GoAbroad Interview

Diogo Morais - Portugal Team Leader

Diogo Morais - Portugal Team Leader

Diogo has a background in psychology and communications, which serves him surprising well in his role with UBELONG. With loads of research under his belt, Diogo joined the UBELONG team after building a valuable connection with one of the organization’s founders. His knowledge of Portuguese culture and experience living in Lisbon provides him with the ideal perspective to lead the UBELONG team in Portugal.

How did you first become connected with UBELONG?

I knew one of UBELONG’s founders, Cedric Hodgeman, through a mutual friend when he himself was doing some volunteering in Lisbon a couple of years ago. We had long and insightful discussions Portugal and our common interests in working towards a better world. When he returned to Lisbon last year, we talked UBELONG’s vision and he told me he was working to create a UBELONG program in Lisbon. I immediately offered to give him a help and we were able to find a common ground which allowed me to become UBELONG’s local team leader.

What personal experiences attracted you to work in a role that allows you to support international volunteers?

As a university teacher since 2004 and a researcher in an international research center in Lisbon, I am no stranger to international cooperation, and I have extensive experience in nurturing international exchange students from Europe, Latin America, and the U.S. Therefore, the possibility to use this experience in a context where we are able to create bridges between institutions that need help and people eager provide such help was definitely a goal; UBELONG provided me with that opportunity.

Fans at a soccer game in Lisbon, Portugal
Diogo catching a soccer game in Lisbon

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

I get up early in the morning and leave my kids at school. Usually take a quick glance at the news and then I’m lecturing until lunch. At that time, a quick Skype meeting with UBELONG’s office to get an update on our programs. After lunch, most of the afternoon is dedicated to research in psychology and politics.

How do you prepare participants for Portugal before they arrive?

At UBELONG, most of the pre-arrival preparation is done by our mentors that work in our office and perform the initial mentoring and screening for candidates. In this case, I am happy to say that our Lisbon project is mentored by a very skilled and competent professional, Martina Kaiser.

What makes Portugal an interesting place to volunteer abroad?

Portugal is a country of unbelievable natural beauty, an old and complex history (900 years), and social and economical challenges that make it a very compelling destination to conciliate both volunteering and tourism. Lisbon is currently one of the top destinations in Europe for both business and tourism and it is also one of the safest cities in the world. Nevertheless, the social and economical challenges that it faces, in the wake of the last international financial crisis, are relevant. The gap between rich and poor is getting bigger and youth unemployment is a trending topic. Beyond this, there is a relevant number of children in need of help due to their parents inability to give them proper living standards (either due to disease, unemployment, or emigration). There are a considerable amount of NGOs working in the field, but most of them are understaffed and in need of capable people willing to make a difference.

Couple in London
Diogo in London

What makes UBELONG’s Portugal program unique?

UBELONG was able to establish partnerships with lead NGOs in almost every field, ranging from complex health projects to simpler but very relevant NGO support projects. UBELONG’s network is broad and growing everyday. The program in Portugal is founded on the basis of real impact on real people’s lives, so it is very rewarding for every volunteer looking to make a difference. Besides that, it is the first UBELONG project in an European country, which should attract a different audience.

In your opinion, what are the main benefits of volunteering abroad, both for the local community and for volunteers themselves?

Local communities always win by bringing people with different ideas and perspectives into their context. The energy of the international volunteers, as well as their know-how in specific areas, can provide a much needed boost to local teams that can sometimes be somewhat depleted from their hard work in difficult settings.

For volunteers, the advantages are huge. Travelling is in itself the best way to learn and develop a broader perspective of the world. Volunteering just makes it much more rewarding in the sense that it allows for a deeper involvement with local communities and the benefits reaped from having a real impact in people's lives is truly overwhelming. Lastly, international volunteering is a well documented critical success factor for employment. Employers favour candidates with international volunteering experience.

Diogo Morais speaking at a conference
Diogo speaking at a conference

What is your best piece of advice for participants wishing to volunteer in Portugal?

My advice is based on a set of experiences beyond the volunteering itself:

1. Enjoy the frantic IT related start-ups environment that can provide job opportunities

2. Work within internationally recognized R&D teams

3. Get in profound with the Portuguese culture (one of oldest republics in Europe), not only through sightseeing, but also through local gastronomy and traditional festivals.

4. Take advantage of the sunny weather by exploring the Portuguese coastline and its renowned and acclaimed beaches.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The rewards are two-folded. On one hand, the opportunity to meet people from other countries and being able to help them fulfil their goals in international volunteering. On the other hand, the fact that UBELONG’s Volunteers have a real impact on the projects in which they are involved. This latter argument is definitely the most rewarding, since by helping local projects all over the world, UBELONG is able to really change the lives of people. Each UBELONGer’s impact is small and incremental, but multiplied over the nearly 4 million hours of service that UBELONGers have served and you start to see the enormity of the impact our volunteers have made. I’m glad to be a part of that.

If you could volunteer abroad with UBELONG, which program would you choose?

Since I live in Lisbon, I would have to choose another one and the project in Cusco is just amazing. If you want to find a place where can make a real difference in people’s lives and still have a pleasant setting, Cusco is definitely the place to be. UBELONG has a whole set of local partners ranging from education to caregiving which makes this offer appealing to almost everyone.