Below is a second-edit draft of my upcoming book, Only in Amigos. Only in Amigos is a short, nonfiction guidebook depicting my adventures in Ecuador volunteering with Amigos de las Americas. It features a mix of vital information about the program as well as the hilarious antics that come with any big adventure. For more information on Amigos de las Americas, please visit their website at
Please Note: Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.
Except for Elvis.
There were too many people named Elvis for it to matter at all.
Warning: The recommended daily allowance of sarcasm and/or sass for the average adult is roughly 5 paragraphs worth (public school teachers, however, have a higher tolerance for sarcasm and/or sass). This book is highly saturated in sarcastic and sassy content. This work is not meant to be read in a single day; plan accordingly so that you do not overdose. An intake of more than two chapters’ worth of sarcasm and/or sass may have fatal consequences. Additionally, your friends may avoid you if you become a cynic.
Have you ever been through college? Remember finals week?
Have you ever forgotten about a project until the night before its due? Remember that night?
Have you ever seen a TV/movie montage where the characters stay up all night working their brains to death?
Remember all that coffee? Remember the lack of sleep?
Well, imagine that, but twice as intense, and lasting for 6-8 weeks. Then, you have a good idea of what it’s like to be a Project Supervisor.
I barely knew what a Project Supervisor was before being assigned my own. But let me tell you, your P-Sup (pea-soup) is your life line. She’s the one you cry to when you’re home-sick. She’s the ones that drives you to the clinic when you’re sick-sick. She’s the one that gives you advice on how to improve your campamentos/CBIP. She brings you snacks, she delivers your letters, she interviews your host family before you even arrive in community, she proposes your project pitch to your partner organization. She is also, very likely, one of your closest friends and confidants. Essentially, P-Sups do everything that might require some kind of expertize/connections/freedom to leave community. I’ve referred to a P-Sup as a “she” so far because, on my project, each member of the Project Staff was female (I’ll detail that, as well as the title, shortly).
Just to make sure that everyone is clear on when, how, and why you might see/interact with your P-Sup, here is a list:
- You first meet your Supervisor when you arrive in country for Briefing. The Supervisors form the team that trains you. They wake you up in the morning, announce when meals are, hold the Energizers, answer questions on Health and Safety, etc.
- You are assigned your Supervisor when you’re assigned your community and partners. It all happens at the same time, generally through some fun, convoluted, complicated game (I’ll tell you how my Project Staff assigned our communities in a later chapter).
- A Project Supervisor oversees a couple of communities. For instance, my Supervisor oversaw my two partners and I, as well as two other partnerships in two other communities. 3 partnerships and 3 communities in total.
- Project Supervisors spend most of the week traveling between the communities they’re in charge of. Often yours will stay with you in community overnight. They come at least once a week for normal check-ups.
- Check-ups: While in community, you as a volunteer fill out weekly “Self-Assessments” (in English), detailing how you feel about your project progress, your partners, your physical/mental health, what things you’ve accomplished, etc. If you have a tooth-ache, you write it down. If your partner hurt your feelings, you write it down. If no one in community showed up for the CBIP Meeting, you write it down. Your Supervisor will sit down with you (in private, without your partner(s) present) and discuss what you’ve written. It’s perfectly normal to cry during these “check-ins”, since it’s the time to discuss all your insecurities, doubts, and pains. Your Project Supervisor is the one who guides you. I’ve seen Supervisors assign their volunteers “homework” such as: “drink more water”, “spend at least one hour with your host family every night”, “try going door to door to advertise your campamentos”, etc.
- Your Project Supervisor does seem like a demigod while you’re there, but she’s still only human. She eats with you. She sleeps with you. She plays music on her IPod, which she is able to fully charge since she is often in the city. Incredible abilities such as having regular access to electricity may seem mythical, almost divine, but I assure you, your P-Sup is 100% mortal. My supervisor loved watching our campamentos (and even helped out) and helping us do farm work. She was so enthusiastic about everything that, at some points, I thought she was crazy.
- Your Project Supervisor will bring you supplies and letters, and will deliver your letters. My supervisor once bought me a new pocket journal because I was running out of space in the only one I brought. She also brought me earplugs. I received two batches of mail from her, and delivered two letters through her.
- If you ever have an emergency (fever, dog bite, sprained ankle, etc.), your Project Supervisor is who you call—that’s an actual rule.
- If you ever need to go to the clinic, your Project Supervisor is the one who escorts you through the city/cities.
- If you need something printed or something else done in the city, your Supervisor does it for you.
- When buying supplies for your CBIP, your Supervisor must be present to take stock of everything.
- Your Supervisors will take pictures of you and your partners each week to post on the Amigos Tumblr page, or whatever Social Media is dominant in the nearby future. This assures your parents that you’re still alive and have all your limbs.
As you can see, your Project Supervisor is essentially everything. You may call the Project Director herself once or twice. But, honestly, everything else done outside of community is done through your Supervisor. You don’t talk to your Route Leader from training, you don’t talk to the President of Amigos, and you probably won’t even talk to your parents.
On that note, I have never heard of a bad Supervisor. Some Supervisors are more in the way of “I’ll bring you some Oreos next week”, whereas others are more in the way of “Drink more water or I’ll write you up”. These are incredibly dedicated Amigos volunteers. They are often college-age or college students and have gone on Amigos once or twice (not necessarily in your country/climate. My supervisor volunteered in Panama, the polar opposite of Cotopaxi). The only “break” they ever seem to have is on Sundays, when they do not travel from community to community. But this “break” is not a break. Not in, really, any sense of the word. That’s the day they do their laundry, keep up with contacts, catch up on journaling, and plan the next week’s activities. All assuming that no one gets sick on Sunday (guilty) and has to be brought in to the Clinic.
Now let’s give a shout-out to the Project Director(s)! They are the Alpha Sups. Essentially, they’re in charge of the P-Sups, and are even more qualified to do things like arrange luncheons, book hostels, communicate with partner organizations, and deal with legal issues. Since they aren’t directly assigned to communities, you won’t be seeing much of them between Briefing and Debriefing.
The Project Director(s) and the P-Sups make up your Project Staff. They live (in the sense that it is their home base and it’s where they keep their belongings, not that they spend the majority of their time there) at Staff House, as the name implies. Staff House is your entire project’s home base. The President of Amigos visited my community, but he stayed at Staff House. The Supervisors and Director(s) stay at Staff House. Staff House is likely not where you will be having Briefing/Debriefing. Those take place at hostels. Staff House is someone’s house in the city, belonging to someone who, like your host family, generously volunteered his/her hospitality to the Amigos Project Staff.
Our Staff House was in Latacunga, the capital city of the Cotopaxi region. It was an incredibly interesting modern home. There was plumbing and electricity, of course, but the pipes were visible. The family still had a basin for washing clothes, but I heard they also had a washing machine. They had a television in their well-furnished two-story house. A clothes line hung across the open expanse below the main skylight. Their shower was separated from the rest of the bathroom by a tiny, one-brick-high wall of tile. Their kitchen was about the size of our host family’s, but stocked instead with store-bought things like Oreos, pre-sliced bread, and the kind of fruit you would find in the United States. Project Staff had invaded with countless motivational posters, a timeline of Ecuadorian history, and notice boards for chores and such. There was even a color-coded, hand-drawn map of all the communities and nearby cities.