High school volunteers recall Latin America
Sunday, October 07 2007 @ 10:39 AM UTC
Contributed by: Don Winner
Further south, Cupertino High School senior Eva Roa, 17, a young activist who speaks with smiles and contagious enthusiasm, found the people of La Martillada, Panama, to be just as hospitable. She worked with the 200 to 300 residents to create a project on their terms.
"They bring you into their house to have coffee, and it's very genuine," said Eva, the co-founder of her campus Amnesty International Club.
Lauren's host community had welcomed Amigos volunteers the previous summer and was accustomed to the Amigos philosophy, which centers on sustainability and community-based initiatives. Eva's community had hosted Peace Corps volunteers before but was new to Amigos.
Amigos does not pay the host families anything, the idea being that the volunteers' help is part of the exchange. The community shares the burden of feeding them, and often gives their guests their last egg or slaughters chickens for them.
"It's really important to be open, to know you know some things and they know some things," Eva said. "You both have to be on the same level."
Eva found that building a drinking water storage tank and aqueduct in La Martillada hinged on this tenet, as well as hauling four yards of sand bags and 500 cement blocks up a muddy hill.
Renee Fagot, the training director for the Santa Clara Valley Chapter of Amigos, said volunteers are prepared to be facilitators.
"They are really looked at as leaders, as role models," she said. Although 17-year-olds may not have those skills when they arrive, they are taught to inspire the community, identify resources and bring people together.
"Giving the ownership to the community makes these projects sustainable," said Fagot, 26, who started with Amigos as a volunteer to Bolivia in 1998.
It is hard to say whether Amigos projects remain intact years later, but a student's experience is long-lasting.
Eva and Lauren hope to serve as training supervisors, and Lauren is speaking in front of Homestead Spanish classes, hoping to inspire the next generation of Amigos.
"Cupertino is all I know," Eva said. "It's interesting when the world as you know it expands."