Awesome Program Alert! Bolivia-Puerto Rico Youth Exchange

by Melissa Nix

Earlier this year, through the support of a generous donation, Amizade had an exciting opportunity to host a brand new type of virtual program: an exchange between two groups of young people in Bolivia and Puerto Rico. It was a huge success, and Amizade’s Director of Development and Outreach, Melissa Nix, was lucky enough to be one of the facilitators of this unforgettable program with some truly inspiring young people. Keep reading to find out what made it so great. 

Amizade’s community partners in Bolivia and Puerto Rico have presented to so many groups of students and hosted lots of virtual service projects, so as soon as we were able to reciprocate and offer the same type of program, we jumped at the opportunity. With the help of our site directors and some dedicated teachers, we recruited a group of very engaged high school students from Colegio Bolivar and Colegio Tiquipaya in Cochabamba, Bolivia and from Escuela con Causa – Rosalina C. Martínez in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.

Site directors, teachers, and even the students themselves collaborated on every aspect of the program planning process. The students’ interest in topics like human rights and developing global leadership skills drove the content of the program, and their desire to get to know each other helped us decide on the format. Originally, we planned to run two separate programs with maybe one or two opportunities to overlap and it was the students who pushed us to host every session together and make the program a full exchange. 

Having fun in an icebreaker activity

Their enthusiasm and eagerness to meet each other set the tone for our time together, and the energy level didn’t fade as the program went on—if anything, it got even higher! Over the course of two weeks and five sessions, the students worked on developing their leadership skills; learned and taught each other about the history and culture of their two communities and the issues they face; reflected on ways they can take action to make change; completed service projects; and of course had a great time getting to know each other. There were silly ice breakers that resulted in some elaborate secret handshakes, Bolivian dance lessons, and extra time added to almost every breakout session—the conversations were too good to wrap up. 

Learning about Bolivian Folkloric dances

The program culminated in an awards ceremony where each student was presented with a certificate of participation and the chance to share their favorite moment from the program. We all gave many rounds of applause, shared lots of thank yous, and the students asked for each other’s contact information to stay in touch. 

A silly group photo at the end of the program

It only lasted a couple of weeks, and we only met each other virtually, but this was one of my favorite Amizade programs ever! I was so impressed by the students’ willingness to share personal reflections, ask difficult questions, and switch from silly, lighthearted games to serious, challenging topics and back again throughout each session. These young students reminded me how powerful service-learning can be in any format, and how easy it is to connect with people from different backgrounds if you allow yourself to fully open up to the experience. 

Puerto Rican students got to receive their certificates in person!

If you’d like to hear from the students themselves, check out the videos below. The videos are in Spanish, but YouTube offers auto-generated (not perfect!) captions in English.

Thank you to everyone who made this program possible and successful, including a couple of Amizade’s most dedicated supporters, whose generous donation provided the program’s foundation! We hope that this program is the first of many like it. With virtual service-learning programming, Amizade now plans to keep connecting young people in the communities where we work with international experiences and service opportunities like this every year.