AMIGOS Managing Director of Marketing and Communications and alumna April Hearne shares about her experience with AMIGOS in Mexico in 2008. She discusses the sustainability and lasting impact of an AMIGOS service project.
The AMIGOS Philosophy
AMIGOS is a special organization for many reasons, but one that stands out is its commitment to sustainable and collaborative service. AMIGOS doesn’t believe that service projects should be prescribed. Volunteers don’t decide unilaterally what their host community needs. Rather, they are trained to work with community members to find a project that the community is excited by, and that uses the assets that already exist in the community.
I didn’t know it for 10 years, but the service project I worked on in Mexico in 2008 is a perfect example.
The Service Project
When my volunteer partner and I arrived in a small town outside of Guanajuato, Mexico, we didn’t know anyone’s name. We didn’t know how to get around town. We didn’t know the community’s history or aspirations or resources. But we did know we needed to do some sort of project. So, we set out to talk to community leaders and determine what the community wanted to pursue.
First stop was the mayor’s house. While she taught us how to make tortillas, we chatted about different project ideas. What the community really wants, she told us, is to make a garden and meeting space out of some overgrown grass next to the town center. So we went to work.
We traveled with the mayor to the municipal government office to secure a grant to buy supplies. We contracted the local mason to build flower beds for the garden. We dug up dirt from the local stream with our host family to use in the garden. We planted trees and made plans to add a fountain.
And then our six weeks were up — we went home.
I lost contact with the community that welcomed me into their homes, treated my like family, and worked with me on this community project. 10 years went by and I started to wonder… Whatever happened to that garden? Enter Google Street View. Lo and behold – this small town in Mexico is on it.
So I looked it up – and the garden is gorgeous!
After we left Mexico, the community kept working on it. They sustained the vision that we developed together. Today, there are benches, a fountain, tall trees, and a streetlight – all beautifully maintained.
This sustainability is what makes AMIGOS so special. When AMIGOS volunteers travel abroad, they work with their host communities on projects developed in collaboration with that same community. People from different cultures come together to create something sustainable, and to learn about each other in the process. Volunteers return home more culturally aware, understanding, and empathetic. And they carry these lessons with them throughout their lives.
When you volunteer or donate, you’re not just contributing that one time. You’re investing in projects that provide value to communities for decades. AMIGOS really does make a difference. And it will continue to make a difference for years to come.