Maren Walsh, an AMIGOS alum and former AMIGOS project supervisor, shares her most impactful experiences abroad and how AMIGOS has changed her life, as well as shares advice to anyone interested in volunteering with AMIGOS.
What AMIGOS programs have you participated in?
I was a volunteer in Azuero, Panamá in 2015, and San Juan, Dominican Republic in 2016. I returned to the Dominican Republic in 2018 as a supervisor.
What are some of the most memorable service projects you saw/took part in?
When I was a volunteer in Panamá, my community organized two service projects. One of them was an initiative to plant 2,000 trees in the community. We were able to do this because a community member had donated all 2,000 trees completely free of charge. It motivated me to see how invested he was in giving to his community. We didn’t even have to ask him to help us out—he offered us assistance totally unprompted.
What was your favorite moment of cultural exchange?
When I was a supervisor in the Dominican Republic, I was collaborating with a bus driver to get my volunteers moved into their communities. On the car drive, we discovered that the bus driver had worked with AMIGOS the year I was a volunteer, and had moved me out of my community. He said he remembered me because I had cried so much saying goodbye to my host family.
What was your favorite AMIGOS moment?
When I was a supervisor in the Dominican Republic, my communities were quite close to the community I had lived in as a volunteer two years before. It just so happened that many of the new people I was meeting were good friends with people from my old host community. Once, I was eating dinner with an old man who was “best friends” with another old man I knew but hadn’t seen in years. I didn’t know if he remembered me or not. We called him up on the phone to say hello. Not only did he remember me, but he had heard through the grape vine that I was in the Dominican Republic and wanted to know why I hadn’t come to visit him yet.
Why do you think AMIGOS is important?
It breaks down preconceived notions and gives both North American and Latin American youth the chance to experience cultural exchange. The most important thing AMIGOS does is create lasting friendships.
How has AMIGOS impacted your life?
AMIGOS fundamentally altered my academic and professional goals. Because of this program, I am an International Studies major focusing on Latin America. I took a semester off before starting college to travel in Colombia and Chile. This semester I am studying in Cuba, and next semester I will be studying in Argentina. I hope to work internationally after graduating. I never would have done these things if I hadn’t been an AMIGOS volunteer.
What do you see as the impact of AMIGOS in the world?
In the short term, AMIGOS helps students realize their potential in community development and provides communities with basic funding to carry out projects. In the long term, AMIGOS will contribute to a culture in which people accept that they still have lots to learn and view other cultures with respect and curiosity as opposed to disdain. This development is more important today than ever.
What advice would you give to someone interested in doing AMIGOS?