Claire spent a summer in Panama with Amigos de las Américas and shared the highlights of her experience with us below.
Word of Mouth
Amigos de las Américas was a program that I heard about through my mom’s co-worker’s daughter. She did the program and came back with amazing stories and a very inspiring attitude. I was going into my senior year of high school and wanted to travel and do something that was out of my normal comfort zone.
Going to Panama
I did AMIGOS in Azuero, Panamá and it was the best decision I had ever made. I lived in a community with about a hundred people and my partner and I had kids that would walk from a neighboring community to participate in our campamentos. It was all so inspiring, and made me feel like I was making a difference for the kids.
Throughout the whole experience I made life-long friends, learned about a new culture, and I got to make a real impact in some amazing peoples’ lives. Although it was nothing compared to the impact they made on mine. I was in my community for about 6 weeks, but at the end of it I wanted to stay there for another 2 months because it had become like a second home, a second family.
Every week, we incorporated a different theme for our activities with the kids. Some of the favorites were games like agua, agua, sequía/ dulce, dulce, fruta (duck, duck, goose), mosca-mosquito (red light-green light), and “ven conmigo montar al caballo” to get everyone up and excited. The kids all loved the games and wanted to play them for much longer than we had planned, but it was so much fun. Many days, our campamentos lasted longer than two hours.
My Host Family
I’ve also talked a little bit about my family, but I’m going to do that a little more as well. First of all, they took us in, 2 teenage American strangers, just from the goodness in their hearts. They weren’t paid. They already have a four year old son and three teenage daughters and the house only had three rooms (two of their daughters slept at our grandparents place in the adjoined house). That in and of itself took my breath away all the time. That’s just how everyone I met down there was though: they were so generous and caring and they wanted to make you happy and get to know you. They took us in as their own daughters and I didn’t even realize they felt like that until after midterm our host Mom said she felt something was missing when we were gone, and then later on our last day together she was balling. It touched me so much because it meant that she felt all of the same love that I felt for her and the rest of the family. Our bond with our family was something that was so special, and I can’t wait to go back someday to see them all.
For my project, my partner and I fixed up three garitas (bus stops) in our community. This involved putting on new roofs, new cement, and new paint. Our host dad was the representante, which was very fortunate! He helped us out a lot with getting people together to make our vision come to life. When it was all over, the bus stops looked remarkably better! Passing them all on the way out of our community made my partner and I so proud.
I talk about my partner a lot, but I’m going to do it a little more because we were attached at the hip for about 6 weeks and we are best friends still, even after months of being apart. We were matched up so perfectly, I couldn’t imagine being with anyone else, we had such a blast together. Sharing an experience like AMIGOS brings you so close with the other person, and I didn’t see one group that felt any differently. We are currently over 12 hours apart but we still talk everyday and FaceTime often.
The food was one of my favorite parts! I was actually nervous about it beforehand because I’m known to be a picky eater, but my host Mom was an amazing cook and I loved everything she gave us (my partner and I lived together). We had ojaldas almost every morning with some coffee and nothing made me want to get up more than the sound of her cooking. I keep wanting to make it back at home, but I’m afraid it won’t be as good. We also had frijoles (beans), a lot of chicken, arepas, and for our despedida (going away party) we got the traditional arroz con pollo (rice with chicken). It was all so delicious, I looked forward to every meal.
It was such a sad moment, leaving our new/old home and life that we’d gotten so used to. Passing by everything on the bus and remembering all of the amazing things that had happened was one of the saddest yet proudest moments of my life; I realized that I had done it, but it was over.