South students take part in Amigos service trip in Latin America

Maia Schwallie and Esther Lim

It’s easy to become a couch potato during summer break for many students, and rightfully so—it’s time to relax, let go of all the stress of the school year, and enjoy the greatly missed warmth of the summer sun. However, for the select students who applied to be a part of the Amigos service program, their definition of summer vacation has little to do with kicking back, and more to do with giving back.

Amigos is a non-profit service organization for high school students interested in helping and living with communities in Spanish-speaking countries in need, according to Danita Fitch, World Language Department Instructional Supervisor. And while Amigos is a school-unaffiliated service program, students are able to learn about the program through representatives of Amigos who introduce this opportunity to Spanish students every year, Fitch says.

“[We introduce Amigos to Spanish students because] it allows students to extend all of the language and culture that they’re learning in our building outside of building in the real world,” Fitch said. “With a program like Amigos, a student is able to choose an area that’s most interesting to them, like sports, or an agricultural based project, or a teaching project.” 

Over the summer, a total of seven students from South will take part in this service trip. One of these students is junior Avery Jerva, who is traveling to the Province of Cocle in Panama, where she will be focusing on projects involving community and environmental health. According to Jerva, she has always been intrigued by what the program had to offer and was looking for a service experience outside of her comfort zone.

“My sister [was a part of Amigos] when she was my age, and she went to Oaxaca, Mexico for seven weeks, and when she went, I was like, ‘I could never do that, that’s crazy’ and ‘How could she leave the entire summer?’” Jerva said. “But I saw the presentation in my Spanish class… and I felt like I had changed a lot since my sister went, so I definitely thought that this was a great opportunity.”

Another student visiting Panama is junior Jessica Ehlinger, who says she is excited to travel to Panama with the Amigos program this summer. To prepare for her trip, Ehlinger explains that she attends one training session every two weeks where she acquires the problem-solving and Spanish speaking skills that she will utilize in Panama.

“In training, we learn how to deal with their cultural differences,” Ehlinger said.  “We learn how to be respectful and how to be the best representations of Americans that we can.”

While Jerva is nervous, she is enthusiastic about improving her leadership and communication skills— a crucial part of the community aspect of her service trip.

“[In Panama], we have to lead whole community meetings with the people in charge in Spanish, when we’re seen as the outsiders,” Jerva said. “[Members in that community might think that we’re] trying to disrupt their community, [who] think we’re so much better, or that we think they need our help. But we really need to talk to them through [the project], and [realize that] we are not in charge of it, but rather, that we’re collaborating.”

Together, Ehlinger and Jerva will work in a small community on improving the sustainability of their environment. Ehlinger also explains that she will discuss with the community about what resources they need most, and will complete a unique project based on the input of the locals.

“I think it will give me a new perspective on things,” Ehlinger says. “I also think I will become more outgoing and more confident when I talk to adults [and] talking in a new language.”

Sophomore Ashley Roy says she is traveling to the Dominican Republic for four weeks to teach youth equality through sports and to learn more about Spanish.

“I really like to speak Spanish and I thought it was something new and different because I get to travel to a different part of the world,” Roy said. “But I’m not just going to do service for people, I’m going to get to know them.”

There is much to be gained from this drastic difference in cultures despite not being able to see her family for the entirety of summer, according to Roy. She acknowledges that the culture in the Dominican Republic is vastly different from what she knows and expresses her excitement for the change of scenery.

“I’m kind of excited for [the] change. It’s so different [in the Dominican Republic],” Roy said. “We’re not going to be using technology and I think it’s a good separation from the life that we live here in Glenview.”

Sophomore Emma Hogan knows that the challenges and differences between her world and Costa Rica will be greatly worth the experiences and learning opportunities she will encounter.

“I think what makes Amigos so special is that we’re going to be in a community living with [its members] and I think I’m going to learn a lot from them,” Hogan said.  “We’re developing a project and working all together, and I think they can teach me as much and even more than I can teach them.”