I have found the key to my experience in Nicaragua is attitude. I do not go thinking I am going to help a community for a week. I go thinking I am going to be a PART of this community for a week. That attitude forces me to open my heart and engage fully with the Nicaraguan people and that, of course, requires me to work alongside them to help a neighbor. That attitude also has made it very hard for me to say goodbye and leave at the end of the week; I always leave a piece of my heart behind.
I first traveled with BTC in March of 2013 in the Masaya region, building a school for the village of La Ceibita. The following year, I led a second trip to the Jinotega region, building two houses in Sasle. Both years, despite a significant language barrier, I bonded with staff and members of the communities. In 2015, I led yet another trip and found my group assigned back in the community of La Ceibita. There, I was reunited with Doña Alba, Doña Julia and Doña Pertrona, the women who cooked and cared for us in 2013. I was pleased to work with the same team of masons including Don Carlos, Taz and Julio.
But the most blessed moment of the trip came when a little eight-year-old girl named Yubelkys tapped me on the back and fell onto the sand pile hugging me and crying with me. We had bonded in 2013 and parted with great sadness. She has been my honorary Nicaraguan grandbaby for two-and-a-half years. I wondered often if she remembered her Maria. The moment she and her family arrived at the site to find me answered that question. We took up right where we left off and spent the next five days together. We parted in tears again, with Yubelkys declaring my family ‘mi familia en Nueva York’ and my hugging each member of my Nicaraguan family. We pray that we will be reunited again soon.
Bridges trips prove Don Vicente, his quote now on the new Bridges to Community Tshirts, was right: Friendship has no borders. Friendship breaks down all barriers and lets love in. Once love enters in, you realize how similar we all are.