August 8, 2010

Volunteer Abroad Spotlight: Amigos de las Americas

Amigos de las Americas is an international volunteer organization for high school students that really speaks to me, not only because they do volunteer work in Latin America, but because they have a truly awesome website. But is that reason enough to spotlight Amigos as a great organization with which to volunteer abroad? Probably not, but they have many other great things to offer.

WHO are they?

Amigos de las Americas (Amigos) is an international non-profit organization based in Houston, Texas whose mission is to “build partnerships to empower young leaders, advance community development and strengthen multicultural understanding in the Americas”. To date, more than 200,000 teenage volunteers have performed community service activities in locations throughout North and South America, primarily (but not exclusively) related to healthcare.

WHAT do they want you to do?

Volunteers with Amigos participate in summer-long volunteer community service trips in places like Mexico, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Paraguay. Project types range from community nutrition, sports, the arts and environmental health. Volunteers work directly with partner agencies to become embedded in the communities. An example project: In San Juan, Dominican Republic volunteers assist a local community-based initiative summer camp focusing on sports and leadership. The volunteers promote leadership and team building with 5-12 year-old campers for the summer.

WHERE might you go?

Amigos has long-standing relationships with community organizations in Mexico, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Paraguay. Volunteers apply directly to projects in one of these locations.

WHEN can you go?

Amigos sponsors a summer-long (~ 8 Week) volunteer experience.

WHY are they awesome?

Amigos recognizes that the transformative experience of volunteering abroad is a two-way street, and that many volunteers actually get more out of it than the children and communities they serve. They embrace this, and emphasize leadership and community building for their volunteers in conjunction with the actual volunteer activities. While I typically prefer a three-month volunteer experience (especially when working with children), Amigos stands out for its relationship-building with the community organizations on the ground in host countries and communities; Amigos strives to immerse volunteers within these communities for the short time they are volunteering abroad.

Need another reason why Amigos is great? You can receive college credit for your service experience! Depending on the project, this can be for Spanish language, Latin American studies or Public Health or many others.

HOW can you apply?

This volunteer experience is for young people, namely high school-age students who have taken at least two years of Spanish. There are actually types volunteer types: Correspondent Volunteers come from across the country and train at the central office in Houston. For these volunteers, there is a fee, but it includes round-trip airfare, room and board and insurance (that’s really not bad for $4,600). Chapter Volunteers sigh up through their local chapters (most are located in major cities, a complete list can be found on the Amigos website), are trained locally and fees may vary. It is best to contact your local chapter for more information, as the website is geared towards Correspondent Volunteers. They do encourage people who have access to local chapters to apply through those, each chapter also maintains its own website which contains more specific information.

The application is available online, and you can start and stop through out the process. They start the recruitment process for summer in the winter of the previous year. You should also be aware that when you apply you should be ready with a $1,000 deposit for your application fee. This implies to me that Amigos isn’t particularly selective with their applicants, but they do have great results from the young people who have gone through the program.

My overall impression of this organization is positive. While many international volunteer organizations have popped up to help (mostly privileged) students pad their resumes and college applications with community service, Amigos has a a great reputation and has been around for along time relative to the rest of the international volunteer movement. They do strive to get the most out of their volunteers in the short time they are abroad, and the range of projects should appeal to most high school students.

Have you worked or volunteered with Amigos de las Americas? Do you have anything to add?

This is the first in a weekly series of spotlights. Some will focus on organizations and businesses, others on locations and cities, and occasionally people who have lived and worked abroad and can offer advice. We hope that you find them as you learn more about work abroad and volunteer overseas jobs.

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