Photo By: Courtesy of Leslie Oslan
Mountain View High student Leslie Oslan, center, bonds with children in Paraguay. She spent her summer teaching and building fuel-efficient stoves.
Seniors Shane Fay from Bellarmine Preparatory and Leslie Oslan from Mountain View High recently returned from a humanitarian trip to Paraguay. The two Los Altos residents spent six weeks during the summer teaching and building fuel-efficient stoves for underprivileged Paraguayans.
Fay and Oslan worked through Amigos de las Américas, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to inspire global change by empowering young adults to grow as leaders and increase their multicultural understanding through training and community service projects in Latin America.
In all, 50 students from the U.S. traveled to the Paraguayan province of San Pedro with the program. They were dispersed throughout the province and lived with host families.
“My living arrangements were quite basic,” Fay said. “I lived in a room with a bare, concrete floor and raw wood planks for walls. The wind blew through quite a bit, and it did get quite cold at night. The kitchen had a bare, dirt floor and the cooking fire was in an old car wheel welded to four pieces of metal that served as legs.
Oslan endured similar conditions but, like Fay, didn’t let them detract from the experience.
“It was pretty rough, but it was great,” Oslan said.
The students hadn’t planned to surrender a large chunk of their summer vacation to experience luxury, anyway. Both Fay, who made two earlier trips to Mexico to build houses, and Oslan, embarking on her first, chose the program because they wanted to make a difference.
“My main goal was just to help the people in the community,” Oslan said. “I am 100 percent into community service … and my goal was just to get in there and make it a better place than it was before I came.”
The students provided a variety of services for the local residents. Oslan and Fay built 12 stoves for their respective communities and taught two hours a day at local schools. They instructed children 5-12 about the basics of personal care.
“We talked about simple things, like hygiene and disease and how to (take care of) yourself, to younger kids,” Oslan said.
The experience made a profound impact on both students. Oslan said she was taken aback by how positive the natives are despite the tough conditions.
“They have pretty much lower than the bare minimum, but they are the most amazing and happiest people in the entire world,” she said. “It’s just so great to be around them, and I really hope that I’ll get to go back one day.”
Fay returned home with a similar outlook. He said his priorities changed as a result of the trip.
“Life-changing is the easiest way to describe it,” he said. “My perspective has changed. The materialistic nature of American culture now seems trivial and childish, and people complaining over some new thing that they didn’t get seems just plain stupid. I also now have a greater appreciation for time spent with friends and family.”
For more information, visit www.amigoslink.org.