This summer I spent
eight weeks as an
AMIGOS de las
Américas volunteer
in Granada,
Nicaragua. The
experience cannot
be described in any
way other than
lifechanging.
AMIGOS trains and
sends high school
and college students
to Central and South
America to live with
host families and
work in
collaboration with
Latin American

youth. The American volunteers are put into partnerships and left alone in communities, with a supervisor coming to check on them once a week. The AMIGOS summer typically consists of two main elements - teaching, and the Community-Based Initiative process. Because the theme of the  project in my country, Nicaragua, was “health,” however, there were three core aspects to it.

Health center. First, every morning, my partner and I worked in the small health center in our community for a few hours, folding gauze, filling out prescription sheets, making murals, giving presentations to waiting patients about health topics, filing, and cleaning. The highlight of my work with Doctor Alberto and the nurse, Patricia, was when we got to go on “survey” once a week. Every Wednesday we would go out into the far corners of the community called Capulin Uno (there were 300 families, spread out over a pretty large area) and fill out health information sheets for each household. This was a really eye-opening experience for me because the house that I lived in was relatively the nicest in the community. In
A favela in Nicaragua
comparison, seeing the
poverty in which others
were living was shocking.
We had many interesting
conversations with the
people that lived in these
conditions, and it helped us
to make many new friends
from different, less-

educated backgrounds than
our own host family’s.
School. Second, in addition
to working in the center,
every day we taught the
‘fourth and fifth years’
(children ranging from 8 to
14) in a school class). We
taught in Spanish about
varying health themes -

incorporating multiple variations of learning (ex: verbal, visual, musical) and lots of games. The education system in Nicaragua is very irregular, and school was canceled often while we were there - for events ranging from thunderstorms to celebrations (such as when Granada won the

national baseball championship).

Community-Based Initiative. The third part of our project with Amigos was called the Community-Based Initiative. We had to hold meetings with the community (including town leaders and kids our age) to agree on a project requiring physical labor for which the community would have to help fundraise (AMIGOS donates part of the money after the project has been approved by the program). We ended up working very closely with the youth group from the Maria Auxiliadora Catholic Church (of which our host sisters were members). The teenagers had to learn how to write a grant application, as well as how to organize a fundraiser. We facilitated a talent show and fiesta to raise the money required for the cost of labor and most materials in order to build a
wheel-chair ramp for the Health Center. There are a lot of disabled people and diabetics in the town who weren’t able to climb the steep stairs outside, causing the doctor to have to bring all his equipment out into the dirty street. Since getting back to Washington D.C., Doctor Alberto and I have been in contact and he told me that the ramp is functioning very well and has saved worlds of trouble for him and increased the quality of care patients are receiving. This was a learning experience not only for the Latin American youth, but for Sophie and I as well.

Becoming a leader. I became a leader this summer, because I was helping others learn how to be leaders themselves. I loved the Community-Based Initiative process because we all learned from and grew off of each other. As a good friend in the community told me through a letter at the end of the summer, “este verano aprendí que como jovenes somos capaces de lograr muchas cosas y de gran valor...me di cuenta que si uno quiere algo, y lo quiere hacer, lo puede hacer.” - “this summer I learned that as teens we’re capable of accomplishing many things of great value... I found out that if one wants something, and wants to do it, one is able to do it.”

Challenges. Through the Community-Based Initiative process, we faced some challenges because of differences in opinion as to what the project should be. The mayor of my community wanted the ramp to become an ambulance ramp and a new security system for the health center -an
participate. It was a total group effort and everyone was happy with the end result. Another challenge we faced was the planning of lessons for classes in the school. My American partner and I found that the book AMIGOS provides volunteers with, for information on the required topics, was not entirely substantial. However with the help of our supervisor and host family, we were able to manage.

My host family. My host family was definitely the highlight of my summer. They were incredible. I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect home, or a more loving and generous group of people. There were no men living in the house (they were either always working or in the United States). The head of the house was my grandmother, Doña Juana, and then her daughters, Simona and Dulce. Simona played the role of our mom, and her two young daughters (Dora and Astryd, 20 and 22 years old) were two of my best friends while I was in Nicaragua. Simona also has an adopted 2-year-old son, Saul, who is one of the most adorable children I have ever met. By the end of the summer he could say the Hispanic name that the family had chosen for me - Karina. I also had another brother, named Tommy (10), who was a grandson of Doña Juana’s. Although these were the only family members that lived in the house, it seemed like practically everyone in the community was related, and people were constantly coming and going, including two precocious and outgoing little cousins named Alicia and Lucita, who kept up a non-stop stream of conversation. I still keep in touch with them, calling
unrealistic and
impractical idea for
various reasons. The
youth group we worked
had just formed the
year before and was
still finding its place in
the community. The
leaders (my sister and
the resident beauty
queen of Capulin,
Scarleth) really wanted
to fundraise for the
ramp themselves, and
we agreed that it would
be an excellent way to
empower the youth in
the group. They raised
all the necessary
money, and ended up
getting the whole
community to
about every two
weeks. I’m also in
touch with my two
host sisters, who can
access Facebook
through computers
in their schools. I call
various “relatives”
and members from
the youth group
every so often as
well. Every call ends
with “¿cuándo vas a
regresar a
Nicaragua?” - “When
are you going to
return to
Nicaragua?”.
 
Briget Feldman and her AMIGOS Group
Planning for the future. If I could change one thing about the program, I would organize more debriefing and culture shock preparation (within the Amigos chapters in the United States) after returning home. It’s been really hard for me to come back and focus on my life here in Washington, DC, because I am constantly thinking about my home in Nicaragua and what else I can do to help all the people that I met, and others in similar situations. After having met so many people who are impoverished and struggling to make a better life for themselves, I have a new-found perspective on my life here. It makes it hard to keep from feeling guilty sometimes – but it also makes me eager to go off to college and learn more about development and how I can further address issues in Latin America. This program has given my goals in life purpose and direction, and has shaped the way I see the world. I plan to return to the organization as soon as I am able.