“I did not have a strong sense of what I wanted to do and after my first trip to Nicaragua I suddenly did. I suddenly felt really, really passionate about something”.
Liz Keeffe was 16 when she went on her first Bridges trip. As a member of Bedford Presbyterian Church, she had heard the experiences of returned volunteers and finally convinced her parents to let her go on a trip. As someone who had never left New England before, she remembers that the first trip felt surreal and she was shocked that people really live in homes made of plastic. She remembers thinking, “this doesn’t seem right that things can be so unequal.”
When she came back to the States after that first trip, Liz was excited to share her experience with anyone and everyone who would listen. She loved the feeling of community that she experienced while in Nicaragua of working with people and sharing. Liz also realized that, despite the disparate conditions between her life in Connecticut and life in the communities of Nicaragua, people are not so different after all, and generally think about, and want, the same things.
Liz returned to Nicaragua on a Bridges trip twice more during high school. As she reflected more deeply on the experience, she felt uncomfortable about the fact that there were people she knew and had befriended that live with a leaky roof, that do not have enough money to buy food for their children, that work and live day-to-day, never knowing what will happen tomorrow. She was so deeply affected that, as Liz says, “I knew that I wanted to commit my life to doing something about the inequality that exists.”
When applying for colleges, Liz looked at schools with a strong study abroad program and studied International Relations, a major she admits she might not have chosen if she had not been a Bridges volunteer. She also led a Bridges trip to Nicaragua from her college. After graduating, Liz returned to Nicaragua for two years to work for Bridges as an International Volunteer Coordinator, challenging volunteers to think about how to act upon what they had learned on the trip for years to come.
Wanting to make an even bigger impact, she decided to return to school and is currently studying for her Masters in Sustainable International Development and her MBA in Nonprofit Management from Brandeis University’s Heller School. She is writing her thesis on the exploitation of female farm workers, mostly Spanish-speaking, in the US. Now, 11-12 years after her first Bridges trip, she is still thinking about how she feels uncomfortable with the inequality that exists in the world, and what she can do in her small part of the world to make it a little more just. Her plan, for now, is to do this by working with Spanish speaking immigrants in the US after she graduates, possibly in the realm of organization of farm workers with difficult conditions.