Building a sense of community beyond Kent State

Emma Keating

For Carleton Whitmore, helping a community in Ecuador build a sustainable business is all in a summer’s work.

Whitmore, a senior entrepreneurship major, traveled to Bolivar Province, Ecuador, last summer as part of Amigos de las Americas, a nonprofit organization that seeks to encourage youth leadership.

When Whitmore arrived to Bolivar Province with only one other American partner, he moved in with a host family and talked to the community about what it wanted to accomplish.

“This isn’t going into a community and building something they don’t actually need,” Whitmore said. “This was worked on with the community. We decided to do this together.”

Each journey abroad is unique, but Whitmore’s group decided to build a small and fully functioning trout farm, designed to be sustainable for at least six months.

Whitmore also said the opportunity made him think about things more deeply and look at people in a new way.

“When they first proposed the idea of a trout farm business, I was kind of surprised because I was like, ‘is that really what you want to do?’” he said. “But then after exploring that option and staying open-minded to that community’s needs, I was like ‘OK, that’s actually a great idea.’”

Because Amigos de las Americas aims to be an immersive international experience, students are required to learn Spanish prior to the trip.

“People talk about how this is a global world,” Whitmore said. “I think part of that means being bilingual.”

Faith Phillips, a freshman Spanish major from Glendale Community College in Arizona, paired up with Whitmore on her second trip abroad with Amigos de las Americas.

While in high school, Phillips was impacted by her trip to Costa Rica with the program.

“I bonded so much with my host family and with my partner, so I wanted to do that again,” Phillips said.

While in Ecuador, Phillips and Whitmore spent a lot of time with their host families, building emotional connections with them and the rest of the community.

At night, after work, the two taught environmental sustainability and English to the people of the community.

“The community was a little weirded out at first by us being there,” Phillips said. “We had to tell them, ‘We’re not here to do what we want. What do you need? What do you want?’”

Phillips said it was important to let the community know that they were there to help, not push their own agenda.

“After that they started warming up to us more. More people started coming to the meetings, to the classroom,” Phillips said.

Whitmore has been in touch with his host family, and said that the community is excited to start selling trout from the farm they built.

Angela Lowery, a Northeast Ohio Board member who went on a trip with Amigos de las Americas when she was in high school, said it was something she would never forget.

“It was a life-changing experience for me,” Lowery said. “It really shaped my major in college and what I wanted to do after that.”

Lowery continued to work with the Peace Corps for two years after graduating college.

“It really gave me a bug to explore other cultures and put myself in those experiences more,” she said.

Now, Lowery is working with Amigos de las Americas again, focusing on outreach and recruitment so that others can be made aware of the options available.

“It’s not for everybody,” Lowery said. “It’s for people who really want to have a service experience helping people internationally on a grassroots level.”

Kent Free Library is hosting an information session about the program on Oct. 24, and the deadline to register for the summer is Nov. 11.

For more information, students can contact Angela Lowery at [email protected].

 more information, students can contact Angela Lowery at [email protected].

Emma Keating is the arts and sciences reporter, contact her at [email protected].