Having previously heard of The Rafiki Foundation through her Bible study group, she looked into its work and signed up to volunteer at the Ugandan village for the month of July. During her time there, she worked as a teaching assistant for a class of 4-year-old students, tutored new students in English and helped out with odd jobs, anything from sorting pajamas to giving children shots. After completing work for the day, the entire village ate dinner together and the children had play time afterwards.
"I would say definitely playing with the kids after dinner every day was the highlight of the experience," Loperena said. "It was cool that I got to, every day, read stories with them, sing with them."
In fact, the entire experience has had a profound effect on Loperena. Since returning to the United States, she has decided to switch her major from liberal arts to the social sciences where she can pursue cross-cultural studies--a decision, she said, is a direct result of the experience she had this summer.
"I think it has changed my global view more than anything else," she said. "I learned you have to experience other cultures for yourself before making judgments on that culture, which is something I'm glad to learn."
Amador grads are not the only ones giving their summer to international service projects. Current Amador students Amanda Perceval, 17, and Kyle Escobar, 15, traveled to the Dominican Republic with nonprofit Building Homes Building Hope for two weeks in July where they built two homes for local residents and added a kitchen to an already standing home. The two, who met on the trip, were part of a group of 35 teens and eight adults, one of whom is Escobar's father, John.
Most days, the volunteers would help at the work sites by mixing concrete, moving cinderblocks and putting up walls--aiding the contractors leading the construction any way they could. The homes went to families that were overcrowded in their current residences or who had lost their home to fire or flood. Escobar said the highlight of the trip was seeing how appreciative the families were for their new homes.
"It was really eye-opening because of how different it is from here, but how everyone is still really happy," Escobar said.
Perceval said she enjoyed getting to know the culture by living with a Dominican family for the two weeks, even though the language barrier was hard at times.
"What interested me most was getting to live with the people and stay in a house with a family in the town," Perceval said. "You're just thrown into it when you get there."
This was the first time Perceval and Escobar had done an international service project, and both said the experience changed their perspective.
"They are really friendly," Perceval said. "The people are really amazing there, and they work really hard for the little they have ... It changed me a lot, just coming back to America. There, when you pass people on the street, people say 'hi' to you, but here, people pass each other without speaking."
This cross-cultural connection is one of the main goals of Building Homes Building Hope. The organization, founded by former Peace Corps volunteer Lynne Moquete, strives to have tangible effects on the Dominican Republic community, but also take Americans out of their comfortable positions and gain a global perspective.
Now that Loperena, Perceval and Escobar are back home and fully entrenched in the world of classes, homework and tests, they haven't forgotten the lessons they learned this summer or the people they met. While they don't have any immediate plans to continue their service, they all said they hope to do more projects in the future, perhaps visiting other countries or going back and continuing the relationships formed this summer.
Information about The Rafiki Foundation can be found at its Web site, www.rafiki-foundation.org. Information for Building Homes Building Hope is available at www.homesandhope.org.
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