This summer, three St. John students spent their time volunteering as part of the Amigos de las Américas program. This nonprofit organization allows high school students to spend their summers living and serving in Latin American communities.
Joie Wright ’19 traveled to Azuero, Panama. She said she was interested in the Amigos trip because she loves volunteer work and wanted to improve her Spanish. Wright lived in Cerro Gordo, a small community in the province of a Herrera, with her host family. She created a community based initiative project by talking with her host community to decide on a project, raise funds, find resources and complete the project. Wright started local youth groups and planned activities for them for two hours every day.
One of the lessons she learned from her experience in Panama was that “having a simple life does not mean having a boring life, and between busy and simple, one is not greater than the other, it’s just different.” She also said her view on family became stronger. In the community, “everyone is family and exudes crazy amounts of love.” Wright’s favorite memory was learning how to make hojaldras and tacos with her host parents, Romelia and Ana. To SJC students considering Amigos, Wright said: “Do it. This program is amazing, and you make lifelong connections with people all over the world. Even if you think your Spanish is not at the right level.”
Hennessy Sak ’19 went to Chimborazo, Ecuador. She said she wanted to participate because it was extremely immersive, looked challenging, and would help her Spanish. The theme for the Ecuador projects was micro-enterprising. She worked with the local banks in her community to expand their micro-loaning system, incorporate more families, and increase the size of their loans.
Sak said that her experience allowed her to see a “completely new way of life. The culture there is so different. They are so much more communal, and it was different seeing people talk about the US from an outside perspective. They were very envious of us and the fact that we lived in the states.” Her favorite memories include hiking through the massive hills, going to the weekly feria in the nearest town, and visiting her friends’ communities.
Jacob Schramm ’19 went to the Dominican Republic. He said he was interested in Amigos because he wanted to experience new cultures and improve his Spanish. In his community, Amigos provided him with funds to put up new lights for the basketball court. In the morning, he played with kids every day for two hours, and at night, he led volleyball practice for two hours in preparation for a tournament between all the communities.
Schramm said his experience allowed him to understand the differences between life in developing cultures and developed countries. A favorite memory of his was walking to the river and playing around with everyone in the water. Schramm says that if you are interested in learning Spanish, you definitely should participate, because you will learn a lot about yourself and Latino culture.