Patrick Mullett, Medical Student, University of Nevada Reno, School of Medicine

Patrick Mullett

“I am a medical student from Reno, Nevada. This was my first trip to Nicaragua in a trip organized by Bridges to Community. I traveled to the village of Tadazna, in the Northern Autonomous Region of the country as a healthcare provider working with other medical students to serve in a small clinic. The perspective gained was profound, not just for me, but all of my fellow colleagues.

You hear about people being “dirt poor,” but you don’t imagine that is the case when you see the locals. They may be poor by monetary standards, but you’ve never seen “rich” until you’ve seen an entire village that is more content living in houses they built together.

Selfishly, I think this trip offered major personal growth, as both an individual and a team player. This experience offered challenges that required us to ‘rise to the occasion.’ Challenges such as having too many patients to see and not enough space in our clinic caused us to improvise – erecting new patient rooms on the fly. Not having appropriate tools or running out of medications caused us to seek alternative treatment plans and to resort to using our own personal meds for those who needed it more than us. Having limited resources encouraged team building and improved my own personal leadership abilities.

Seeing the sick people in need can make you feel guilty in a way for owning nice things. I found that it was not about giving up the resources you have, it’s about using them to do the right thing. The Nicaraguans demonstrated to all of us what the word “community” meant, where neighbors supported each other, and they showed genuine compassion for one another. Thank you for helping me gain this valuable perspective, Bridges to Community!”

A. Valdini, MD, MPH, Faculty Member at Lawrence Family Medicine Residency, Lawrence, MA

Dr. Tony Valdini

“It has been our joy to be a part of Bridges to Community since 2005. Bringing medical students, residents, and attending doctors back to the same villages in Nicaragua, where resources are very limited, has been an important piece of BTC’s efforts to produce a “rising tide” of healthier, stronger, safer, and better-educated Nicaraguans.

Thanks to Bridges staff and board for their support of the medical brigades, and the recent funding and construction of a spectacular clinic in Hormiguero. Lots more work to do… Venceremos!”

Matt Anderson, Engineering Student, Class of 2018, University of Virginia, Charlottesville

Matt Anderson

“This past summer has been my first experience with Bridges to Community, and I could not be happier with the way it has turned out.

One of the things a volunteer to a foreign country should be considering is whether or not they understand the cultural expectations of the community, and the language as well. While my team did our best to become well-versed in both before we arrived, there were some things that cannot be learned without visiting. This is where our two Bridges to Community guides and translators became an invaluable resource.

Another thing a traveler should worry about is the continued impact of their project: what will happen to our project after our team leaves? BTC has an answer to this question too, in their continued presence in each community they visit. No project is abandoned after a group leaves. Rather, BTC has contracts with the community to continue in each location for many years.

Overall, our experience with BTC was very positive. As a testament to this, we will be returning next year to visit our site for a second time. It is important to check back up, and BTC makes that very possible.

We really enjoyed our experience with BTC, and I am looking forward to working with your Siuna team next year as well.”

Jiffy Lesica, Class of 2019, Wilton High School, Wilton, CT

Jiffy Lesica

“For the past three summers, I have traveled from Connecticut to Nicaragua with Bridges to Community. Each year I am met with big smiles and warm hugs from old and new friends at the airport. We travel together for hours en route to the worksite, catching up about the months that have passed. I arrive in Mojon and am greeted by familiar faces. Several I have played basketball with at the schoolyard for three years… a special young friend has come a great distance to spend the week with me… many others I have worked long hours with side by side each time I go… I play chess with one boy, cards with his brother … the proud owners of a new house, bake us cake and proudly welcome us into their first ‘home’ – the wet stucco not even yet dry.

I share years long and newly forged bonds for a week with very special people, and each year I am overjoyed to bring friends along with me to share in the experience. When we leave, tears are shed, hugs are shared, yet a sense of joy surrounds every person who I know so well because we all are certain, that we will see each other again.

