Find Your Mission in the Mountains

Take a deep breath more than a mile above the sea, and embrace the unique combination of nature and culture among the Andes. You can do your part for the environment by protecting local wildlife, working to reduce waste in a historic city, or teaching the next generation of conservationists. Or immerse yourself in fair trade, supporting artisan traditions with deep roots in the indigenous peoples that have inhabited Cuenca for more than 10,000 years.

 

Overview

About the City

Cuenca is Ecuador’s third-largest city and the capital of the Azuay province.  Known for it’s Spanish colonial architecture, the center of the city has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the prevalence of historic buildings. At 8,200 feet above sea level, the city is surrounded by the Andes mountains and provides an excellent base for exploring Ecuador’s magnificent biological diversity. Cuenca has a reputation as an artistic and intellectual hub, as evidenced by the impressive number of galleries, museums, artists, poets, and writers in the area. With a mild year-round temperature, lots of arts and culture, and beautiful colonial buildings surrounded by cobblestone streets, Cuenca is a fascinating place to spend your bridge-year.

About the Organization

AMIGOS is an international, non-profit organization that, for nearly 50 years, has operated on the belief that young people can change the world. Founded and headquartered in Houston, Texas, AMIGOS has grown throughout the United States with 25 affiliated chapters in major cities, and is working with 30 partner agencies throughout the Americas. Today, AMIGOS conducts a broad array of health, social enterprise, human rights, environmental and education programs in response to priorities identified by host communities and partner agencies in Latin America.

Since 1965, more than 25,000 AMIGOS volunteers have gained a lifelong commitment to community service while strengthening multicultural understanding and friendships throughout the Americas. While the specific projects have changed over the years, the vision has remained the same: a world where each young person becomes a lifelong catalyst for social change.

Fellowship Structure

Bridge-Year Fellows attend the Tufts 1+4 orientation on the Tufts campus in late August before traveling to Ecuador. Upon arrival in country, AMIGOS will provide a comprehensive in-country orientation to familiarize fellows with their new community and prepare them for their service experience. Fellows will then spend a month enrolled in intensive Spanish language classes, while learning about their new city and culture. After one month of Spanish immersion, Fellows will begin their full-time service placement, which will last from approximately October through late May. Fellows with strong Spanish language skills can opt out of the Spanish classes, beginning their full-time service in September. Fellows will return home in late May, and participate in the Tufts 1+4 Post-Service Retreat in mid-September 2018, as they begin their first semester at Tufts.

Language Training

Although Spanish language background is not required for participation, any Spanish that you bring to the program will be a great asset. For those without prior Spanish knowledge, intensive Spanish is offered through pre-departure resources and one month of full-time language training at the beginning of the program, followed by ongoing weekly classes. Students who have some working knowledge of Spanish can participate in the one-month language training or begin working at their placement during this time, depending on their language level and preference.

Housing and Meals

Fellows stay with carefully selected host families, which provide a private room for each participant. Living with a host family offers an immersive opportunity to experience the culture of your new community, and to build relationships with locals. Host families provide room and board for participants, and most participants eat all meals with their host family unless they are traveling. All participants will live with these host families in their headquarter city and commute (no more than an hour) to their service placement around or outside of the city.

Support Services and Health

In addition to receiving ongoing support from Tisch College staff and senior management throughout the Bridge Year, Fellows in Cuenca benefit from three levels of local support: AMIGOS staff, individual placement supervisors, and host families. AMIGOS local staff conduct weekly meetings, hold weekly office hours, conduct orientation and ongoing workshops, and plan and supervise group excursions. AMIGOS staff is available 24 hours a day to assist Fellows with any issues that arise throughout their Bridge Year, whether related to health, homestay, service placement, or other areas. Local placement supervisors will oversee Fellows’ daily work and contribute to their learning and growth. Host families contribute to Fellows’ cultural integration and provide a safe and supportive home environment throughout the Bridge Year.

In order to be eligible to participate in AMIGOS, Fellows must be able to meet the General Health Criteria for AMIGOS Participants. If you have any questions about these requirements, please contact us. AMIGOS has developed a list of recommended urgent and primary care providers in Cuenca and the surrounding area, and will assist Fellows with any health concerns that arise during their Bridge Year. Fellows will have international medical insurance through AMIGOS as well as international emergency medical coverage through Tufts University’s partnership with International SOS.

Transportation

Fellows use the public transportation system or walk within the city.

Skills Fellow Will Develop

The program is specifically designed to give participants a hands-on, real-life experience and unlock each participant’s potential as a catalyst for social change. Fellowships are individually tailored to meet the needs and interests of each participant. This experience provides a crucial opportunity for enriching one’s worldview before deciding on a field of study or career path. In addition, Bridge-Year Fellows can expect to improve their communication and collaboration skills, become better critical thinkers and decision-makers, and be able to take initiative and do self-directed work.

Fellows also develop several concrete skills that are applicable in a variety of fields: Community Assessment and Relationship Building; Project Visioning and Action Planning; Resource Mobilization; and Project Implementation and Evaluation.

