September 18, 2012
By Sophia Kecskes
Our Multnomah Youth Commission liaison Sophia Kecskes is entering her senior year at Cleveland High School. Sophia spent the summer in Ecuador with non-profit Amigos de las Americas. She shared her story with us:
Now back at work in City Hall, I feel a world away from Chalcay, Ecuador, the 150-person community I lived in this summer. One of 700 high school volunteers working with Amigos de las Americas, I had the summer of a lifetime growing with and learning from my small, Andean community. Amigos de las Americas is a non-profit organization that works to empower volunteers from all over the United States by developing leadership skills and increasing multi-cultural understanding.
My volunteer partner, Grace (a rising high school senior from Colorado), and I lived for eight weeks in Chalcay - a traditional Ecuadorian community with no electricity and only a very small, rudimentary elementary school. While there, we completed a Community Based Initiative with the people who call Chalcay home.
Over many meetings and discussions during meals of lots and lots of rice, we decided that a children’s playground would most benefit the community. Of course the kids were ecstatic about this project; before the playground was built, they had nowhere to play in the community. After several work days in which more than 25 community members all came out to work together, we succeeded in building a swing set, a teeter-totter, monkey bars, and a “casita,” or mini house/pavilion for shade. Seeing the completed playground, which was painted by the elementary school students, was an amazing feeling!
While in Chalcay, Grace and I also taught daily summer camps for local kids about community health. We talked about topics ranging from nature appreciation to basic nutrition. I had a great time working with the kids and learned that kids really are the best teachers!
Overall, I had an amazing time during my summer in Ecuador; I would return in a heartbeat if I could. I’ll never forget my home stay family there, or the other relationships I formed with the amazingly kind and caring community members. I would highly recommend the Amigos de las Americas program!