For the Love of Volunteering
by Dr. Charles Cappellino
Dr. Charles Cappellino has gotten a lot out of life and he wanted to give a little bit back. So, in 1977 he took the first step of a journey that has led him into years of fulfillment as a traveling volunteer. Cappellino, an ophthalmologist, first got involved with overseas volunteering when he performed eye surgeries in rural Nigeria, and discovered a certain attraction to the volunteering way of life. He soon found himself going to such exotic locales as Ecuador and St. Lucia, not to browse through shops or rest on the beach, but to work.
Decades later, he taught conversational English to children on three Global Volunteers teams. He recalls his experience in Italy here.
I greatly enjoyed my experience as as volunteer in Italy for many reasons. As an Italian American, I had traveled throughout Italy many times before, both with my parents who were born in Sicily, and as a student at the University of Bologna, so I was not concerned with adapting to the language or culture in my assigned destination, Ostuni, Italy, a historic town built on top of hills that lies along the Adriatic Coast between Bari and Brindisi...population 35,000.
When I recall my first day at Morelli Elementary School in nearby Carovigno, everyone seemed happy, the girls embraced their teachers and the noisy hallways resonated with sounds from the marble floors and concrete construction.
Classes were between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m., five days a week. I was given a free hand in covering the class work and all the students were very receptive even though this was a new experience for them, too. I was the first American ever assigned to their school! They asked me questions on movies, T.V., sports, and life in America. They even asked for my autograph. I felt like a celebrity! No teaching experience was necessary, so I concentrated on what I knew best (ophthalmic surgery not included, of course): conversation and pronunciation. In between, I injected games such as "Simple Simon," songs like "You Are My Sunshine," and parlor tricks. Before long, we enjoyed ourselves and felt very comfortable together.
There was plenty of time to socialize with my teammates after school hours. We arranged a bus trip to Locorotondo and Alberobello, two unique towns with conical-shaped roofs made of stone called "trulli," dating back to the 16th century. On another occasion, an Italian family drove me to see Lecce, the port of Brindisi, and all the olive groves, vineyards, artichoke farms and almond trees. Although I love New York, the landscape of Italy’s "boot" was a welcome change!
My second and last week at school was highlighted by a class trip by bus to Egnazia, an ancient Greco-Roman ruin along the Adriatic dating back to 800 B.C.
By this time, the students who did not have classes with me had heard about the "Americano" teaching English in his unique way wanted to be involved, so permission was granted to double-up classes in a larger room. Need I say how honored I felt?
Towards the end of the week, the local teachers and their families organized a grand festival to honor my teammates at our hotel ballroom. Yet another highlight! The festivities began with the Carovigno Flag Throwers marching in to the sound of drums and bugles dressed in period costumes. Next came the Ostuni Folklore Group in local costumes playing guitars, accordions and drums. They were followed by a dance group of teenagers in traditional dress.After dinner, the mayor of Ostuni paid tribute to the Global Volunteers and we in turn thanked the city for their hospitable and cordial reception.
My last day of school was the most memorable of the trip. When I opened the front door to the school that morning, I was surprised to be greeted by the whole school with cheers, gifts, and an outpouring of affection and appreciation. Tears filled my eyes and that moment alone was worth all my efforts. You get to help other people. But, you also get off the beaten track and away from places everybody else goes to see.
Global Volunteers has opportunities for people with or without teaching backgrounds. Most projects require no specific training, but specialists are welcome. I recommend this opportunity to all my friends. If you're thinking about joining a team...think no further. Call and join. You'll come home with much more than you left with.