Poverty is a complex problem that, coupled with a lack of opportunity, forces many Latin Americans to leave their homes and migrate to more developed countries. Bridges to Community is tackling that problem and reducing illegal immigration with our multifaceted, sustainable approach to bettering communities and creating opportunities for Nicaraguans and Dominicans in their home countries.
Housing is the first step toward making a family safe and healthy. Bridges helps secure land titles for owners and constructs more than 60 homes per year. A tile or cement floor, solid walls, and a new zinc roof ensure that families do not get wet when it rains or small children who play on the floor do not pick up diseases. Doors and windows that lock keep belongings safe so that all family members can work outside the home or go to school. Many of our housing beneficiaries have been able to find jobs outside the home or even start their businesses after receiving a house. Because our housing project is not free–families pay a symbolic $10 per month into a general community fund for a total of about 20% of the cost of the house–housing beneficiaries have a sense of ownership and are proud of their new home.
Health is also key to improving the lives of community members in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, and Bridges takes several steps to better the health of rural communities. Sanitary latrines, biodigesters, and smoke-efficient stoves reduce the incidence of illness. Our public health brigades survey our community members to identify problem areas and tailor workshops to raise awareness about these issues. Our family gardens provide supplemental food and income to community members, curtailing the need to move to find nutritious food and economic opportunities.
Perhaps most importantly, Bridges increases access to education for youth in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. According to the Global Partnership for Education, “education reduces poverty, increases individual earnings, reduces economic inequalities, and promotes economic growth.” Bridges approaches education from various angles. We build school classrooms to reduce overcrowding in classrooms, provide scholarships to students who would otherwise not be able to afford higher education, and counsel and educate youth in our DR Youth Center. Many of our youth beneficiaries admit they, in the absence of an example or guidance from an adult figure, they had no plans for their futures before they worked with us in our Youth Center and began to set goals for their lives. Most of these youth are now studying at university. Other youth had always aspired to become a professional and help bring their families out of poverty but had no chance of attending university before they received a Bridges scholarship. With increased access to education and the ability to become a professional, these youth have access to a broader scope of potential employment and do not need to emigrate to find economic opportunities.
Likewise, this class of working professionals in the DR and Nicaragua that has been created through our programs work to better not only their own lives but also lift their families and their communities out of poverty. Former scholarship students turned working professionals return to their communities and fight to better the conditions for all. Many become community leaders, and others volunteer in their community. For example, several of our former scholarship students who have become lawyers offer pro bono representation
Bridges looks to increase economic opportunities in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. We provide employment opportunities to locals, as the majority of our staff are country-natives. We source and use local materials to support the local economy. Likewise, our economic development program also provides opportunities to whole communities so that they do not need to turn to more developed countries for work. In Nicaragua, Bridges’ housing beneficiaries pay a small monthly fee of $10/month for 7 years into a community fund. We train community leaders through leadership & finance workshops to manage these funds after Bridges stops building houses in the community, and continue to counsel them long after projects have ended in the community. Community members can use these community funds for small business loans, school or home repairs, health clinic maintenance, etc. In this way, leaders and community members themselves are empowered. They learn to make decisions and solve their own problems with the resources they have available, decreasing their need to emigrate to other countries.
Bridges’ projects build the infrastructure needed, arm communities with the knowledge and education, and provide the opportunities for people to feel empowered in their own communities. Together, our projects together inspire change and cultivate the skills of community leaders and residents that help break the cycle of poverty, and reduce the hopelessness and desperation that lead immigrants to seek work in other countries.
Our work changes lives, but we can’t do it without your help! Your support for Bridges to Community will help to empower entire communities in developing countries. Help us make an impact on more than 5000 parents and children in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.