A New Collaboration with the Peace Corps

Bridges to Community is excited to announce a new collaboration with the US Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic. On April 7th, 2016, Peace Corps Volunteer Bruno Estrada began working with our youth project at the new Youth Center in Derrumbadero, Dominican Republic. Below, Bruno shares a little bit about himself and his impressions of the youth program.

1. Introduce yourself and let us know why you decided to join Peace Corps.

My name is Bruno Estrada. I am a 25 year old Peace Corps volunteer serving in the Dominican Republic’s Health Sector. I work on many development projects specifically in the border province of Elias Piña. The biggest project has a goal of building 80 fuel-efficient healthy cook-stoves for our marginalized population. I am also a SUNY Purchase College Alumni- I graduated in 2012. My mother and father migrated to New York City from Colombia and Argentina, respectively, and I was born and raised in Queens, New York. Being raised in a Spanish speaking home, going to school and growing up with friends from diverse backgrounds, and seeing all of the injustice we had to endure were some factors that led to my joining the Peace Corps. However, one of the most influential factors was help from the YMCA of Greater New York’s staff and youth programs, which kept me away from bad influences while teaching me life skills that I did not learn in school. Also extremely influential was my mother, who made sure that I was humble by granting me the opportunity to travel back to her native Colombia. Seeing and experiencing some of the harsh conditions that the majority of the world lives in really influenced how I wanted to live my life. I will forever be thankful.

2. Why did you decide to partner with BTC?

One day while browsing through social media, I found a page where BTC had posted information about the inauguration of its new community center in Derrumbadero. I thought, “how awesome and environmentally conscious.” I decided to reach out to see how we could potentially work together to better both of our communities. After talking with Christina Balint for the first time and meeting the team, I was ecstatic to work with such a dedicated and experienced bunch. We immediately began working on an experimental, fuel efficient, cost effective, and eco-friendly cook-stove, which turned out to be even better than I had anticipated. Seeing everything that I learned from BTC, I decided to dedicate more time to the community and facilitate a PC-BTC work relationship.

3. What was your first impression of the Pre-youth and Youth Committees?

I was blown away by the youth in both Derrumbadero and Caimonial. They were very dynamic during our session and excited for what was to come in the next sessions. Being a Latino male who participated and worked in youth development programs with the YMCA of Greater New York as well as the YMCA of Central and Northern Westchester, not only was I impressed by the youth, but also by how well the staff interacted with these young people. It was refreshing to see invested adults working with marginalized youth and to see how the youth respected and embraced them.

4. Why do you think the youth chose Brigada Verde as their first workshop with PC? Why do you think Brigada Verde is important?

From my experience with BTC-DR’s projects, it seems that they’ve all had a focus on being intertwined with environmental education. When the youth were offered an opportunity to continue with that education, they were interested and eager to share their knowledge and gain more. In this year and a half of service, I have come to understand how the environment and development work are dependent on each other in many ways. Coming from a big city, I know how damaging the over-consumption of a population can be. By explaining to folks who live in rural areas that we need them more than they need us, teaching them how to empower themselves by educating younger generations as well as older ones, and through protecting life-giving resources, we will ensure that the empowerment they are feeling will be secure for future generations.

5. What do you think of the Youth Center made with 50,000 plastic bottles? In what ways do you see it benefiting the community?

The Youth Center is a pillar of progress. Not just because of its progressive method of building for the Dominican people, but also because of the opportunities it grants them just by being there. Having and using a space outside of a formal classroom setting and away from bad influences has been one of the major ways I have avoided systemic oppression. I feel that having this space has created a sense of pride in the youth that I worked with, and most importantly, cultivated a sense of belonging that they may not otherwise have had.

6. What do you hope to see come from this PC-BTC partnership and the joint workshops?

I believe this partnership links the best of both worlds of development. On one hand, you have a wealth of experience that comes from over fifty years of a Peace Corps presence in the Dominican Republic. On the other hand, you have the pioneering spirit of Bridges to Community that links willing individuals with the opportunity to lend a helping hand within a structure whose focus is sustainable empowerment. I hope that eventually we may be able to place a volunteer who can live and work with these communities while continuing to provide youth and community development technical support. The end goal is that the community no longer needs us and is instead leading the workshops we have shared as well as workshops of their own.

7. Is there anything else you would like to share?

Can we expand Bridges to Community to Colombia when I move there? Just a thought…