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Learning through service

Locals return from Latin America
by: submitted photo Sierra Green, above center, spent eight weeks in the Dominican Republic teaching “campamentos,” or summer camp to children.

Thirty-five Portland area teens returned recently from service learning projects in Latin America under the auspices of Amigos de las Américas. The group included two Riverdale High School students, juniors Isaiah Elder and Sierra Green.

Elder spent his summer in the small community of Natividad, about a two and a half hour drive from Oaxaca City, Mexico.

'I did several types of service work,' he said. 'The first was working with kids. Every weekday we had two-hour classes with the kids, ages six through 12, and there we taught them about health. Every week we had a different health related theme to teach the kids about and we supplemented the teaching with games to get the kids interested.

'The other service work I did was a project with the community about recycling. Natividad already recycled paper and plastic bottles but we helped improve this by implementing recycling of organic and inorganic waste.

'We also painted several murals with messages about recycling.

Elder said his Amigos experience impacted him in several ways, but living on his own in a different culture with less than perfect Spanish language skills really made an impact on him.

'This whole experience seemed to have greatly improved my social skills and my ability to work with other people,' he said. 'After socializing and teaching classes in Spanish, many other things that before were challenging are going to seem easy.'

Green's experience in the Domiminican Republic was similar.

'I lived in a host community Barranca, with a host family for eight weeks this summer,' she said. 'Everyday we had 'campamentos,' or summer camp, with the local children in each sector of the community, teaching about various topics in association with their rights, completely in Spanish. Each week had a new theme, like 'The Right to Good Health' or 'The Right to Play' or 'The Right to a Clean Environment.' (My partners and I) made some of the best, strongest relationships with children I ever thought were possible.'

Green said that one of the most rewarding moments of her summer came during her final week in Barranca. 'A group of little girls came up to me and told me how they would keep having campamentos even when we were gone,' she said. 'In that moment I knew just how much I had made a difference to them and their summer - not how I'd taught them about environmental health or told them how many times a day to brush their teeth, but how I'd inspired them to take initiative in their community. These four elementary age girls had become the real 'Youth Leaders in Action.''

'Amigos volunteers return from their Latin American assignments with a greater understanding of global issues, their personal capabilities and the values of volunteerism,' said Peggy Bartelt, Portland Chapter President. 'Many of our volunteers continue to work with the Amigos chapter locally and build on their summer experiences, inspiring peers and families to be involved with the program.'

Founded in 1965, Amigos is an international non-profit organization that provides opportunities for young people to simultaneously develop leadership and decision-making skills while making a positive difference in the health and well-being of communities.

Informational sessions, applications and interviews for youth interested in becoming volunteers for Summer 2012 all take place in September and October 2011. Visit www.amigoslink.org or www.portlandamigos.org for more information or call Bartelt at 503-281-0006.