AMIGOS Volunteer FAQs
General AMIGOS Questions
- Why does AMIGOS work in Latin America when there is so much need in the U.S.?
- Where does the money go?
- Who runs the organization? How stable is it?
- How old do I need to be to Volunteer?
- What is the cost? Why pay to volunteer?
What is the difference between volunteering through a Chapter and through the International Office?
- Will I live with a family?
- How are Volunteer partnerships made?
- When will I know my country and project assignment?
- Are all assignments rural?
- Why does AMIGOS need signatures from both parents?
- What kind of training does AMIGOS provide the Volunteers?
- What do I pack?
- My friend and I are studying together. Could we be assigned together?
- Can AMIGOS Volunteers receive school credit?
- Can AMIGOS Accomodate Special Dietary Requests?
Health and Safety Questions
- Is the food and water in Latin America safe? How can I be sure I will not get sick?
- Aren't the health care facilities rudimentary? What kind of health care would I receive if I get sick?
- What will happen if something serious happens to my child in Latin America? Can I get to him/her? How long would it take to get him/her back to the U.S.?
- How old do I need to be to Volunteer?
- Is there insurance protection in case of illness?
- Is sexual assault a problem in Latin America? How does AMIGOS deal with the issue of sexual assault?
Travel and Communication Questions
- I graduate the day of departure and am very independent. Can I arrive just one day late?
- How do I communicate with my parents during the summer?
- Will an AMIGOS representative meet me when I arrive in my assigned country?
- Why does AMIGOS work in Latin America when there is so much need in the U.S.? Although promoting improved public health in Latin America is an important aspect of the AMIGOS program, it is only one part of the organization's mission. AMIGOS also is committed to providing opportunities for leadership development and cross-cultural understanding in the Americas. Living in another culture and using another language provides opportunities for personal growth. The Volunteers bring back to their home communities increased self-confidence and caring attitudes that are reflected in community activities for the rest of their lives.
- Where does the money go? Approximately 80% of each dollar raised by the organization goes directly to cover the cost of the program. Program expenses include training materials and workshops, international travel, supervision of the Volunteers, a 24-hour emergency support system during the summer, planning and management of the Latin American projects, and supplies for Volunteers’ community service activities. Host communities in Latin America contribute the food and lodging for the Volunteers. The other 20% covers overhead costs of the organization such as insurance, telephone, and other administrative expenses.
- Who runs the organization? How stable is it? Founded in 1965, AMIGOS is governed by an International Board of Directors with day to day activities coordinated by the International Office staff in Houston. AMIGOS meets the criteria for exchange programs set by the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel. AMIGOS also has a Letter of Understanding with the Pan American Health Organization and is a member of the Independent Sector and Inter-Action. The AMIGOS support network is hundreds strong throughout the Americas.
- How old do I need to be to Volunteer? The minimum age for participation in an AMIGOS Latin American project is 16 years of age on or before the following September 1, provided that the individual has completed his or her sophomore year of high school.
- What is the cost? Why pay to volunteer? The International Office Volunteer Participation Fee for 2013 is $5,150. Chapter Volunteers should contact their local chapter for fee information. Learn more.
- What is the difference between volunteering through a Chapter and through the International Office? There are two paths to becoming an AMIGOS Volunteer. Learn more.
Preparing for Your Journey
- Will I live with a family? It is AMIGOS intent to house every Volunteer with a family. In around 3% of placements each summer, this is not possible due to the lack of appropriate housing options in some communities. The International Office must approve alternative housing, and Volunteers would likely live in a local clinic, church, community center or school. Project Staff members visit communities in advance of the Volunteers’ arrival to determine the best eating and living arrangements. Volunteers are encouraged to report any problems with these arrangements immediately to the Project Staff.
- How are Volunteer partnerships made? Volunteers are typically assigned one or two AMIGOS partners for their community placement during in-country briefing. AMIGOS has established standards for the placement of Volunteers in order to ensure that everyone is placed in situations which are culturally appropriate and safe. Project Staff considers Volunteers’ preferences, language abilities, and personality when assigning partnerships.
- When will I know my country and project assignment? Assignments will be made after the Correspondent Volunteer Administrators have received your full application, the Volunteer Assignment Preference Form (VAPF), the deposit, and has conducted a successful phone interview with you. Assignments will be made on a rolling, first-come-first-serve basis. Should project assignments change, they would be made in response to a change in political events in a specific country and would be for your safety.
- Are all assignments rural? AMIGOS works with host organizations to assess local health needs and the capabilities of the Volunteers. According to this assessment, AMIGOS Volunteers are placed primarily in rural areas, but some Volunteers may be placed in urban and semi-urban communities.
- Why does AMIGOS need signatures from both parents? For Volunteers younger than 18, AMIGOS requires the signatures of both parents. Many Latin American countries require a parental release for minors. If a parent has sole custody, however, he or she can sign and attach a copy of the proof of guardianship in lieu of the second signature.
- What kind of training does AMIGOS provide the Volunteers? The AMIGOS training program offers hands-on experience to learn skills necessary to succeed in our projects. In the Correspondent Volunteer training program and in-country briefing, Volunteers learn and practice the human relations, cross-cultural, language, leadership, health and safety and technical skills they will need for their project.
- What do I pack? What you pack will depend on where you are assigned. Packing suggestions can be found in the Volunteer Handbook and in the Volunteer Country Materials. You should pack extremely lightly – carry on a small bag and check two medium duffle bags or check a hiking backpack and your cot. It is very important that you also adhere to the airlines’ baggage weight specifications.
