Arising at 5:30 a.m., Palo Alto High School junior Noam Shemtov awoke to another day of service in Maria Auxiliadora, Paraguay. During the course of the day, he built stone ovens for families in need, taught at a local school and worked in the fields with his host family. In the evening, Shemtov ate a meal prepared by his host family and played soccer with the children of the village, before retiring. This was just one day in Noam’s two month long service trip in Paraguay through a service organization called as Amigos de las Américas.
Amigos is a private, non-religious, non-governmental and non-profit organization that trains youth from both the United States and Latin America. They travel to various countries in Central and South America to empower local youth through community-based projects, address health and educational priorities and widen their horizons through cross-cultural understanding. This past summer, Paly had about a dozen students who participated and gave back, including Shemtov, junior Daniela Ivey and junior Angela Stern.
“[The program] trains and sends high school and college volunteers from all over the US and, even some from countries in Latin America, to go and live with a host family in a rural community in Latin America for six to eight weeks,” Angela Stern said. Stern traveled to Cocle, Panama; her community, La Chumicosa, was in the district of Ola (fourth poorest in all of Panama).Founded in 1965, Amigos is now in its 46th year. The majority of the volunteers participate in the summer program, which boasts more than 24,000 young people located in North America, the Caribbean, South and Central America. The program focuses on giving opportunities to youth in leadership training and community development in Latin America. Together, the Amigos program has helped build 5,118 Lorena stoves (cooking stove) and 37,597 latrines (toilets) according to the Amigos website. The summer program pairs students “with one to two other Amigos volunteers, and you do a lot of things like teaching kids about health and the environment, as well as working with the community to create and execute a community development project, which can range from things like painting a mural to building sidewalks,” Stern said.
Stern said her favorite experience “was definitely the opportunity to become a part of this community in a place that’s so different. You really get to build amazing relationships with all of these kids and community members, and I feel like I’ll always have a home in Panama now.”