Amigos de las Americas
I am seeking information on Amigos de las Americas. My 16 year old is quite interested in this program for this summer. I know the first meetings are happening soon. However, before we get too involved, and my determined child committed, I would love to have some feedback from this community. The positives are quite apparent. It seems like a fabulous program. Most importantly, what sort of experience did your son or daughter have? What are the pros and cons of this program, both in the states and aboard? How about the major concerns and things to look out for? Although I have checked their website, it would be helpful to have insight on things not included, from people who have gone through the program, both positive and negative.
My daughter is drawn to the idea of expanding her world, community service while immersing herself in a different language and culture. Are there other like minded organizations that we should be looking into?
Lastly, although she is not doing it for college application reasons, I have heard that it isn't regarded as community service, as one pays thousands of dollars to go through the program. Thoughts on this?
Any and all information is greatly appreciated! anonymous
My youngest daughter did Amigos de las Americas this summer and had a great experience. We were introduced to Amigos through her Spanish teacher who recommended it as a transformative experience for kids. My daughter is a quiet kid and a homebody, so this was a stretch for her. I can't say enough good things about how Amigos prepared and trained her for all the challenges she might face. To see your tentative kid rise to the challenge and thrive in a different country and culture is a momentous feeling. [By contrast, my eldest daughter did a program in Costa Rica with another organization 6 years ago and I was not impressed -- there was virtually no training, her home-stay family did not follow program rules and they were not supervised adequately.] Coming from this experience I was sensitive to a number of issues, but Amigos did nothing but impress me. I believe they are the gold standard in home stay community service organizations. My daughter loved her host family in Oaxaca and hopes to return to see them in the future. Her co-volunteer is coming to visit for a long weekend in a few weeks. And she is so proud of herself for stepping outside her comfort zone and being a volunteer abroad. If your kid participates in this program, they will be surrounding themselves with admirable people who want to give back and make a difference. I wholeheartedly recommend Amigos. Judith W
My daughter did AMIGOS for two years in high school (after soph, jr years, in Panama & Honduras), worked for 2 yrs helping to train other volunteers (jr, sr yrs), and then returned as a project supervisor (Nicaragua) after her 1st yr in college. AMIGOS turned her life around - from shy, Spanish-phobic kid to mature, centered, group-process-oriented, Span-speaking young adult. The teens learn presentation & organizational skills, health & safety skills, how to work w groups of kids, etc. Go to an orientation session (check website) and you'll see a video and live presentations from previous volunteers and parents. It's somewhat scary to send your teen off, but after 9 mos training s/he (and you!) will be ready - and you'll learn how the organization supports them while abroad. I think the value can't be matched by other groups. a big fan of AMIGOS
Amigos is a great program, and my almost-17-year-old had a great experience last summer. However, it's a big commitment during the year, and there are no guarantees as to where you'll go and who you will live with. The time commitment during the year involves a lot of fundraising which is the main emphasis for the first 6 months, and only toward spring do you feel that there is enough emphasis on the preparation for travel. There are retreats for the volunteers. Regarding community service, it is way to big of a deal to do this program if one isn't sure, flexible, and adventurous. And, there may or may not be a strong community development part with which your daughter would be involved, but each project is different, some ''community based initiatives'' are more involved than others. The cultural exchange piece is the strongest, because it inevitably occurs.
The pro's of the program are the independence the youth have, and the fact that the East Bay Chapter (if that's your chapter) is very, very strong, run by committed volunteers who have been involved for years. There is good support for Amigos in the countries and communities they're in and they have a great track record. My daughter had a great partner, a great community, a great supervisor, and a good but not great CBI.
However, as I was told, without sugarcoating, any one of these components could not be strong, and of course, that affects the experience, and that's the risk that goes with it. There was a lot of down time, but that's a great contrast to life here. Then, when they leave for the summer, there is no contact, except for one phone call, although there is a Facebook page where there may be occasional pictures. They are ''supervised'' by college-aged students who visit them once a week and attend to urgent situations, for which there is a carefully developed plan. These young adults end up with a LOT of responsibility, like managing the illnesses of the ''volunteers'' they are supervising, while balancing the needs of the other volunteers. The lack of contact with our kids during the summer is hard on the parents, but great for the kids. Most of the youth don't have super strong Spanish to start with, but they do manage and their Spanish does improve. Over the years, Amigos has added a component of involving local youth to participate with the volunteers - an important direction to go in. Be prepared for the meetings to be slow in the beginning and for the fundraising to be slightly stressful, but there is support.
I highly recommend it, and the East Bay Chapter is the largest in the country - very strong! Overall, Amigos completely met our expectations and I hope my daughter does it again. Good luck. Anon
My daughter was an Amigos volunteer. The experience had a hugely positive impact on her life. It's not for everyone, that's for certain (my son wondered why anyone in their right mind would choose to spend a summer without a flush toilet). But for teenagers who are so inclined, the program provides an amazing immersion experience in which they are allowed to work independently and creatively.
