In hopes of future travels to Panama, Paraguay, Mexico or Ecuador to help communities, four Miramonte students joined the Amigos de las Americas. Sophomores Ariel Ramirez, Claire Ramer, Keely McCormick, and junior Brian de Luna began training in October with about 45 other volunteers from around the East Bay.
To prepare for their six-to-eight week journey, students have day-long retreats once or twice a month to develop skills they will need in their assigned country. They also fundraise, selling products (grapefruits, flowers, and chocolate) and send letters to other students and family members.
“The fundraisers are the most difficult part because there is a lot of responsibility to log all the products and keep track of all the money earned,” Ramer said. “Amigos takes up all my time, but it’s worth it.”
“Junior and sophomore years are really the best years to participate, as Amigos takes a lot of work, time, and dedication,” said senior Liana Notini, who participated her junior year.
Amigos is an international project created in 1965 to develop leadership and responsibility in teenagers. People from all over the world travel to small Latin American to make a difference in the communities there. They also get a chance to experience a different culture.
“Students who sign up should expect an experience of a lifetime, the opportunity to give of themselves a taste of responsibility, and the terrific feeling of doing hard work while living in very poor housing with few people who speak English,” Spanish teacher Carla Unroe said.
Many students who attend these trips return with improved Spanish speaking skills as well as a better outlook on life.
To spread the word about Amigos to Miramonte High School students, former participants created a presentation to show Spanish classes.
“A couple guys came into my Spanish classroom and showed the class a video on other kids’ summers in Latin America,” Ramirez said. “It seemed like the kids had another family in a different country and the experience changed their lives.”
Students that came back from the trip seem to have created true and amazing connections with the people in their communities, and some even go back to continue their work. Six to eight weeks may seem like a long time, but once students are settled in they feel everything goes by so fast there isn’t any room to worry about feeling uncomfortable in a foreign country.
Notini participated in the program because it was “the perfect opportunity to make a difference” while exploring a new culture. Notini went to Cocle, Panama for six weeks, and although it was a “culture shock” she gained responsibility, leadership and problem solving skills.
“I was somewhat concerned that I would have a hard time adjusting to sleeping in a cot under a misquoto net, purifying my water daily, and the occasional cold showers,” Notini said. “But I only really noticed these in my first few days. After that I almost forgot about these as I fell in love with my community and host family.”