Amizade is the brainchild of founder Daniel Weiss; it is the product of hundreds of service-learning pioneers who have engaged in almost two decades of programmatic and academic development; it is the result of never-ending efforts by communities around the world; and it is an ongoing global movement by over 7,000 volunteers, staff, and board members.
After having received his master’s degree from the University of Chicago in 1992, Daniel Weiss did what all socially conscious 20-somethings do; he entered the nonprofit sector. A failed attempt to start a nonprofit and a couple of quasi-fulfilling jobs later, he began to apply to doctoral programs. As he was waiting to hear back from potential PhD programs, Daniel decided to volunteer in Togo, West Africa. Unfortunately (or for the development of Amizade, fortunately) Daniel was unable to go to Togo due to political unrest and instability. He quickly applied to several international humanitarian organizations, and was given a position at an organization called Fundação Esperança in Santarém, Brazil as an ESL teacher and assistant administrator.
Fundação Esperança is a Brazilian non-profit organization that has been providing health care to the people of the lower Amazon basin for over thirty years. In addition to providing medical and dental services, Esperança operates a program which counsels and educates teenagers about issues surrounding substance abuse, sexual activity, and violence. Esperança also runs a community health program which drills wells and teaches people about proper nutrition and hygiene.
In the fall of 1993, Daniel Weiss began his PhD studies at the University of Minnesota. While working on his doctorate, Daniel felt drawn to the Amazon. He wanted to help the people of Santarém, and he wanted to give people the opportunity to enjoy the rich culture and warmth of the Brazilian people as he had. In the summer of 1994, he founded Amizade.
Amizade, the Portuguese word for friendship, was set up as a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting volunteerism, providing community service, encouraging collaboration, and improving cultural awareness in locations throughout the world.
At the time, Weiss noted that many people want to help around the world, but do not know where to start, while many human service and environmental groups need volunteers but did not have the time or resources to develop projects which fully utilize the talents, skills, and desires of the volunteers. The result is that organizations and volunteers both become disappointed and disenfranchised with the process. Amizade was created to provide opportunities for individuals and groups to be able to take part in educational, environmental, health, welfare, and other service projects around the world. Volunteers do not need to have any special skills, only a willingness to help. Amizade was designed to collaborate with existing community-based organizations to develop projects which are both beneficial to the community and enjoyable to the volunteers.
After finishing his PhD in 1996, Weiss began to work for Amizade full time. By 1998, Amizade volunteers had built an orthopedic workshop and a dormitory for APAE, a Brazilian non-profit organization providing health, education, and social services to low-income handicapped children; built a vocational training center and a self-sustaining silk screening workshop for the Pastoral do Menor, a program that works with youth at risk in Santarém and constructed two additional dorm rooms and a children’s health clinic, which now serves a community of 20,000, for Esperança, a non-profit health care organization. Also in 1998 Weiss received a Giraffe Hero Commendation, given to people who stick their necks out for the common good.
In the late 1990s Amizade exploded. After a series of very successful university partnerships, it became clear that Amizade’s expertise was not limited to volunteer vacations; rather the programs that were perhaps most transformational were with college students. From programs in Montana to renovate a historic ranch and build an environmental research station to working with the Korrawinga Aboriginal Community in Australia, by 2004 Amizade had worked with over 20 communities in 13 countries.
Since it’s inception, over 6,000 volunteers from North America, Europe, Asia, and South America have participated on Amizade programs. The results have been nothing short of incredible. Everyday Amizade empowers a new global citizen; everyday Amizade helps a community see local improvement; and everyday Amizade helps to create a leader for tomorrow. These benchmarks don’t begin to consider the long-lasting impacts of new global friendships that have been forged through Amizade partnerships.