AMIGOS de las Americas
The Peninsula Chapter is one of about 20 chapters across the U.S. and Latin America affiliated with AMIGOS de las Américas (AMIGOS), a 501(c)(3) not-for profit, non-governmental, non-religious, international organization whose mission is to build partnerships to empower young leaders, advance community development and foster multi-cultural understanding in the Americas. AMIGOS and its affiliated chapters train and deploy young volunteers to participate in community development projects in Latin America during the summer.
The Peninsula Chapter Board of Directors comprises veteran AMIGOS volunteers and their parents who have continued their involvement with the organization because of how much it has meant to them and to their children. The Peninsula Chapter Training Staff comprises veteran volunteers who return to ensure that future volunteers are well trained and ready for their summer experiences in Latin America.
The mission of the Peninsula Chapter of AMIGOS is to recruit volunteers, assist in fundraising, develop youth leadership and social conscience, prepare volunteers to participate in the AMIGOS program in Latin America and to contribute to our local community through meaningful service projects.
Claudia Elias is a student at Eastside College Preparatory School in East Palo Alto who worked in Brazil as an AMIGOS volunteer.
YIP: What inspired you to get involved with AMIGOS, Youth to Youth Community Development?
What inspired me to get involved with AMIGOS was my passion for helping others and curiosity about different cultures. What attracted me to AMIGOS was the unique experience that the volunteers have in becoming a part of a Latin community and to live with a family. Becoming a part of the community was the most important part to me!
AMIGOS sends only 2-3 high school students to each community, with no adults to tell us what to do. The youth lead, so everything I did was dictated by me and my peers. It gave me a great sense of accomplishment and confidence in my ability as a leader.
YIP: Have you had any Spanish language classes before your involvement with AMIGOS?
Claudia: I am a Chicano, both my parents are from Durango, Mexico, and Spanish is my first language. In May I found out that I was going to go to Brazil, and my friend helped me learn the language. AMIGOS also requires one year of training before the volunteers can go.
YIP: Would you describe the volunteer work you are involved in doing?
Claudia: In Brazil, I taught kids English, personal hygiene and art, and I played with them every night in the Kids Club that I helped start. I love working with kids, so I had a lot of fun teaching the fourth graders about personal hygiene and art.
Besides AMIGOS, other volunteer work that I do is working with the youth in my church. I also tutor children around ten years old, and I send emails that help Amnesty International. I help clean parks and my school. This year I will be singing at retirement homes and preschools with my school's vocal group, and I will also be performing for the community with some of the people from my drama class. I also plan on being on project-directed staff with AMIGOS this year.
YIP: I understand that there are four components of the educational program: Health and Environmental Education; Social Skills and Group Leadership; Creative Expression; and Community-based Initiatives. Which did you enjoy most and why?
Claudia: The educational program that I enjoyed the most was Social Skills and Group Leadership. When we were still training with AMIGOS before our summer trips, we all had to tutor fourth graders and teach a fourth grade class from Castro Elementary School in Mountain View (about 95% of the students had parents who had recently come to the United States). It was fun and educational for both us and the students.
In Brazil, interacting and getting to know the kids was the most rewarding part of my AMIGOS experience.
YIP: Tell us about a recent project and who benefited from this work.
Claudia: In Brazil our primary project was healthy households. We helped fix some houses in the communities we stayed in. The houses were chosen by the community members. In Carnauba we had many houses that needed to be fixed. By the time we left Brazil, we finished fixing nine houses. By the time I left, I was a close friend of many of the families, and they had sturdy homes to live in.
YIP: What effect do you feel these projects have on the community you volunteer in?
Claudia: The projects had many positive affects in the community. We helped people fix their homes, and we planted trees around town. We also taught the kids about personal hygiene during our Kids Club meetings. The projects we did in Carnauba had lots of good effects on the community. I think that the community members appreciated the fact that my partner Sofia and I became their friends,
and that we weren't there to just to do a project and leave. We became part of the community!
YIP: What is the best thing about your experience?
Claudia: The experience I had in Brazil this year was amazing, for lack of a better word. If I did have to pick a best part, I would say it was making friends and learning about a different culture firsthand.
YIP: What new things have you learned as a result of your experience?
Claudia: Most of what I learned was a kind of self-discovery. I realized how independent I am, and what a good leader I can be. I learned that I have a strong passion for working in Latin American countries and that I want to continue to do so throughout my life. I also learned Portuguese and that Brazilian culture is not that much different from my own!
YIP: How have you changed as a result of your experience?
Claudia: I don't really know what changed in me besides my skin getting darker. I am more sensitive to others’ feelings, and I am a stronger leader now then I was before I went to Brazil. I am also more independent. Because I learned more about myself, I feel like I have more control over my future.
YIP: Were there any surprises along the way?
Claudia: The only thing that really surprised me was getting culture shock on the way back home. In the airport I remember thinking that Americans were ugly and rude. I didn't expect I could be so shocked by my own culture because I didn't get shocked by the Brazilian culture.
YIP: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of getting involved in philanthropy or volunteering?
Claudia: If someone is thinking about getting involved in philanthropy or volunteering, I would tell them to go for it! It may not seem like fun, but in the end it'll be one of your favorite memories!
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