Alumni Spotlight: Lily Petroff

Lily Petroff voluneered in San Pedro, Paraguay from: June 14- August 11, 2011. She is 17, currently living in Los Gatos, California and will be attending the University of California at Berkeley in Fall 2012.

Why did you decide to volunteer with Amigos de las Americas in Paraguay?

Lily: I decided to volunteer abroad with Amigos because I felt I really needed a challenge. Growing up I have had everything I could have ever possibly asked for; family and friends that support me through all of my endeavors, offer comfort and assistance when I need it, and give me the confidence I sometimes lack. Despite this amazing network of people, I decided that in order to become more independent, I needed to tackle some of these obstacles completely on my own.

children in Paraguay

Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

Lily: In the morning I would wake up, eat a light breakfast with my family, and head out to teach classes at the school with my partner. Almost every week day morning we did this, and each lesson had a different theme or goal. Because we were teaching mostly younger kids, we played lots of educational games about human health or the environment and did lots of drawing (which the kids there are so excited and grateful about because many of them do not have paper, crayons, or markers).

After classes, we always played in a soccer game at the school which was always so much fun! We would then walk to whoever's house was on our meal plan for lunch (which is always delicious in Paraguay). If it was not a busy day, after lunch I would take a quick ciesta or nap, as tradition in Paraguay. However on busy days, my partner and I would go straight to build a fogone at someone's house. Building a fogone usually takes around two days, and its pretty strenuous work! However, it is unbelievably rewarding when you see the family cooking on their new stove, as opposed to the dangerous open fire they survived on beforehand.

After a long day of work, I would go to my house to shower and meet back up with my partner to walk to dinner at the next house on our meal plan. I loved having this meal plan because it gave us an opportunity to dine with almost everyone in the community, and they were always so excited to have us so I was constantly full. After an enjoyable evening with a family, I would return to my house. The night would conclude with either talking all night with my host sister (who I shared a bed with), writing in my journal, or reading my book.

What made this volunteer experience unique and special?

Lily: I think the biggest tip I can give to a new volunteer is to go into it without any expectations. If you go into it waiting for it to "change your life" you'll completely miss out on the way it can really change your life. All of the little things that make up your experience, like for mine, picking corn in the fields with my host dad, watching soccer games in the rain, and drinking terere under the orange tree with the whole family (even in silence) are what I will always remember and will always keep so deer to my heart for the rest of my life. Especially after you leave you will really understand the value of your experience. It feels incredible knowing that I have a family somewhere else in the world watching out for me and who loves me as their own.

My next tip of advice is that your volunteer experience is exactly what you put into it. If you feel alone or alienated in the beginning because you're living in a community of people you don't know, my advice is to meet as many people as you possibly can. You can bond with people by asking them about cultural traditions or asking if they can teach you how to cook something! Plus its super fun!

How has this experience helped you grow personally and professionally?

Lily: My experience with AMIGOS has changed my life in more ways than I could have expected. While initially when I got home, I realized the value of my experience in terms of being thankful for the material things I have, what I value more from my experience are the memories I will have forever.

For some reason, of all of the things I did in Paraguay, the thing I most remember was the day I sat with my host dad and brother for hours under the shade of the orange tree unshelling peanuts. Some of the time we would talk to each other, some of the time we would smile, and some of the time we would just be silent, but it is the most peaceful moment of my life. Their tranquil culture and lifestyle has shown mean that the simplest moments make life worthwhile. They have no serious complications, or busy obligations so they live their lives continuously in the present, laughing at every opportunity, dancing to every song, and surrounding themselves with people they love. It is this peace of mind that I seek to find in every situation I encounter back home.