy supporting, so I was thrilled when I was able to join the team.  

What is a typical day of work like for you?

I handle the applications process for nine of Globalteer’s projects, so I generally begin my day by checking each of the email accounts, responding to inquiries, and working through applications from potential volunteers. I also work as Globalteer’s Child Protection Officer, so I spend part of my day completing background checks to verify the suitability of volunteers who will be working with children at our various community projects. Child protection is paramount to Globalteer and taken very seriously. 

When we have volunteers arriving in Cusco for the Peru Dog Rescue Project, I am the one to pick them up from the airport and provide them with a city tour of Cusco and project orientation. I also get the opportunity at times to head down to our Community Project in Oropesa for an afternoon to teach art or sports to the children, or to our dog rescue center to visit the dogs!

Hiking in the Peruvian Andes

Hiking in the Peruvian Andes

How do you apply your academic background in international studies to your daily work?

My academic background provided me with many tools that I use every day. The International Studies Department at Indiana University incorporates courses from various academic areas along with language studies and overseas experience. Together these elements facilitate cross cultural international communication and understanding, which is especially important in the nonprofit sector and organizations like Globalteer. This knowledge allows me to connect with both our volunteers from around the world and local project staff partners.

What attracts someone to a Globalteer program as opposed to others? Where do most of your volunteers come from? 

One of my favorite things about Globalteer is the broad variety of volunteers that we receive. Our volunteers are of all different ages (18 and up, of course!) and from all different backgrounds, with most coming from the UK, the U.S., and Australia. I think what attracts people to Globalteer are the strategies we use to work towards our mission. These strategies focus on genuine local need, instead of deciding externally what needs to be done. In this way, our volunteers are able to give their time and knowledge to something they know will truly help the community.

We also have a very good reputation because there is genuine work for all our volunteers to do. There’s no chance they will show up and find no children in our school or no dogs at the rescue center! And believe me that happens frequently with other organizations! Of course being in a foreign, developing country, often for the first time, volunteers love the security of having our staff on the ground should they need us.

Globalteer staff outside the Globalteer office in Cusco, Peru

With Globalteer colleague, Jeanette, outside of our Cusco office

You speak Portuguese, Spanish, and English. What would you tell volunteers about the importance of speaking the local language where they are volunteering?

Here in Peru our volunteers have the invaluable opportunity to learn Spanish with a private teacher in a one-on-one setting. As native Peruvians, all of our Spanish instructors are able to teach in the cultural context that makes the experience more valuable to our volunteers. Our volunteers in Cambodia can learn about the biquinary number system used in the Khmer language, a totally different way to conceptualize numbers!

No matter where our volunteers go, there are great language learning opportunities waiting for them. But you don’t have to be able to speak the local language to be a great volunteer. Native English speaking volunteers at our Peru, Colombia, and Cambodia community projects help mostly with English classes, and you would be amazed how quickly people can learn to communicate through sign language and facial expressions.

Off course languages are a direct link to culture and I strongly believe that language learning, even at a basic level, is vital to understanding the values, morals, and history of a culture. After living for many years in Peru I am happy to now have the opportunity to learn Quechua, which was spoken in pre-colonial Peru and is still prevalent in the Andean region. It really provides a deeper understanding into the rich cultural Peruvian heritage.

You’re based in Cusco, what involvement do you have with Globalteer’s Peru volunteers? 

As well as meeting, greeting, and helping to orientate our volunteers when they arrive in Cusco, we can also socialize together. Cusco’s history and cultural heritage provides numerous opportunities for our staff and volunteers. In the evenings we often have informal social outings with our volunteers to share with them a bit more of Peru’s unique culture! On the weekends, we often plan outings with our volunteers to towns or festivals in the Cusco area. It’s so much fun hanging out with our diverse volunteers and seeing some of the local events in such an important historical region of South America. 

What are the biggest highlights of Globalteer’s programs in Peru?

As with all of our projects, one of the most important things about our Peru projects is that they are locally run and sustainable. Our local staff at Picaflor House and the dog rescue center are a wonderful asset to the volunteer experience in Peru and volunteers find working with the local staff a real highlight. For animal enthusiasts, the two wildlife projects based out of Puerto Maldonado, Peru provide an exciting chance to work with unique Amazonian wildlife. 

Woman with rescued puppy in Peru

At the Peru Dog Rescue Project with my adopted puppy, Umiña

You’ve been with Globalteer for less than a year, what was your first impression of the organization and how has that changed?

I was initially drawn to Globalteer because of the wide range of projects. There are projects for animal enthusiasts, teachers, farmers, builders, and virtually any interest or skill set. Meanwhile, all these sustainable projects are working towards real objectives. 

Now, after more than six months of reviewing applications for many of our projects and getting the chance to meet our Cusco volunteers in person, what stands out to me is how cool our volunteers are! The broad range of projects brings a very diverse group of volunteers. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to meet so many people with backgrounds very different from my own and to learn from them and their stories. All volunteers bring something unique to our projects and it has been a truly wonderful time working with them all.

What are your goals for the rest of 2015?

To continue supporting our projects in any way I can, to create lasting solutions in each of the communities we work in!

What is the best part about working for Globalteer?

Being able to connect people who want to make a difference with sustainable community-based projects that match their interests and skills, and to support them while they are volunteering to ensure they have a meaningful and productive experience.