Helping people in Paraguay just the beginning for Canyon Crest student

By Karen Billing

Staff Writer

Del Mar teenager Trey Hahn spent a life-changing six weeks in Paraguay this summer. For the Canyon Crest junior, the experience was more than just building stoves, planting trees and running educational camps for children. It was valuable work for sure, but Trey returned to the U.S. armed with a whole new perspective and a renewed focus on service.

“It was the best summer of my life,” Trey said.

Trey traveled to Paraguay with Amigos de las Americas, an international nonprofit that empowers young high school and college students to develop leadership skills and increase multi-cultural understanding through service projects in Latin America.

Not only does Trey want to volunteer with the Amigos again next summer, he hopes to stay involved and move up the ranks to become a program supervisor by the time he’s in college and someday become a program director, in charge of managing an entire project in a Latin American country.

“I feel like he can do anything now,” said his mother Eileen. “He had to go out there and get a community’s support on his own. He was completely comfortable as a leader. I’m so proud he was successful and knew he would be.”

This summer the Amigos’ San Diego Chapter sent 18 high school students to seven different countries in Latin America, including Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru and Paraguay. Trey was one of four local students to go, the others were: Del Mar’s Erika Symczak, a senior at Torrey Pines High, and Canyon Crest juniors Molly Spitters and Jesse Ostroff.

To participate in the program, Trey underwent more than 140 hours of training in the months leading up to the trip, in addition to fundraising $3,000 to pay for the charitable works he would complete in Paraguay. The San Diego chapter fundraised by selling coffee and poinsettias and writing letters to possible donors. Individual families were then responsible to pay for airfare.

With his partner Diego Bravo, Trey spent six weeks living and working in the community of San Felipe from June 27-Aug. 10.

“Everything there is really different. Life is more simple than it is here,” Trey said. “The people were the nicest people, all of the community was family. If you were hungry you would just walk to the nearest house, everyone was so welcoming.”

Trey’s “family” was one of the younger ones in the community; the mother was 25 years old and the father 32. In a three-room house (kitchen, patio and bedroom), the parents lived with the father’s 6 year old, the mother’s 3 year old and another 10-year-old child who was not related to the family.

The home had dirt floors and there were no luxuries, such as a shower or toilet.

Before Trey built the family a new stove, they cooked all their meals on an indoor campfire on the ground. Smoke would always be in the home as there was always a fire burning.

A sample menu included armadillo (“Really good, my favorite”), cow brain (“not very good”), cow kidney (“squishy and a little bit weird”), pig heart and pig lungs.

“I didn’t expect him to encounter this type of adventure,” said mom Eileen. “It’s just phenomenal.”

Trey and his partner held a lottery to decide which homes would receive a new stove,

The stove was comprised of bricks and a mortar mix, a stovetop, box for an oven and a cement chimney. Trey had never constricted anything like these stoves before but grew to love the work.

“(The families) were really happy when we were done, they would thank us and invite us to come back anytime and eat with them,” said Trey.

One elderly woman in the community was really hoping for a stove but wasn’t selected in the lottery. Amigos was able to get a grant for a seventh stove from an organization called Plan International and the woman received her stove.

“She was very excited. She told us she’d kill a chicken for us,” Trey said.

The trees Trey planted served many purposes for the community. They were valuable sources of shade, seeds, fruit, a place for animals to live (poles were set against trees so chickens could climb into them to be protected from coyotes and wild dogs) and a source of wood, which was used to built houses, beds, chairs, and more.

“We would say that without trees there is no life there,” Trey said.

Each home that received a stove would also receive 10 trees. Amigos had 100 trees to begin with so the leftover 30 trees were planted for the entire community — they planted fruit trees around the schoolyard for the children to eat from.

Trey also assisted in running camps for the children, helping them learn Spanish and playing games. Trey said he is now essentially fluent in Spanish but they also speak Guaraní in Paraguay—he estimates he was able to learn nearly 100 words of Guaraní.

Trey hopes to establish an Amigos Club at Canyon Crest Academy this year in addition to playing varsity tennis in the spring and balancing “really hard classes.”

He is interested in studying linguistics and international studies.

The experience has changed Trey. He can’t stand to be inside for too long now and prefers being outside. Food has also changed for him after living with a family that depended only on themselves and their land for what they consumed. Since returning to Del Mar, Trey has started a vegetable garden in his backyard to grow corn, radishes, squash and tomatos.

Trey especially noticed how different things are in San Diego than in Paraguay during the blackout, when people didn’t have power for several hours and “everyone freaked out.” After the way he lived for six months, going to bed with the sunset and rising with sunrise, he thought not having power was nothing to stress about.

“There’s a lot bigger world out there and people live a whole different way outside this bubble. I was happier there then I have been anywhere and it shows that money isn’t everything,” Trey said. “Everyone should make an effort to see how good things can be somewhere else.”

Amigos has had an overwhelming response for summer 2012 projects. Anyone who missed the cut-off date can request to go on the waitlist for summer 2013 by contacting Joyce Mizock, San Diego chapter president, of the at (760) 632-1177 or Learn more about Amigos at