Activities Beyond Service

Outside of their structured service, Bridge-Year Fellows participate in the following activities:

  • Ongoing workshops: Throughout the year, Fellows meet up for reflection activities and workshops about specific themes. These workshops facilitate greater learning through peer support and reflection, and serve as a means to connect AMIGOS volunteers to local, civic-minded youth who will participate in some of the workshops.
  • Peer Learning and Youth Events: Fellows help plan and execute a youth-focused event in Cuenca. This project is selected and created by the Fellows in conjunction with Ecuadorian youth. Fellows help raise funds and garner the support of local civic institutions to carry out the event.
  • Excursions: Fellows travel to places of interest in Ecuador, like Baños and Tena, so that Fellows see more of the country and participate in intensive learning and reflection activities. These excursions include visits to historical sites and fun outdoor activities like hiking and swimming. Their main focus, however, is to bring volunteers together for decompression time, ongoing evaluation, learning, and reflection.

Service Experience

If you want to work in a specific service area not listed here, please contact us! When possible, we will work to find a placement within our service locations that fits your skills and interests.


Arts, Culture & Social Entrepreneurship

Bridge-Year Fellows with a passion for the arts will be matched with a placement that compliments their skills and interests in this field. Potential placements include working with museums and government offices in Cuenca to promote arts and culture as tools of development, or working with a social enterprise marketing fair trade indigenous handicrafts. Work may include assisting with event planning for art exhibitions and shows; collaborating on artistic design; proposal writing and fundraising; promoting community programs and local arts classes; developing cultural tourism initiatives; supporting courses for local artists on social media, marketing and product development; general communications and office administration; and more. Those who are placed with the social enterprise will also have the opportunity to do regular visits to artisan cooperatives outside the city to work directly with artisans and learn about a variety of traditional crafts and artistic methods. These placements offer exciting opportunities to learn about diverse artistic communities and opportunities within and surrounding the city, and contribute to arts promotion and sustainability.

 


Biodiversity & Environmental Protection

Placements in this area offer the unique opportunity to contribute to animal protection, biodiversity, and public policy for environmental sustainability. Work may include supporting a frog rescue program promoting biodiversity within the city; communications and office work supporting public policy; conducting environmental education classes in local schools; assisting biologists with lab work; and more. This is a great opportunity to combine office and field work to promote the health of Cuenca’s natural and animal resources, and would be a great fit for fellows interested in biology, environmental science, animal welfare, or public affairs.

 

 


Urban Agriculture & Food Systems

Bridge-year Fellows who are interested in urban farming, agriculture, and food waste can apply to placements focused on sustainable food production and distribution. Based on their interests and skills, fellows may be matched to an urban farming center that serves as a demonstration farm for community members to learn to grow their own food, or a food bank facility that collects donations to feed 500 of the neediest families in Cuenca. Work may include assisting with farming, food production and/or distribution, supporting education campaigns related to agriculture and food waste; outreach and communications to promote the organization’s work among community members and potential partner entities; assisting with compost creation and promotion; and more. Fellows in these placements will have the opportunity to learn about hunger, food waste, sustainable agriculture practices, and more through a combination of hands-on and office work.


Waste Management, Green Energy & Sustainability

Placements in this area may focus on recycling and waste management or alternative energy and sustainable growth. Cuenca has developed the most efficient waste management system in Ecuador, and fellows who work in this field can contribute to efforts to decrease waste and improve recycling compliance in the city. Work may include assisting with recycling campaigns; outreach to students and community groups to increase knowledge of waste management principles and programs; teaching English to the children of the vulnerable population of recycling collectors throughout the city; working with market vendors to reduce waste and increase the use of compost; providing educational tours of waste management and recycling facilities for school and community groups; and more. Placements in this area offer the unique opportunity to collaborate with a wide variety of stakeholders and population groups, from market vendors and recycling collectors and their families, to school groups and Cuenca’s expat community.

Students may also be placed with a civil engineer within an eco-park that houses multiple renewable and alternative energy start-ups. Work in this project may include supporting efforts to make the eco-park building itself more sustainable, supporting the work of the energy start-ups within the eco-park, promoting sustainable energy and social entrepreneurship with students and young people, learning about design and construction of eco-buildings, and more. These placements are a great match for Fellows who are interested in urban development, public management, sustainability, environmental protection and education, and related areas.


Youth Education & Leadership

Fellows who are interested in working with young adults and promoting workforce education, leadership skills, and social entrepreneurship training will find a variety of opportunities in Cuenca. Working in this field may include supporting workshops and programming for high school graduates and young adults who are unemployed; incubating new ideas to support this vulnerable population; providing expertise and training in computer literacy, English language, or other skills like art or music; and more. Fellows working in this area will also have the exciting opportunity to learn alongside the population they serve, and see firsthand what skills and trainings are most useful to support budding social entrepreneurs. Organizations that provide these programs rely on donations, and fellows may also support grant-writing and presentations for donors, providing insight into nonprofit management and contributing to the long-term sustainability of this important work.

View more photos from Ecuador.