Students make new amigos while building communities

Conner Howard

Volunteer program gets students involved in Latin American countries

Kent State students interested in Latin American culture and volunteer work can look no further than Amigos de las Americas.

Since 1971, student volunteers have visited Mexico and various countries in Central and South America through Amigos de las Americas, an international non-profit organization. According to, Amigos train high school and college-aged volunteers to lead rural and suburban communities in civic improvement projects.

Lindsey Murphy, a senior international relations major, first got involved with Amigos when she was a sophomore. During her first year with the program, Murphy visited Mexico, where she helped lead the people of her assigned community in ways to improve their lives.

“You have to work with the community to figure out what they want to do,” Murphy said. “The idea has to be the community’s idea, and it has to be something that will benefit everyone in the community, like a community library or a community park.”

Acting as community leaders, organizers and motivators, volunteers like Murphy help communities improve the lives of their citizens through construction of beneficial structures and the establishment of education and awareness programs. Amigos de las Americas provides funding to allow these projects to be completed.

“Your role as a volunteer is to just help the community organize something that they’re interested in making that will benefit everyone in the community,” Murphy said.

Another goal of Amigos is for volunteers to lead classes and workshops to educate local inhabitants in areas such as nutrition, exercise and technology culture.

“You can set up computer classes where they (the locals) learn how to make their own website,” Murphy said.

Those interested in becoming volunteers can apply through If accepted into the program, the volunteer begins a year-long training process, during which they attend weekly three-hour meetings. Applicants choose three countries they prefer to be sent to and at the end of training, the program chooses where they are sent. Volunteers find out a few months into training where they will go.

Dr. Jessie Carduner, undergraduate coordinator in the Department of Modern and Classical Language Studies, first learned of Amigos de Las Americas 12 years ago from one of her students and has been recommending the program ever since. Carduner said she suggests the program to the students in her Spanish classes, assuming they don’t require academic credit for their volunteered time. Amigos de las Americas is not associated with Kent State, and is not worth academic credit.

“I tell my students if they want to build fluency skills and get immersed in the culture, then that’s what they should do,” Carduner said.

A major proponent of the program, Carduner spoke highly of what Amigos could offer to students, describing the experience as “life changing”.

“I think it gives students a whole new perspective of everything we take for granted,” Carduner said. “You go down to these countries and they don’t always have running water in their house or hot water. It really opens people’s eyes.”

Amigos de las Americas focuses on building leaders and improving communities in need. The student volunteers who take part in the program attempt to make a difference in these communities by dedicating their time and energy.

“In my community, we helped the local clinic buy a few things like a wheelchair, a baby heart monitor and just stuff that would help their clinic out,” Murphy said.

By imparting essential leadership and humanitarian skills, the Amigos program helps its volunteers grow as they take part. Murphy said her time in Mexico has taught her important life skills.

“I was a very impatient person, and when you go down there, things are a lot slower; it’s harder to get people to show up on time. One of the things I’ve learned is just to be really patient,” Murphy said. “Since then I’ve become a lot more outgoing. Before, I was really shy and I was afraid to stand up in front of people and talk. It really helped me to become a leader.”

Although some aptitude in Spanish is required, the Amigos de las Americas program is intended for anyone with an interest in Latin American culture and humanitarian service. The program is not limited to Spanish majors and minors, although applicants for the program are required to have completed at least two semesters of Spanish language classes.

“I recommend it to everyone I possibly can because I love the program so much,” Murphy said.

Contact Conner Howard at [email protected].