Community Visits: a Snapshot of the AMIGOS Experience
This week, representatives from 10 AMIGOS chapters are gathered in the Yucatan, Mexico to participate in a workshop on recruitment – a huge part of the chapter’s role. Chapter members span generations and their AMIGOS experiences range from having been an AMIGOS alumni participant to being a parent of a participant to just being a passionate advocate for youth leadership and cross-cultural engagement. Thus, for many leaders within AMIGOS, myself included, despite being well-prepared to answer questions and promote the AMIGOS experience, there remains a desire to see for ourselves, what it really looked like for the participants in the field.
Monday July 11th we had the chance to go into various communities within the Yucatan project and visit with the participants and their community members to get a first-hand look at our missing puzzle piece of the AMIGOS participants’ summer. It was a mix of chapter students and students from Summer Search (an amazing partner organization in the US) who were living in a spectrum of conditions and had only completed about one week of their summer program in Mexico. Keeping that in mind, this was truly only a snapshot, an early snapshot at that, of their summer experience.
The consensus, as we returned to our meeting space and reflected on what we saw, was that we were grateful to have that in-person look at the reality of AMIGOS. Luckily the sentiments were all positive as we expressed respect for past AMIGOS participants that we knew, admiration for the resiliency of these youth, and confidence that a summer with AMIGOS prepares students with life skills that are immensely valuable.
Furthermore, some of the specific comments that chapter leaders made in reflection include:
1. Seeing the situation on the ground is a great opportunity to deepen the kinds of questions we ask return participants at the end of the summer. So that we can get the best evaluations and
give the best support.
2. We were impressed with the resiliency in the face of sickness and had admiration for the fact that any challenges faced, were not shared with a sense of entitlement. The students were all around fairly mature and determined.
3. It continues to be a challenge to prepare students for what they will experience because there is a wide variety of living conditions and host families and no one size fits all. Regardless of where they end up being placed, there is always opportunity to find a community member that serves as a mentor and this is SO valuable to the success of their summer.
4. We were surprised with how much downtime the students had (although keep in mind that their projects are not in full swing yet) but we seemed to agree that for today’s over-scheduled stressed-out students, a little bit of time to sit in a hammock and enjoy the simplicity of being present, could be exactly what they need.
5. Our host communities and host families are very integral and are a much larger part of the organization then we had realized. They become the friends, leaders and family members of our participants. The experience and impact must go both ways in order for this to be a successful cross-cultural program. We are passionate about training our participants to engage, share and experience the culture of their host community.
As chapter leaders we continue to learn and grow within the AMIGOS programs just like our participants learn and grow through their training and in-country experience. We look to the summer leadership
team with admiration and confidence in carrying out our programs, training our participants, and building cross-cultural relationships with partner agencies throughout the Americas.