Youth and Leadership in Paraguay by Michael Hammer

AMIGOS inspires and builds young leaders through collaborative

community development and immersion in cross-cultural experiences.”

-AMIGOS website

Amigos de las Américas (AMIGOS): an Overview

AMIGOS was founded in 1965, as a response to the spread of polio in rural Honduras. A group of teenagers, led by founder Guy Bevil, administered vaccines, inoculating a total of over half a million peoples. These vaccinations continued as the organization’s primary focus for the next 20 years, leading into other countries of Latin America including: Costa Rica, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Paraguay, Mexico, Guatemala, Urugauay, Nicaragua. While all of these countries do not still have active projects, many of them have been partnered with AMIGOS throughout the last 48 years. Beginning with an emphasis on administering vaccinations, the organization has evolved in pace with the development of Latin America to then infrastructure related projects and today a focus on youth empowerment.

High School volunteers are leading a camp for the local youth. sf sadf

Above are some pictures from my summer in Coclé, Panama in 2011. The project focused on environmental health.

As a non-govermental, non-religious, and non-profit organization, AMIGOS works through the donations from stakeholders from around the world, such as the families of the volunteers and their local communities. The organization is currently serving with over 400 volunteers in 13 project areas. In every country, volunteers partner with local organizations to help mobilize the resources needed to carry out projects based in community development, public health, and enviornmental efforts. AMIGOS works on a basis of  youth leadership, partnerships, and cross-cultural exchange to create long lasting relationships with host countries and local communities.

The organization’s headquarters are located in Houston, but there are 27 chapters throughout the United States, which serve as hubs for the recruitment and training for high school and college aged students before they leave for the summer on 6-8 week projects in Latin America. Volunteers must be at least 16 years old and have two years of high school spanish to be eligible for participation in the program. AMIGOS has also opened up volunteer opportunities for international volunteers, who live in Latin America but serve as volunteers in different parts of their countries or in different regions of the world. The volunteers serve in partnerships of 2-3 people and are placed in communities within the project’s host country. While every project differs, volunteers will collaborate with local youth and community leaders to complete Community Based Initiative Processes and work with community leaders to create classes for the children of the community.

By the Numbers

(From AMIGOS website)

1,544 Community Groups Formed

280,363 Trees Planted

25,096 Total Volunteers

7,917,580 Immunizations Administered

37,568 Latrines Constructed

AMIGOS in Guairá, Paraguay

The organization’s involvement in this region last occured in 1993 with a SENASA, a local partner agency that focuses on public health and water safety, constructing latrines for local families. Since then, AMIGOS has been active in San Pedro and Paraguarí, two other departments in the country. This year is the first time returning to the region, with an emphasis instead on youth leadership. For the project staff, where I am serving as a Project Supervisor, our job is a bit more challenging because we will be setting the precedent for future projects in the region. This process includes opening new communities, meeting with new partner agency representatives, and welcoming the region to a positive impression of the organization. The region is already home to many active Peace Corps volunteers, which we will be working with this summer, along with PLAN Paraguay.

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Above are some pictures of our operations in Guairá this year.

The project staff consists of 4 other Project Supervisors and me, a Project Director, an Assistant Project Director, and a Senior Project Supervisor. Our role is to plan for the arrival of the volunteers by meeting with these communities and forming a stable foundation for their associated projects. We will also facilitate a brief training session before we send them out to their communities in partnerships that we will also determine. During the summer, Project supervisors will be visiting their respective communities in the regions of Villarrica, Paso Yobaí, and Ñumi to check on the health and safety of volunteers and monitor project progress. We are stationed in Villarrica, a city located 1-2 hours from each of the communities.

The volunteers will be working with local youth organizations along with other groups in the community to complete a project that involves local youth and benefits the entire community. An important part of this process is assessing the community resources and then coming to a conclusion with their partners in the community of a suitable project that is not only feasible but also sustainable, so the project will not fall apart after they leave. They will also work with the schools in the communities to facilitate camps for the local children. The communities range from 100-600 people with varying socioeconomic conditions and demographics.

Application to Latin American Studies

As an area studies major, my classes are multi-disciplinary and therefore course material varies from student to student. I hope that this experience can help serve as a guiding lens to my concentration as a Latin American Studies major and what classes I plan on taking. Many AMIGOS volunteers have similar interest in studying this region of the world, which serves as an explanation for why we devote our time and resources to this organization, as it is centered around our presence abroad in Latin America. This experience has allowed me to experience both rural and urban environments, where I am able to interact with a wide range of students, government officials, community members, and other people with similar interests. Therefore, my involvement this summer not only serves as a networking opportunity but also one to experience Latin America from a perspective distinct from tourist destinations or studying abroad. Walking the streets of Villarrica, I am often questioned about my presence in the middle of Paraguay because people from the United States do not often move there. AMIGOS offers a degree of immersion unmatched by local organizations or other international non-profit organizations, which I can apply to both the Tulane community and future professional endeavors.

Saunders, Tracyanne. “AMIGOS History.” Personal interview. 24 June 2013.

“Amigos De Las Americas.” Amigos De Las Américas. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 June 2013.

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