The most challenging part of training for my daughter was the fundraising. It became an entire family project. Make no mistake, the parents are involved! But we were pleasantly surprised to find that there are lots of folks out there waiting to buy ''Amigos'' grapefruit, and we received substantial help and guidance from the local chapter. The most challenging part of the summer was her first two weeks, when she was fairly homesick. But she had been prepared in training to expect this and she pushed through, with the help of her host family, her two Amigos partners and her Amigos supervisor. By half-way through the summer she absolutely loved it, and by the end she didn't want to leave.
It was eye-opening for me to see just what young people can accomplish when given the chance. Amigos provides the support, supervision, and structure. In addition to their pre-determined community development project, the small team of volunteers help create and facilitate a ''community-based initiative'', which is a smaller independent project that the local community wants (like building small concrete block water storage tanks, which is what my daughter did). So the Amigos volunteers will hold community meetings, meet with local leaders and teachers, maybe even write a small grant application. I don't know of other programs that allow this type of independence.
As far as colleges--my impression is that a number of admissions offices know that Amigos is different from the typical youth summer volunteer immersion experiences. But--my two cents--this shouldn't factor in on your daughter's decision to join up or not.
Good luck to your daughter! mom of an Amigos volunteer
My son participated in the Amigos program and said it was the best time in his life. That said, it was a tremendous task to get him there. On top of a demanding high school academic load, there was about one evening meeting and one overnight weekend ''retreat'' per month from Nov to May, plus selling lots of stuff (60? cases of grapefruit, 50? poinsettias, 30 pounds each of nuts and coffee -- I can't remember exactly, but it took up a lot of space in our garage -- to clear out in the month of December). Also, sending out 100 letters to friends and family requesting donations (they count and mail the letters, so there's no cheating. We all felt like we don't even know 100 people to ask!). But he came home from the summer speaking Spanish MUCH better than when he left and really feeling like he had a unique experience. I wouldn't recommend it unless your student is really willing to put in the time and effort -- they emphasize that it's not for the parents to sell the stuff -- they really want the kids to take responsibility. They bring kids in from previous years to talk about their experiences, and the parent coordinators have been doing this for many years so they can tell you all about it. It is very well organized. They emphasize health and SAFETY so especially the parents of girls were reassured. The East Bay chapter is one of the biggest in the country and sent about 50 volunteers this year. Oh, also each kid's parent has to take on a job, such as coordinating product sales, managing the checks, editing the letters, etc. Big time commitment. But what an opportunity! Really once in a lifetime. Go to a meeting and find out for yourself. All this craziness starts in Nov. If we really knew what we were in for, we would have chickened out, but having survived it, my son thinks it was totally worth it. Amigos survivor
I am looking for feedback from anyone whose child has recently participated in the Amigos de las Americas program. I have heard good things about it generally, but now facing a definite decision for my daughter for next year, would like to hear more. If your child did this program, what made it a good or bad experience for them? Any experiences that could be shared would be really helpful. Thank you.
We have gone to the Amigos de las Americas team meeting in Santa Clara in last weekend, and we have found out that both Santa Clara and Palo Alto teams meet only in Sunday afternoons. Since my son has missed the Amigos de las Americas trip in this summer, he doesn't want to keep missing his opportunity in the next summer, again. Does anyone know any Amigos de las Americas teams in the Bay Area meet on Saturdays instead of Sunday afternoons? Thank you very much. hl
My 16 year old wants a summer project where she can study or work in a Spanish or Mandarin speaking country or environment. Does anyone know of a program thst offers this exposure?
The spanish language program Amigos de las Americas, http://www.amigoslink.org/ is quite wonderful, I know two people (young women) who have done it and both enjoyed & learned immensely. One is still in touch with her host family after 15 years. Todd
Re: College freshman wants to volunteer in Latin America
Look in to Amigos de las Americas. They seem to have a really well organized program and they seem to prepare the teens very well for their summer away. The kids can choose from many Central and South American countries and the type of volunteer work they want to do. They spend the summer -- or at least 5 weeks-- with a family. The teen must have at least 2 years high school Spanish so your child would definitely be ready. I did the same kind of thing when I was a teenager and I came home speaking Spanish fluently. I was able to challenge 2 years of college Spanish and I ended up getting one degree in Spanish literature. We are planning on having our kids do this program. I think the volunteer work runs the gamut from working in classrooms to actually building housing. They have a very informative website. anon
Re: summer travel program
It is too late for your child to go this summer, but next fall you might want to think about sending your child to Amigos next summer, an international program for high school and college kids that sends them to Latin America to do community service. From Amigos: Volunteer to spend your summer providing public health services to our neighbors in Latin America. Young people from the US develop leadership skills and an understanding of other cultures while participating in this unique program. My 17 year old daughter is going to Paraguay this summer. Amigos is very intensive and requires a lot of work throughout the year before your child goes away. You can get more information about Amigos at this web site: www.amigoslink.org