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Wandering Off the Beaten Track: Meet Your Azuero, Panama Project Director, Astrea Somarriba

I was nine years old the first time I left the United States.

My parents planned a vacation to Oaxaca, Mexico, to explore Mayan ruins and learn about local folk art. None of this sounded appealing to my nine-year-old self, especially since what I knew about Mexico was shared by classmates who traveled to the sandy beaches of Cabo San Lucas or returned to school with braids from Cancun.

Little did I know that this trip would ignite in me an intense passion for Latin America and a longing to explore my place in the world. From Oaxaca, I learned the beauty of dancing to live music in a bustling city plaza. I discovered that I can feel at home in a place that is unfamiliar to me. Most importantly, I was taught the value of wandering off the beaten track to learn from the people that make different communities and cultures special and unique.

This last point is what attracted me to Amigos de las Americas, an organization that promotes youth leadership and intercultural exchange through immersive opportunities. I stumbled upon AMIGOS while studying for my Masters in Conflict Resolution & Mediation at Tel Aviv University. Their mission and vision reminded me of why I started traveling on my own from a young age, and gave me hope for a generation of young people actively seeking to expand their global perspective.

Since August 2018, I have worked for the AMIGOS Gap Program in Cuenca, Ecuador and have witnessed first-hand how challenging and impactful this type of experience can be for young people.

I come from an academic and professional background that seeks to support individuals going through various challenges and transitions in life. I have worked with youth with mental health needs, sex workers, refugees, and survivors of domestic violence. In my work and personal life, I prioritize cultural sensitivity and active listening to ensure that I can be present for folks who need to be heard.

Working for AMIGOS has allowed me to continue to serve different populations of people, whether it be volunteers, host families, or community-based agencies. I have appreciated having the opportunity to learn from young people and the dynamic communities that AMIGOS operates in. I am especially eager to move forward with my journey wandering off the beaten track, alongside AMIGOS participants and staff, to understand, serve, and grow community in Azuero, Panama this summer.

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