Amigos de las Americas organization

Emily Moran

Amigos de las Americas is a non-profit organization that offers high school and college students the opportunity to develop a multi-cultural understanding, to improve upon leadership skills and to help those in need in Latin America. Amigos de las Americas is an international organization and has been in operation since 1965. The Ohio chapter of the program has been active for 42 years.

The program places students with a host family in a Latin American country, where they provide help to families and communities. A few of the countries the program travels to include the following: Nicaragua, Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Peru and Paraguay.

Luis Hermosilla, adviser for the Kent State students involved in the Amigos program, said students get the opportunity to spend eight weeks with a community. He said that participating in the program will meet Kent State’s experiential learning requirement in fall 2013.

“From what I’ve seen with the students who have participated, it is a positive experience,” Hermosilla said.

Cheryl Jamison, co-president of the Ohio chapter of Amigos de las Americas, said she enjoys that the program has volunteers work on community-initiated programs that foster community empowerment and youth leadership.

“Volunteers gain self-confidence, leadership skills, and greatly increased cultural understanding,” Cheryl Jamison said.

Students who participate improve their Spanish-speaking skills due to immersion in a community setting and living with a host family, said Cheryl Jamison. Those who participate generally love the program and want to return for a second or third year.

Students who volunteer for the program get to choose the top three places they would like to be placed and often get to go to the country of their first choice. Cheryl Jamison said they raise money through fundraising projects including a letter-writing campaign, product sales of coffee, tea and chocolate, and obtaining items for and participating in fundraising auction. She said scholarships are also available to assist students in paying for the participant fee.

Tanner May, senior political science major, said he participated in Amigos during summer 2011 and traveled to Honduras for seven weeks. Now May is a board member of Amigos de las Americas, and he said the training for the program was very in-depth but fun.

“When I was in Honduras, I learned so much,” May said. “My eyes were truly opened to so many different cultural aspects on all levels.”

May said one of the most interesting things he learned was about the rich history of the community he was in.

“You think you have life figured out, but after you spend that much time in a country, you realize that the world is so much bigger than what you previously had in mind,” May said.

Rachel Jamison, sophomore public health major, participated in the program twice: Paraguay in 2010 and Peru in 2012. She said she had an amazing experience that opened her eyes to a whole new perspective.

“I figured that participating in the program would be an amazing experience that would help me decide if I wanted to have a career in public health,” Rachel Jamison said.

Rachel Jamison said students at Kent State who are “studying anything from public health, to Spanish, to cultural anthropology and everything in between” will have something to gain from joining the program.

“[Amigos de las Americas] offers an experience that most other programs cannot, in that you are totally immersed in the culture with no phone and no computer,” Rachel Jamison said.

Contact Emily Moran at [email protected].