Volunteer Highlight: Eliza’s Story

I first participated in a Bridges to Community trip in 2011 with a group from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Larchmont, NY. I was so incredibly impressed by the attitudes and reflections it brought out in my peers, both young and old, and by the unwavering dedication to self- improvement and community improvement of the Nicaraguan people that I knew I wanted to go back. As I was attending Rye Country Day School, a school in New York with a renewed focus on public purpose and service learning, I approached the director of public purpose about taking a group of students to Nicaragua with Bridges to Community for a senior term project.

At the end of every Rye Country Day School student’s high school career, all students are required to engage in some sort of community enhancement project for a week at the end of senior year. I took that prompt to mean my global community, not just my local or regional community. With some hounding on my end, support from the Board of trustees, a forward thinking headmaster, and a right place/right time opportunity, Rye Country Day School took its first international public purpose trip in 2013 during my senior year.

RCDS has gone back every year since, and the trip has now become an installment at the school. In many of the descriptions of award recipients at the school’s annual prize day, it is not uncommon for “this student participated in the recent public purpose trip to Nicaragua” to be a major reason that the student is receiving the award. Furthermore, I think the fact that so many Bridges trip participants receive awards also describes the type of student who is interested in expanding boundaries and understanding different perspectives. Once the first diverse, intelligent cohort of students returned raving about the experiences they had just had, the program took off. Ever since, it has attracted a similarly interesting, interested, and empathetic group of students.

I am now a student at Georgetown University, and I frequently find myself thinking about that first time I went down to Nicaragua to work on a house in Ticuantepe for a family led by an incredible woman named Fatima. On that trip I learned the difference between concrete and cement, I improved my Spanish skills, I laughed, I sweated, and most importantly, I learned about a very little part of Fatima’s life and her society.

I watched as Fatima herself put more work into the building than any other man or woman present, she carried double the number of pales of concrete, mixed the cement twice as vigorously, and never once stopped for a break. I witnessed such unflagging and unyielding determination and character that my perspective changed. Now whenever I am not sure if I can pull through, I think to myself, “What would Fatima do?” I saw that same spirit again when I returned in 2013 for Rye Country Day’s first trip, and met the family of Karla, an equally strong and inspiring person. Fatima and Karla’s spirits, which I try to emulate everyday, are just like the roads we traveled on to get to their new homes: seemingly broken and rough around the edges, but actually so supportive and strong underneath.

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