Former AMIGOS Youth Ambassador and Mentor, Project Supervisor, and Associate Project Director Felipe De los Santos shares his experience getting out of his element and building bridges across borders.
What AMIGOS programs have you participated in?
I first heard about AMIGOS when I was 16 years old. I was volunteering with an AMIGOS Youth Ambassador service project. Inspired by that experience, I applied to be part of the Youth Ambassadors Program myself, and I traveled to the U.S. in 2013.
In 2014, I was selected to be a Project Supervisor for AMIGOS in Pérez Zeledón. I was one of the first Uruguayans to be in this position, which was very exciting and challenging. I worked in four amazing communities of Pérez in the districts of Rio Nuevo and Paramo and also attended camps in National Parks with AMIGOS and local volunteers.
In 2017 I took part in the Youth Ambassadors Program again in the role of Mentor. I traveled with a group of Uruguayan and Paraguayan participants to support them in their first experience of cultural exchange and planning of their service projects in the U.S. and Uruguay.
My most recent experience with AMIGOS was last year as an Associate Project Director in Pérez Zeledón, Costa Rica. After four years, I came back to my first summer project. It was really nice to visit all my communities again and work with youth that were local volunteers when I was a Project Supervisor, and now were working with our partner agency, Casa de la Juventud.
What was one of the most memorable service projects you took part in?
In the Youth Ambassadors Program, I had the opportunity to plan and develop a service project in my hometown, Minas. My service project’s main objective was to promote healthy habits among high school students through informative recreational activities. First, we did workshops with 15-year-old students from my school about common teenage health problems. Then we had a week of activities called Semana de la Salud where different professionals from the city came and spoke. This week ended with a marathon that had over 600 students!
Being the project leader was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences in my life. It required a lot of work to create a team, motivate others to work, identify the interests of my fellow students, and work alongside professionals from many different organizations in planning activities and events.
What was your favorite moment of cultural exchange?
In 2018 as an Associate Project Director in Costa Rica, I came back to the communities where I worked as a Project Supervisor (San Ramón Sur, San Ramón Norte, San Caytano and Berlín de Páramo). I will never forget the welcome back I received and all the emotion as we spent time together. I can’t be more grateful to AMIGOS for giving me the chance to meet such incredible people during all my projects. Revisiting these places was evidence that it doesn’t matter how far you may be now, the friendships you created are still strong and still there.
What was your favorite AMIGOS moment?
In Costa Rica at the National Park Marino Ballena, we did a multicultural dance challenge. Everyone prepared presentations to showcase different music styles, then judges chose the best choreography. This fun activity reflected how we achieved one of the most challenging goals in AMIGOS programs: starting from different cultural backgrounds, finding common ground where we can learn from each other, and building something together.
Why do you think AMIGOS is important?
AMIGOS trusts young people’s capacity to become catalysts for social change. They believe in young people, and it truly makes a difference by giving real responsibilities to young leaders. Get out of your element is not just a phrase; it is a way of shaping your life and looking for opportunities to grow. You get to work with and learn from others, open your mind and discover how huge the world is, and learn to constantly choose to make change.
AMIGOS is an organization directed by and for young people. This approach allows the creation of open spaces for youth to discover who they are and step up to make change in their communities. The service projects are a perfect demonstration of the impact of AMIGOS: they provide skills to young people to identify issues in their communities and work as positive change makers. I am strongly convinced that AMIGOS is a tool for all youth who are working every day to improve the world.
What advice would you give to someone interested in doing AMIGOS?
Take the challenge!
When I was 16, I was scared to apply. I thought I would never have the skills to be a leader and mobilize other young people for a service project. Yet I took the challenge, and it is incredible to think about the growth I have experienced and people I have met since then. Don’t miss the chance to get out of your element, learn about other cultures, and find your way in this world!
Are you ready to experience the world in a whole new way? Learn more about our cultural immersion programs today!