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This blog is from week two of participants living in communities.

The AMIGOS Azuero, Panama experience this year will be exactly 43 days long. With five whole weeks taking place in communities, project leadership decided to introduce a tailored, experience-of-leadership opportunity to each participant through a custom 30 Days of Leadership Challenge calendar. From June 29th to July 29th, the calendar lists thought-provoking actions and attitudes (unique to each day) that participants are encouraged to engage in to recognize leadership as more than a title, or designation, but a way of life. In true AMIGOS fashion, each daily challenge revolves around genuine engagement with the communities and their members.

Most popular this week was the two to three sentence reflections participants wrote over Day 3: Experienced leaders understand different perspectives. Find the person in your community with the biggest difference in perspective from you. One common topic that stood out was the difference in interactions with cattle and other livestock. Many panamanians in rural areas own chickens that walk around outside of the house, penned pigs and, at times, cattle that they raise as their personal food source for milk and meat. In contrast, participants are more familiar with ready-to-cook meats at the supermarket and new trends of vegetarianism and veganism in the United States. Ayden Ehrharst is staying at the small, rural community of El Ojal and reflects about this topic as part of her Day 3 Challenge: “I feel that my host uncle, Carlos, has the most different perspective from mine. He does a lot of hunting and raises a lot of animals for food. I do not usually agree with hunting and I rarely eat meat at home. However, I now understand that hunting and raising animals for meat is one of their main food sources so I am beginning to understand why he does it.”

That said, the AMIGOS experience is much more dynamic than a piece of paper guiding these participants through different scenarios every day. It is about molding them into leaders through full cultural immersion. The interactions they participate in are uniquely due to their own willingness to open their hearts and minds to new perspectives. We can attest that they sure prove their potential to us day after day. In one of supervisor Sophie’s communities, El Potrero, extracurricular activities with local youth happen at the Escuela Primaria El Potrero (primary school), Monday to Friday, from 11am to 1pm, which is a similar schedule to other communities. Participants are required to facilitate the extracurricular activities for 10 hours per week, but the spaces and times in which they are facilitated differ community to community.

On a particular Wednesday, after participants Manon Llorach and Ellora Easton wrapped up the day with a “Turn Trash into Art” activity, Sophie spotted a natural leader initiative coming from Manon and Ellora. The kids at the escuela had created a routine to wait on their new foreign friends to walk them home after school, yet, on that specific day, one of the boys was behind copying down his homework and looked as if he was going to miss the group walk. As the group eagerly left home for lunch, both girls stayed behind with the joven. While Manon assisted him by reading the material out loud as he wrote the information down, Ellora regathered the other kids and explained the advantages of waiting on others in a group dynamic. Supervisor Sophie studied the 30 Days of Leadership Challenge calendar for the action she had just witnessed the girls complete but couldn’t find one that matched exactly. It was only day 6 and participants are already showing more active listening skills and acknowledging others around them- which is such a big part of the art of leadership. Maybe we shouldn’t have called it a challenge?