My trips with Bridges have allowed me to begin to understand the true meaning of friendship, happiness, and community. I hope to continue to explore how I personally define these words over each year that I return to Nicaragua. Thanks to Bridges, my trips no longer feel as though I am traveling to a distant country full of strangers, experiencing things unknown, but instead, I feel each year – that I am returning home.”

David Albano, High School English Teacher, Fox Lane High School, Bedford, NY

David Albano

“Bridges to Community trips present young people opportunities for lasting optimism and enable them to become thoughtful, worldly adults. Many of our students continue to stay connected to Bridges to Community into college by continuing to participate in trips or by staying connected to Bridges leaders.

However, after more than eight trips as a teacher leading students, the most astounding aspect of the trips remains the connection our students make to the community we work with. Through the week, the Nicaraguan children reach across culture and language and embrace our group. The goodbyes are heartfelt, and for those students who return the following year and re-visit the previous year’s community, the reunions are joyful.”

Carla Berry & Linnet Tse, Trip Organizers for St. John’s Episcopal Church in Larchmont, NY

Carla Berry & Linnet Tse (standing in back)

“Over the course of more than a decade, St John’s service trips to Nicaragua with Bridges to Community have changed the lives of the dozens of young people and adults who have gone on our trips. The trips have been an essential part of our hands-on outreach initiatives.

For us, the trips have been much more than simply building a house… it’s been about the relationships we’ve formed – with the beneficiary families, the local communities, the masons, the local Bridges staff, and with each other – and the opportunity to gain a much deeper understanding and appreciation for another culture as well as the major issues faced by a developing country. For our many repeat trip participants, they say ‘no matter how many times we’ve come, the experience never gets old.’ We get so much more out of the trips than we give… and, it’s fun, too!”

Liz Shelbred – Senior, President of Bridges to Community Club, John Jay High School, Cross River, NY

Liz Shelbred

“Bridges to Community has completely changed my entire outlook on the world ever since my first trip during my Sophomore year of high school. Upon arriving to Jinotega, I was immediately welcomed into a place so previously foreign to me with open arms – Bridges staff, Nicaraguan masons, and family members all made an incredible effort to ensure that my group felt safe and comfortable in their community. In the past two years, the beautiful friendships that I developed with Nicaraguan families, masons, volunteers and Bridges staff during my trips have continued to remind me just how much I miss mixing cement in the hot Nicaraguan sun.

The profound passion that I have developed for working with Nicaraguan families has inspired me over the past two years to bring Bridges back home with me. As President of my high school’s Bridges to Community club, I have worked hard to spread the message of Bridges across my own community through local fundraising and events. I have first-handedly seen how infectious the passion for helping others has been among my own classmates, friends and community.

Bridges to Community is extremely unique as a non-profit service organization in that it emphasizes the difference between working for those in need and working with them. As I worked alongside experienced Nicaraguan masons, cracking jokes with them, telling stories and exchanging slang between our languages, I felt that I had gotten just as much out of the trip as the Nicaraguan community did. Bridges to Community has taught me that cultural and language barriers truly do not exist when you are laughing alongside new friends, building a house and making a difference where it is needed most.”

Adrian Diaz, Civil Engineer

Adrian Diaz

“I traveled to Tadazna as a mentor with Engineers Without Borders CCNY. I got really impressed with the logistic and general support provided by Bridges for the Community. The well trained food team gave me total confidence to eat without any fear of food contamination… In previous trips done by myself to work with communities, I got severe stomach problems and I had to run to a local hospital in emergency…. But not this time…. I went several times to the kitchen to see the food chain by the people in charge, and I confirmed myself that our health was taken seriously by the people in charge of our food…Martha and her team made a great job..!!

Hugo, Apolinar, and Margarito were always available for the needs of our group and always able to escort us in all the activities that we have to do, in order to accomplish the goal of our project… fundamental help!

Among all my trips as a volunteer with EWB and by my own, this is the first time I got such a well organized support. I told my wife all about this experience and she is very thankful for you guys… So, now I am available for you, if you consider my experience would help to develop any of your projects, you can count on me, and now my wife wants to travel with me as much as her job allows her to take vacations.”

