Tag Archives: international development

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!

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

What is Happening in Europe and Who is to Blame?

Photo Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I am no economist, but I have been doing my best to understand the economic problems currently plaguing Europe. Cocktail party conversations have been enlightening, but have only confused me more.

People have strong opinions on whether Greece or Germany is a bad actor and about whether either of these countries, or any other, will leave the euro zone.

In the past week, two articles on this topic have piqued my interest. The first was written by Thomas Friedman for the New York Times, entitled Two Worlds Cracking Up. This is an interesting examination of the economic crisis in Europe, contrasted with the spike in violence in the Middle East.

The second is an article by Paul Krugman, also for the New York Times, entitled Greece as Victim.

While there are many opinions about what has caused the current crisis in Europe, there seems to be general agreement that the euro zone’s lack of a strong, cohesive governance model has contributed to the problems.

The financial problems in the euro zone are a shame. The US economy is also in a state of chaos, and opinions differ on what caused our financial meltdown as well, but at least our entire governing model is not in jeopardy.

Most of us will recall the optimism which accompanied the announcements when the euro zone was established. The concept that the European region would be more powerful if countries gave up some of their sovereignty in order to band together, on its face, was strong.

But as in most things in life, the devil is in the details.

What do you think? What do you see as the future for the euro zone? Do you believe that the lack of a strong governance model contributed to the problems? Do you see a way to remedy this issue or do you think that countries are too unwilling to give up their sovereignty to make this work? Do you think that the euro zone has helped or hurt Europe in the long run? What about in the short run? If you live in Europe, how has the euro zone benefitted or harmed you personally?

Again I am no expert on this – just an interested observer. I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading.

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Filed under Culture, Economy, Income inequality, International, Politcs, Poverty, Relationships, Role of Government, Stereotypes, travel

Learning to Kill: President Obama’s Evolution in the War on Terror

There is a fascinating and disturbing article in Newsweek entitled, “Drones: How Obama Learned to Kill”. The article is long, but worth reading when you have a moment. It is excerpted from a new book, Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency, written by Daniel Klaidman.

Photo Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The book explores how President Obama’s thinking on anti-terrorism activities has evolved since he took office. Specifically, the book describes the decision-making process that the President and his top advisors go through before deciding to kill a terrorist target.

I have to admit that even writing these words makes me uncomfortable. I am a pacifist at heart and feel a strong urge to ignore the realities of what happens outside of our bordersin the name of keeping us safe.

I can only imagine the heavy burden placed on a President and his top military officials when forced to make a decision like this. Some striking excerpts from the book that help me better understand the complexities of what these officials deal with:

The president is not a robotic killing machine. The choices he faces are brutally difficult, and he has struggled with them—sometimes turning them over in his mind again and again. The people around him have also battled and disagreed. They’ve invoked the safety of America on the one hand and the righteousness of what America stands for on the other.

If there is a person in the camp who is a clear threat to the United States we should go after him. But carpet bombing a country is a really bad precedent.

…both men were grappling with the same reality: their advice could ensure death for strangers who lived thousands of miles away—or spare them.

I really struggle with this. I realize that there are people whose sole aim in life is to harm the United States for a wide variety of reasons. From the comfort of my home I cannot fully condemn the activities of leaders who have willingly taken on the responsibility and are doing their best to grapple with the difficult choices to keep us safe.

I also know that when George W. Bush was President, I was probably much less willing to explore this issue and more willing to cast stones.

But I have to wonder if there is a better way to keep us safe. Of course, I believe that promoting economic and democratic stability around the globe is one of the best ways to lessen vicious animosity towards the United States. But I also wonder if there aren’t more opportunities to use the legal system to bring people to justice.

I understand that this is extremely complex and that a protracted court case could actually exacerbate the risk.

I clearly don’t have the answers to this complex problem and I realize that I probably come from an idealistically naive perspective. Of course, I never do have the answers in this blog, which is why I always ask…

What do you think? How do you feel about the recent killings inflicted by the United States on terrorist suspects? Do you think there is a better way to keep us safe? What does that better way look like? Do you think that President Obama is going to suffer any legal consequences for his actions? Should he? Do you feel conflicted about this issue like I do?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading.

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Filed under International, Peace, Policy, Politcs, Role of Government, Terrorism, War

The Global Corporate Do-Gooder

I have been called a bleeding heart liberal before, and I will likely be called one again. But I want to make it very clear that I hope to have a meaningful dialogue through this blog which is not polarized. And I realize that I have much room to open my mind to different perspectives. This is why the article in Foreign Policy Magazine entitled “Get an MBA, Save the World,” written by Charles Kenny was intriguing for me.

I was an International Relations and Russian major in college. I have not used this degree in my work since graduating, despite the fact that International Development and Human Rights work remains one of my primary passions and interests. My dream job was – in fact  continues to be – to work in the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. But I can honestly say that it never entered my mind to work for a multinational corporation in order to further development efforts and reduce poverty around the world.

But perhaps I have been terribly short-sighted. Or perhaps, corporate ethics and social responsibility have become key components which better enable corporations to compete in an increasingly globalized society. I don’t know.

I do know that the theory that multinational organizations can create a path to prosperity in the developing world is a fairly new concept to me and a complex issue. I, like all idealistic progressives, have boycotted Walmart and Nike for their working conditions and union-busting over the years. But when I started doing more statewide work outside of urban centers and travelling to small towns throughout Texas and Colorado, I began to better understand the myriad perspectives on the harms and benefits of these corporations.

While I am a strong supporter of local mom-and-pop shops and still share my grandmother’s concern that Walmart and other box stores threaten the existence of small family-owned stores, I began to hear a different side of the story in my travels. Many of the people who lived in the small towns where I was working talked to me extensively about the importance of the jobs that were created for their community and the value of the investment that the company made in their town.

I only share this story because I believe that this is an interesting topic for debate. The truth is that a socially and environmentally responsible company can completely jump-start a local economy. And so many talented young people want to make a difference to end hunger and poverty around the globe. This article suggests that there might be a way to combine these assets to make a difference in developing countries.

What do you think? If you are someone who has dreamed of doing international development work, does this story make you think about a different potential career path? Have you struggled with the concept of taking a job that is available versus holding out for your true passion? How have you reconciled those competing interests? If you are someone with a dream of working international development, would you have a challenge in choosing this work instead? Or do you believe that corporations are doing some of the most effective poverty-reduction work around the globe right now? Do you see a way to combine the two efforts more effectively?

Please add your own topics for discussion and questions. And thank you for reading!

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Filed under Career Planning, International, Youth Leadership