My Amigos experience started when a friend made a presentation to my high school Spanish class about her summer living with a family in Mexico. One thing led to another, and I spent the summer of 1984 living with a family and building latrines in rural Dominican Republic.
I returned with confidence, a new-found interest in development, and a severe wanderlust. Little did I know my work with Amigos de las Americas had just begun.
Amigos is a non-profit organization committed to inspiring young leaders. Amigos provides extensive training in leadership, health and safety and program planning before sending volunteers to communities throughout Latin America for a summer of community engagement. Through collaborative community development and cross-cultural experiences Amigos’ volunteers gain self-confidence.
They work with community leaders in both rural and urban communities to assess resources and needs. Their projects including building latrines, fuel-efficient stoves, computer labs and restoring water storage tanks, to name a few. They also lead children’s day camps that explore themes like nutrition, sports and the environment. Amigos’ volunteers ultimately return home with a “Can Do” mentality, optimism and a greater sense of their place in the world. I know of no other program that provides the opportunities for young people to experience such significant leadership roles as Amigos.
We are fond of saying “Once an Amigo, always an Amigo” but it was years before I actively returned to the Amigos’ fold. After years of traveling the world, I settled in the East Bay and wanted to reconnect with Amigos, to share some of that wanderlust and the confidence it had given me. I reached out to the local Amigos chapter – East Bay Amigos (www.eastbayamigos.org) to see how I could contribute in a small way. I was welcomed by a group of engaged and thoughtful board members with diverse backgrounds and skills. It wasn’t long before I joined the board. It is a pleasure to work with such committed individuals.
But that is not the only reason for staying involved. Amigos’ work is transformational, not just for our volunteers but frequently for the communities in which they work. The volunteers return engaged and inspired and their optimism is infectious – something we can all use a little more of today.
- Elva Harding is a Walnut Creek based attorney specializing in real estate and business law. Elva’s clients include small business owners, investors and non-profit organizations. She is also a veteran Amigo and President of East Bay Amigos. You can reach her at (925) 215-4577 www.bayareabizlaw.com
Filed Under: Pro Bono