By Larkin Barnard-Bahn
Q: What is Amigos’ mission?
A: They provide youth with the opportunity to immerse themselves in a new culture, gain leadership skills, act as catalysts for social change and inspire youth leadership in Latin America.
Q: How did you learn about the program?
A: My brother, who’s seven years older than me, did Amigos seven years ago. I was really young, (though), so I didn’t really know anything about it.
Last year, as I was thinking of things I’d like to do, I started researching Amigos, and someone from Amigos talked to our Spanish class. The more I heard about it, the more interesting it sounded.
Also, (senior) Yumi (Moon) expressed interest, and I thought it would be really nice if we could do it together and be there for each other.
After eating breakfast, senior Anna Frankel milks a local family's cow in Panama. (All photos courtesy of Frankel)
Q: What was the application process like?
A: We had to apply online and fill out a few questions about why we wanted to do it, what leadership experience we had and why we thought we’d be prepared for it. After that, we had a phone call interview with the leader of the Sacramento-Davis chapter of Amigos. Then we were accepted. It was a pretty automatic acceptance.
I think Amigos just wants you to show interest in it because (after) going through the experience, I realized that if you aren’t really ready for (it and) fully invested in it, it’s going to be really bad for you.
Q: Why did you choose to go to Panama?
A: The other options were Ecuador, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. I had already been to Costa Rica with my family, and the Dominican Republic program was only four weeks. Our training director had gone to Ecuador and said her host community mainly spoke a native language, so she didn’t learn very much Spanish. This scared me away from going to Ecuador.
Panama just seemed like the perfect option. I also liked the project’s theme: community and environmental health.
Once a week, senior Anna Frankel helped with activities during the school day in her community.
Q: How did you prepare for Panama?
A: Through the chapter, we had five or six meetings in the four months before the summer. We had health and safety meetings and meetings about cultural sensitivity, different projects we would be doing, the Amigos mission and goals, what we’re there to do and what we’re not there to do.
Obviously, I packed, studied Spanish and bought a lot of things: a mosquito net, a cot and clothes.
Q: How does Amigos determine where and with whom you live?
A: (Yumi and I) signed up to go to the Azuero region of Panama. There are about 60 kids in that specific program. We had a three-day briefing, where we learned a lot to prepare us for everything. On the second day of the briefing, we found out where we were going and with whom we were going.
There are about 25 communities Amigos goes to in our region of Panama. There are six supervisors, and each supervisor had like four communities, and they went to their communities a week before we went there. My supervisor showed up in our community, went to the school and asked the teacher where she could find someone to talk to about Amigos. The teacher showed her to my partner’s host mom’s house, and she walked my supervisor around the community. Together they asked families if they could host volunteers.
Amigos assigned us (to communities and partners) somewhat randomly. We filled out a form on the first day of briefing and found out our partners and community the next day. (The form) had questions like, “Would you like to be somewhere more rural or urban? What’s your Spanish level? What are some of your hobbies?” The day after that, we went to (the) community. The whole thing was crazy fast.