- My friend and I are studying together. Could we be assigned together? No. One of the many facets of the program is having the opportunity to work with people from diverse backgrounds, including your partners. This serves as another dimension of the learning experience in AMIGOS.
- Can AMIGOS Volunteers receive school credit? For high school students, many Volunteers arrange to receive service or experiential credit for their participation. In some high schools, credit is built into the curriculum. Ask your guidance counselor for details. For college students, AMIGOS affiliations allow us to be structured as an independent studies course. Talk to professors in the departments of Spanish, Latin American Studies, Political Science, Anthropology, and Public Health. If you need assistance, contact the AMIGOS International Office. Credit must be pre-arranged in all cases.
Health and Safety
- Is the food and water in Latin America safe? How can I be sure I will not get sick? During training you will learn how to protect yourself from illnesses by eating cooked foods and freshly peeled fruits and vegetables. Water is one of the culprits that can cause diarrhea and gastro-intestinal illness. Volunteers should boil their water or take water purification tablets with them. Volunteers can also drink bottled water or soft drinks.
- Aren't the health care facilities rudimentary? What kind of health care would I receive if I get sick? Health care facilities in Latin America range from clinics staffed by the U.S. equivalent of medical residents to hospitals fully staffed with a full range of specialists. The Project Staff makes arrangements for Volunteer health care and will help Volunteers receive prompt care in a respected health care facility. Volunteers carry an emergency card with instructions about how to seek medical care. Project Staff consult with the International Office On-Call Staff about Volunteer illness and treatment.
- What will happen if something serious happens to my child in Latin America? Can I get to him/her? How long would it take to get him/her back to the U.S.? The response depends on the situation and seriousness of the problem. AMIGOS may transport Volunteers from their communities immediately by private car, ambulance or even helicopter to a major hospital. The Volunteer may receive immediate treatment from a physician in the local clinic. The Project Staff consult with the local physician, the AMIGOS International Office and the AMIGOS Medical Director to determine what is best for the Volunteer based on known information. Parents will be called immediately if the situation appears to be a medical emergency. In cases of extreme emergency, when adequate treatment may not be available in the Volunteer’s assigned country, the short-term medical insurance carrier will help AMIGOS facilitate medical evacuation to an appropriate medical facility and/or air transport the Volunteer to his/her home city.
- How can I be sure my son or daughter is safe when I just saw on TV the serious governmental problems in Latin America? AMIGOS first priority is the safety of the Volunteers and Project Staff. Work areas are confirmed in the early fall of each program year. Each area is monitored before and during the summer for overall safety conditions. In addition, Volunteers are given a step-by-step plan in case of day-to-day crisis, natural disasters or political upheaval. This information is on an emergency card that Volunteers carry with them. International Trustees in the host countries keep the International Office in Houston abreast of possible problems and the International Office maintains contact with U.S. Embassies and other sources of security information. Programs will be changed or canceled at any time if the safety of the Volunteers is in question. AMIGOS does not operate in countries with political instability.
- Is there insurance protection in case of illness? Volunteers are required to have adequate health insurance during the training and while in Latin America. While Volunteers are in Latin America, AMIGOS pays for minor medical expenses, up to $100 for physician visits & medications. In case of greater expenses, AMIGOS will seek reimbursement from the Volunteer’s primary health insurance carrier. AMIGOS’ participation fee includes supplemental short-term medical insurance for extreme medical situations where a medical evacuation is required.
- Is sexual assault a problem in Latin America? How does AMIGOS deal with the issue of sexual assault? Statistically, Volunteers are at a greater risk of being assaulted on a college campus than while in their Latin American community. However, just as in the United States, sexual assault does occur in Latin America. AMIGOS views sexual assault as an issue which requires immediate and unequivocal support from the organization. To minimize risk, Volunteers participate in personal health/safety training, including sexual assault awareness, during briefing. This training provides life-long skills in assault awareness and prevention. It is imperative that Volunteers promptly and completely report assaults to their Project Staff in order to receive assistance. AMIGOS provides 24 hour on-call support to all Project Staffs, which includes an International Office staff member, the AMIGOS Medical Director, a rape crisis counselor, and an adolescent mental health professional.
Travel and Communication
- I graduate the day of departure and am very independent. Can I arrive just one day late? No. All Volunteers assigned to the same project must travel to and from Latin America together. Often the Volunteers must travel to remote sites for in-country briefing. A variety of program lengths and starting dates can accommodate different schedules.
- After the project is over, can I stay in Latin America and travel? If you are at least 18 years old, AMIGOS may release you after the project terminates, provided you have completed the appropriate In-Country Release Form. If you are under 18, AMIGOS will only release you in country into the custody of your parent or legal guardian unless there are extenuating circumstances and prior authorization.
- How do I communicate with my son or daughter during the summer? Phone communication may not always be an option, particularly in rural communities. A summer mailing address will be provided to Volunteers prior to their departure. Depending on assignment, mail can take anywhere between 1-3 weeks to arrive. Therefore, parents and friends are encouraged to begin writing letters prior to Volunteer departure. Remember that no news is good news. Families will be contacted if there is an emergency. If there is a family emergency and parents urgently need to reach their son/daughter in Latin America, please call the International Office (800-231-7796) which can relay a message to Project Staff so the Volunteer can call home.
- Will an AMIGOS representative meet my child when he/she arrives at his/her assigned country? How will he/she know what to do? Not only are there travel coordinators that meet Volunteers in gateway cities to assist with connections, but upon arrival in the country of assignment, Project Staff will meet Volunteers in the airport. They are then escorted through Customs and the International Office is informed that all Volunteers have arrived. They are then taken to a briefing site for several days of orientation and additional technical training before going with their partners to the community where they will work.