AMIGOS: Leadership Through Experience

Copyright JC Politi Photography

For one year, from 2008 to 2009, my husband and I lived in Houston, Texas. We lived through Hurricane Ike, which was directly over our house for about 7 hours; finding a copperhead in the bathtub; and a torn pup-ACL. It was not our best year.

But I also found Amigos de las Americas (AMIGOS) when I lived in Houston. I worked for this unique organization for about two years, fundraising to support their international youth leadership programs. This organization really touched me.

The people I met doing this work, from the dedicated and passionate staff at the office in Houston, to the parents and former volunteers who now serve on the board, were some of the most thoughtful and hardest-working people I have ever met. And don’t get me started on the young people who were participating in the programs.

Copyright JC Politi Photography

I had the opportunity to travel to Nicaragua to see the programs in action, which was a special treat. I have shared some of the photos from that trip here and on my new photography website.

This organization is truly unique. When I worked there, we received letters from parents all the time saying that their child left home as an unruly teenager and came back a grown up. This was a consistent refrain from the parents.

Young people came back and talked about how much their world view had expanded from the experience and how it was going to influence the trajectory of their future pursuits. And I have met many former volunteers for whom the program did just that.

I was skeptical about AMIGOS in the beginning. I asked a lot of questions ranging from “Does AMIGOS have a religious bent?” to “Is there government involvement in AMIGOS?” The more I learned about this organization, the more impressed I became.

The intensive training that young people are required to complete in order to participate in the program should be a model for any organization or person doing international development work. The training requires kids to work through issues of cultural awareness and distrust of volunteers from the United States.

One very unique aspect of the AMIGOS program is that it is youth led and driven. Projects in Latin America are run by teenagers and college students who have been volunteers in the program. The training provided to the volunteers who work their way up the ladder to become project staff covers topics that I did not learn about until I was around 30. Topics include critical conversations, supervisory skills and budgeting.

This organization simply does it right.

I thought I would dedicate a post to this inspiring organization, in the hopes that there may be some of you out there with kids in high school or college, who might benefit from this program. Or perhaps you are in high school or college yourself and would like to learn  more.

AMIGOS just came out with a new video that illustrates the great work the organization does year after year. That is what inspired this post. But I encourage all of you to check out this organization’s website to learn more about the organization.

What do you think? What is your favorite non-profit organization and why? Have you heard about AMIGOS and considered sending your child through the program? Would you have fears or concerns about doing this? Did you ever participate in a program like this? What was the best part and what was the worst part?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading!

21 Comments

Filed under Culture, Education, International, Parenting, Photography, Photos, Poverty, Religion, Stereotypes, travel, Youth Leadership

21 responses to “AMIGOS: Leadership Through Experience

  1. Wow — I just watched the video — it looks and sounds like an amazing organization and a wonderful experience for those involved. thanks for sharing it — I’m passing it along to my daughters and their friends who are still in University.

    • newsofthetimes

      Hi Louise!!! I promise you that anyone who gets involved with this organization will never regret it. Thanks for checking it out!!

  2. Hello again. AMIGOS seems to be a wonderful non-profit organization. Probably more organizations such as this is needed. As a grandmother, I have great affection for young people, especially watching them grow and thrive.
    I give a monthly donation to help UNICEF. The money goes to feed countless of hungry children, to treat diseases, to provide vaccinations and even to help out with education.

  3. Programs like these are a great way for youth to discover that there is a big world out there. Tends to stick a pin in the bubble of cultural egocentrism that Americans can experience. Sounds like a great organization.

  4. This looks like a fabulous program! I know of teens and young adults who have participated in similar, church-related projects in what are considered ‘third world’ countries and have become more independent and developed great leadership skills, as a result of their experiences. They have had their eyes opened to global problems and dealt with them sympathetically and responsibly. Kudos to AMIGOS! 🙂

  5. I confess I had known nothing about this organization until I read this blog. Many thanks for the information about a most amazing group. They keep hope alive!

  6. Dear Jenni,
    I have never heard of this! It sounds amazing….truly. I would have mixed feelings about sending any of my children, but then again, I have mixed feelings on letting them outside our own front door.
    So.
    Thank you for making me aware. I have a daughter I will be showing this to.
    🙂
    love, Lis
    xoxoox

    • Ha! Yay!!! Maybe by the time they’re older, it will feel more comfortable for you. I am so glad you passed it along! I can tell you that many parents are very nervous from the start and the program does a great job having parents talk to parents to prepare them for their own adventure around this. Thanks so much for stopping by, Lis!!!! Good to see you!

  7. Jenn, thanks for the information. My son is 17 and I’ve sent in a request for information.

    • That is SO cool!!!!!!! It really has a life-long impact on everyone who is touched by the program. Keep me posted on if he decides to do it. I would be willing to buy some grapefruit if he has to fund raise to go. Thanks for checking it out!!!

  8. Great info. Trips like that can help shape young people. I spent a couple of spring breaks in Appalacia putting siding and roofs on homes that had no running water or trash pick up. It was amazing. I can only imagine what going to another country to areas in worse condition would be like.

    • I think it is probably a similar experience. Just something that takes us out of our comfort zone and helps us realize that the world extends far beyond our back yard. Thanks so much for reading, my friend!!! Hope you’re doing great!

  9. It sounds like an amazing organization! Good for you in highlighting it. 🙂

  10. Jenni, you would make Robert Lupton proud. Well done. I am big on agencies that empower people to help themselves. Habitat for Humanity has a great model. I cannot mention the name of the charity i serve on the Board with, but we help homeless families through an empowerment model. We help our clients climb the ladder, but we try not to do for them what they can do for themselves, The esteem of those in need needs to ne uplifted and sometimes well meaning volunteers can lower it. You have been a light to many in your many endeavors. Keep on doing what you have done and are doing. Best wishes on all fronts, BTG

    • newsofthetimes

      🙂 Thank you and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!! You have kids – you might want to check out this organization. That is exactly how they work, helping communities achieve what they have identified as priorities using a community organizing model. It is so inspiring. Thanks for checking it out and for the kind words!!

  11. I love it! I must pass this on to my daughter, it’s really amazing. Thank you for sharing this information.

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