International Women’s Day: Impressive Women of Bridges

In honor of International’s Women’s Day, we are sharing stories of some of the amazing women of Bridges to Community. 

Katie Viscardi, Bridges Volunteer

Katie Viscardi, Bridges Volunteer

Originally from Hazlet, New Jersey, Katie took her first Bridges trip over Spring Break in 2013. Her uncle had been taking students on trips to Nicaragua for years, and, after each trip, she listened to his stories, but wanted to experience it for herself.

On her first trip, she travelled to the community of El Portillo in Nindirí, Masaya. As a 16-year-old at the time, Katie says the pictures and stories from her uncle did not prepare her, as nothing fully registered until she had to take her first bucket shower. At such a young age, she hadn’t really had the chance to leave her comfort zone before. However, she quickly learned to embrace it and loved the experience, especially the sense of community and selfless attitude of the community members.

She says, “When we were working on the houses, local kids who just happened to be passing the site would stop what they were doing to come lend a hand in the efforts. Even the ice cream man who was riding by on his bike and cart pulled over and grabbed a shovel at one point. They all did this without being asked, and for nothing in return. That was amazing. I had never seen that type of community anywhere else.”

Before Katie even had the chance to exit the airport after arriving back in the States, she was already thinking about how to further expand on her new perspective, and returned on three more Bridges trips.

Katie still feels the impact of her four trips with Bridges. Now a junior studying Public Policy & Administration at Wagner College, Katie decided to study abroad in Costa Rica this semester. She is currently in a Sustainability and Development program at the International Center for Development Studies in San Pedro, Costa Rica. Katie admits that her experience with Bridges greatly impacted her decision, and she hopes to improve her Spanish and gain a better understanding of Latin American culture during her time abroad.

After graduating from college, Katie would like to attend a Graduate Program to get my Master’s in Public Administration, or a similar field. Long-term, she hopes to pursue a career in a nonprofit similar to Bridges, that advocates for social growth and empowering communities.

Bonnie Gordon, Masaya Site Coordinator

Hailing from Pittsburgh, Bonnie Gordon is the daughter of a local children’s TV host (Captain Jim). She studied Theater Arts and Fiction Writing at the University of Pittsburgh and was involved in local theater productions at three small theaters in the Pittsburgh area. Before moving to Nicaragua, she worked for 18 years as a Youth Director at a community youth program in Saxonburg, Pennsylvania.

Bonnie’s involvement with Bridges to Community began in 1992 when she first traveled to Tierra Colorada, Nicaragua on the very first “pioneer” (pre-Bridges) trip. After that first trip, she continued to lead volunteer trips to Nicaragua, about 15 in total, between 1992-1999. In 1999, she moved to Nicaragua and became a full-time employee of Bridges.

Bonnie has lived full-time in Nicaragua since then and was in Masaya when the 2000 earthquake hit. So many homes were affected at this time that Bridges decided to start the housing program. As the Site Coordinator of the Masaya Site, she manages the programming and staff in the Masaya site and continues to work with groups. Bonnie’s longevity with the organization has allowed her to build strong relationships with Bridges volunteers, supporters, and community leaders and members that go back 21 years or more. Bonnie continues to inspire Bridges staff and volunteers with occasional staff “productions” on Scholarship Night and at staff retreats, and delights children in the communities with her care for and attention to them. A friend to one and all, Bonnie lives with 2 dogs, 2 turtles, a cat, and 3 other humans!

Dr. Ghaudy Alvarado Dávila, Former Bridges Scholarship Student 

From the time that Ghaudy was 4 years old, she wanted to be a doctor, specifically a pediatrician. When she played as a child, she pretended to be a doctor, injecting her dolls and prescribing them medicines from booklets that her mom made her.

Despite this wish, Ghaudy and her family have faced economic hardship that made her dream of become a doctor very difficult. Her family is large, and she has five brothers and sisters. Her father, a car mechanic, has been the only source of financial support since her mother became ill and had to stop working. Ghaudy is also a single mother.

Thanks to a scholarship that Ghaudy received from Bridges, she was able to study general medicine. It has been a long and difficult road because her son, Miguel Angel, was only 2 months old at the time she began studying medicine, and so Ghaudy had to balance her studies with the responsibility of being a new mother.

After eight years of medical school and residency at the Hospital Militar Alejandro Dávila Bolaños, the army hospital in Managua, Ghaudy became a doctor of General Medicine, and now dedicates her services to caring for children, especially those in their first years of life. Her son is now ten years old, studying in 5th grade.

Ghaudy loves her daily work, and never forgets those days when she is present for births. She says, “There are not sufficient words to express what it feels like, to get to help bring a new human being into this world.”

Her goal is to continue to dedicate her life to protecting children, the most vulnerable in society, by returning to study a sub-specialty in Pediatric Oncology. This is her dream because, throughout her experience in the medical field, she has seen that children are the ones who fight hardest to defeat cancer. Ghaudy is so thankful for the support she received from the Bridges to Community Scholarship Program. As she explains, “Without help from the Scholarship Program, I would not have achieved my dream of becoming a doctor.”

Ivania del Socorro Balmaceda Alemán, House Beneficiary

Doña Ivania is a 46-year-old single mother of two children, Yefri Daniel and Kenia Vanessa. Before receiving a Bridges house, she lived in a home constructed from rustic materials and zinc. There was no floor and the roof was in such bad condition that the family’s belongings would get wet every time it rained. Additionally, the house was so unstable that Ivania always worried that the wind would knock down the house on her daughter while she was at work.

Because of her family’s economic hardship as a child, Ivania stopped studying after 6th grade. Ivania works as a maid, and looks for extra work washing and ironing clothes, as well as working in the fields during the peanut harvest season. She earns about $97 monthly.

She says, “With my salary, I was never going to be able to build a good house, this is why it has always been my goal for my daughter to study and become a professional; my dream was for her to earn enough in the future to better our home.” Ivania always makes sure her children are able to study, saving the little she can from her salary, and taking out small loans to cover costs.

In November 2017, Ivania received a Bridges home constructed by the Mark Rollins Business Leader group. Because Ivania had to take apart her humble home in order to build the new home on her plot of land, she and her son slept in a hammock in the patio of her house during the construction process, guarding materials until her new house was built.

Today, her house is sturdy, and Ivania knows that the family’s possessions are safe and the wind won’t knock down the house. This security allows Ivania to take extra work and work until late. Her son has made a few small additions with the extra materials, stuccoing the wall and adorning the sidewalk in the front part of the house. He continues to arrive at the worksite to support the construction of other homes in the community.

Ivania and her family are so grateful to be blessed with the new home. She says, “It was always my dream to work hard and save to construct a beautiful home. Today that dream is a reality, and I am so happy that my children can enjoy it.” 

Ivania is also looking toward the future. Her goal now is to open a small business selling tortillas, cheese, and cooked beans. She is thinking about applying for a loan to be able to construct the special stove needed to cook for the business.

Ivania is also looking toward the future. Her goal now is to open a small business selling tortillas, cheese, and cooked beans. She is thinking about applying for a loan to be able to construct the special stove needed to cook for the business.

Happy International Women’s Day!