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Rachael Cohen, an AMIGOS alum and former project supervisor, shares her most impactful experiences, the importance of cultural immersion, and how AMIGOS encouraged her to pursue global health in college.

What AMIGOS programs have you joined?
My first AMIGOS experience was in 2015 as a summer volunteer in Oaxaca, Mexico. Since then I have served as a Project Supervisor in Matagalpa, Nicaragua and most recently as a Senior Project Supervisor in Coclé, Panama.

What are some of the most memorable service projects you took part in?
In Coclé, I had the pleasure to directly work with the community of Larguillo in renovating the casa comunal’s medical annexes. Because this particular community is located in the mountains, half of its population lives a 20-30 minute hike from the nearest highway and, thus, access to a health center. Every month, local doctors provide healthcare services to those community members who are unable to make the journey to the road/bus station. AMIGOS supported on-going efforts to upgrade the rooms used for consultations and by the end of the summer, the rooms were ready for use. What is so impressive about this project, however, is that the community is not done yet. Local youth formed a group that is tasked with continuing to raise funds for the maintenance of the project, and the community has plans to upgrade other parts of the casa comunal in the future. It was a completely community-driven project and it continues to sustain itself as such!

What was your favorite moment of cultural exchange?
Cultural exchange is what initially drew me to AMIGOS and has kept me coming back for so many years. This past summer I enjoyed watching the friendships formed at our ecological excursion to Parque Omar Torrijos. We invited both international and local participants, which allowed for cultural exchange between Americans, Dominicans, Panamanians, and many more!

What was your favorite AMIGOS moment?
My favorite moments usually arise from the simple things — like the joy of getting up at 5AM to make tortillas with host mothers in Nicaragua or seeing volunteers in Panama connect via the love of dance.

Why do you think AMIGOS is important?
In a world that is more polarized than ever, it is important that we encourage young people to see other cultures for what they really are instead of making hasty generalizations. AMIGOS does just that by focusing less on touristic travel and more on authentic immersion.

How has AMIGOS impacted your life?
AMIGOS gave me my first glimpse into the field of public health way back when I was a volunteer in Mexico. When I came back home and it was time to apply to college, I discovered that I could actually make a career out of public health and am currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Global Health with minors in Spanish and Latin American/Caribbean Studies.

Personally, AMIGOS has helped me grow to be more independent and confident in myself. I’ve also learned how to work as a part of a team and grow from the challenges often associated with a team dynamic.

What do you see as the short-term and long-term impact of AMIGOS on the world?
Short-term: I see AMIGOS as giving youth around the world an opportunity to connect and grow together through friendships and cross-cultural exchange.
Long-term: I see those friendships impacting our alumni and inspiring them to use what they’ve learned from AMIGOS + future life experiences to do great things.

What advice would you give to someone interested in doing AMIGOS?
Expect the unexpected. Every AMIGOS experience comes with its own set of unique challenges and triumphs, but there is always a strong network of support provided by Project Staff. If you’re nervous about your experience, that’s OK! I was extremely nervous my first time doing AMIGOS, but I am glad I’ve learned to live with that initial discomfort because it has truly lead me to some great opportunities both abroad and domestically.

Rachael in Panama, 2018
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