ACEC NY members volunteer with Bridges to Community

ACEC New York members traveled to the rural Village of Las Conchitas, Nicaragua, April 30 – May 7 with an international non-governmental organization (NGO), Bridges to Community (BTC). BTC is committed to providing a meaningful cross-cultural service learning experience for volunteers interested in sustainable long-term community development. With BTC, groups of volunteers travel to either Nicaragua or the Dominican Republic, two of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, to build houses, health clinics, and schools. Since its establishment in 1992, over seven thousand volunteers, of all ages, have traveled with BTC to change the lives of people living in the communities, as well as their own. To date, they have built roughly 1,000 houses in Nicaragua alone.

Our group of 12 business professionals, many of whom have traveled with BTC before, included the following ACEC New York members: Nanette Bourne of AKRF, Inc. (group leader and former board member of Bridges), Nancy Doon of VHB (board member of Bridges), Joe Munafo of Dagher Engineering and Eric Schwarz of Langan Engineering. We were tasked with building a 20×18 concrete block house for the Perez-Namendy family. The local community council is responsible for selecting the family most in need of a new home.

BTC masons led the project and directed the work of community and family members and the volunteers. The work involved digging a foundation, sifting sand, mixing massive amounts of concrete by hand (volcano style), laying block, cutting and bending light rods of steel, and painting. The work was sweetened by the daily visit of “the Eskimo man,” a local entrepreneur who biked to the site with a box filled with ice cream for all to enjoy – thanks to our group. As an observer and participant, it was fascinating to see how BTC approached the work in Nicaragua, creating the connections between masons, volunteers, staff, the community, and the family to get the work done. Our success was truly a collaborative effort.

During our stay, BTC volunteers spent the entire week together and shared every meal. We lived in a simple community building within a school complex, sleeping on cots dormitory style, using a latrine toilet and taking bucket showers with water heated by the sun. The delicious food included a country staple, rice and beans, for every meal. Without televisions or a nearby town, we found ourselves chatting about everything, from work to life to discussing the capacity of a latrine (a running joke). During the evenings, we shared meals with the masons, the Perez-Namendy family, and played games or met local people who were artists, crafts persons and scholarship students. This resulted in a fairly immediate and close bond amongst participants.

The Nicaraguan hosts also wanted BTC volunteers to experience the history and natural beauty of their country so at the end of the trip, BTC arranged for an incredible 24 hour whirlwind tour to a nature preserve where we swam in a crater lake and then to the historic Colonial City of Granada where we walked the picturesque streets and visited the cathedral. While away, the masons completed the red tile floor and erected the roof. Then we returned to the house for the formal inauguration, a community celebration with balloons, music and piñatas for the children. During the ceremony, the proud homeowner said, “I never dreamed I would have a house built by Bridges.” With organizations like BTC, dreams do come true!

If interested in more information about the BTC Spring 2017 business professionals group trip, please contact Nancy Doon at ndoon@vhb.com or Nanette Bourne at nbourne@akrf.com