Rev. Jed Koball, Mission Co-worker @ Presbyterian World Mission

Rev. Jed Koball

I cherish my time and experiences with Bridges to Community. Perhaps the greatest impact on my personal life were the deep friendships I developed with fellow staff members and the overall sense of community that we all (North Americans and Nicaraguans alike – staff, board, community members and trip participants) fostered together across many barriers and divides: language, race, culture, religion, class and more. Building such relationships was both meaningful and very fun!

I also value the model of community development that began to take shape during my time, and I assume continues to grow through the dedicated work of Bridges staff today. I learned so much about the impacts of healthy development at the local level on the lives of individuals, families and communities. This experience continues to inform how I encounter the communities I work with today.

While I recognize and appreciate the very real and profound impact such community development work has on the lives of families and communities, my time with Bridges in Nicaragua stirred up a restlessness within me to dig deeper in addressing systemic root causes of poverty, inequality and other forms of injustice. The position I hold now with Presbyterian World Mission is designed to do just that – dig deeper. While I wanted to explore this kind of work with Bridges in Nicaragua, I recognize it falls outside of the scope of the Bridges mission. Nonetheless, I can say that without the experiences and relationships I formed while with Bridges, I would not be where I am today. In this way, Bridges led me to Peru, and for that I am so grateful. And without a doubt I continue to hold the lessons learned in Nicaragua very near to my heart while working alongside a people in Peru that I have also come to love and cherish and in a place that I now call home.”

Jacob Stoehr, former staff member in Nicaragua.

“From my little casita in Nicaragua, I wrote my law school entrance essays about confronting social and human rights issues in Latin America… which led me to the Inter-American Development Bank, which led me to a high powered law firm defending foreign investment and the rule of law in Latin America…and then I met my wife:), which led me to a multinational manufacturing company in Germany. The beauty of Bridges’ work is in its simplicity: meeting basic human rights and empowering both the materially wealthy and the materially poor in the process. When I left Bridges, my final speech to the communities was about how I didn’t want to work at Bridges and I didn’t even want Bridges to exist — I wanted an economy in Nicaragua that provided opportunities for good education, sustainable employment, etc, so that families could build houses on their own. Being a corporate lawyer is arguably a far cry from mixing cement and helping to put a roof over someone’s head, but my current company employs 20,000 people around the world — 20,000 people who are all able to better provide for their families, many of them in developing countries. In the end though, I think the more lasting outcome of Bridges for me has been shaping how I view the world and how I do my job. Bridges helped make me a world citizen aware of the world’s injustices, big and small.”

Chuck Ramsey, Chairman Emeritus, Bridges to Community

Chuck Ramsey

“The genius of Bridges To Community is that it provides a positive, meaningful and real experience for those who travel to Nicaragua or The Dominican Republic for a Service Learning Trip.”

Dr. Mike Lahn, Most recent trip: Lahn Friends & Family trip, April 2017

Dr. Mike Lahn

“Bridges To Community is a great organization to become involved with. A Bridges trip is a fantastic way to learn the value of helping people and have some fun as well. I have been on many BTC trips with my family and neighbors and I cant think of a better way to spend a week than helping people in need, learning other cultures and making many new friends.”

Becky Barnett, Nicaragua Volunteer Cornell University, 2014

“I can’t think of a more amazing organization with more amazing staff and programs. It is always a pleasure to work and volunteer with Bridges. Hasta la próxima vez.”

Lisa Kunstadter, Most recent trip: DC IT Group with Leslie Barry, January 2017

Lisa Kunstadter (on left)

“Every time I go on a Bridges to Community trip (and I have been on many!), I am more and more impressed with the local people I meet in Nicaragua and the DR, so many of whom are determined to improve not only their own lives but the lives of all in their community.

I have worked alongside some of the most amazing people who do so much with so little, who persist in the most difficult conditions, and who energize me to keep working for change when I return home. I love the fact that in working alongside Nicaraguans or Dominicans to build a physical structure, we are also building community and bridging the gap between cultures. For anyone who sitting on the fence and wondering whether this is the trip for you, my advice is… go for it! You’ll be glad you did.”