In June of this year, Bridges to Community staff visited a family who would be the next beneficiary family of the housing program in Campuzano, Nicaragua. As they approached, a young girl ran to greet them. “I’m going to get a new house,” she declared. Her mother, Esmelda Hernandez, ran after her, smiling. Esmelda applied for a home with Bridges to Community in 2013, the first year that Bridges began working with her community, located in the municipality of Nindiri.
“It was very difficult for us to get the title to our land,” she explained. Esmelda reached out to Bridges who consulted with a lawyer who was able to expedite her case. After eight months, her family was granted an official title to the land, and shortly thereafter they were selected to receive a house through Bridges to Community’s housing program. Esmelda lives with her husband, Marvin, and their two daughters: Daniela, who is six and had greeted the team, and Carla Vanessa who is 10 and attends 5th grade at the nearby primary school.
“My husband and I had worked for eight years to acquire little by little the materials to build the house we currently have,” Esmelda said of her humble home built mostly of corrugated tin. Esmelda and her husband Marvin both work at a nearby Okra farm where Marvin picks the Okra and Esmelda packages it up for shipment. “It is such a blessing to be receiving this home. It will be such a huge help for our family.”
No more than a month after that visit, Esmelda and her family were moving items into their new home, made of concrete blocks, with sturdy doors and windows. Esmelda was so grateful for all of the help she received from the Bronxville High School volunteers, who had constructed the home alongside her and her family. She says that she is planning to use the materials for the old house to attach another bedroom to the house.
Bridges to Community is proud to be contributing to many of the 17 goals laid out by the United Nations in its Agenda for Sustainable Development. In just the first few months of 2016, Bridges volunteers have built 29 houses, performed 2 house repairs, installed 10 latrines and biodigesters, and built 7 smoke-reducing stoves, impacting the lives of 50 families and their communities.
In honor of this holiday, it’s time to celebrate all of the families in the United States, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic who contribute to our global Bridges community! You can read here about some of the families we’ve helped, with the incredible stories of Idania, Karelia, Margarita and Karla, and Jacqueline and more.
Bridges works to help all types of families by providing a safe and secure home for those in need. With help from dedicated Bridges volunteers, beneficiary families go from living in houses made of rotted wood and tin roofs to houses made of cinder blocks and cement. It may be difficult to understand how life-changing this upgrade can be, but the difference between an unstable shack and a sturdy, weather-proof structure can completely alter the lives of generations to come.
International Day of Families is about more than just celebrating those who share DNA with you- it’s about celebrating all of the people you love, whether they live down the street, across the country, or even on another continent!
Jacqueline works hard every day to provide for her children. A housekeeper for a wealthy family in Nicaragua, she wakes up early, gets her 13 year old son, Walter, and twins, Brian and Brandon, ready for school, then leaves for work. Her oldest son watches his 6 year old brothers after school until their mom gets home. Jacqueline would like to spend more time with her children, but knows that as a single mother she has to work hard to provide them with a better future.
Until last week, home for the Gaitan family was a small one room structure made out of rusted tin and a roof that leaked. The room could fit only two beds–one for Walter, and one for his mom and the boys.
Thanks to the Winter Business Leaders volunteers made up of many veteran volunteers like Roger Sitkins, Roxy Sora, Herbert Moran, and Tom Fliege, who have each made over 9 trips with Bridges, the Gaitans now have a new home. It’s made of concrete blocks, with a tiled floor, a sturdy roof, and doors and windows that lock. Jacqueline knows that her home is now safer for her and her boys, and will provide them with a secure place to study, play, and grow.
Idania has reason to be celebrating this season: she is the first to pay off her house in Piedra Menuda, Nindiri. Not only is she the first–she is a few years early. As she tells it, it was her determination and her drive to have a house all her own that gave her the motivation to work extra hard to pay off her house in half the time.
Idania knew from the moment Bridges to Community began to work in her community that she wanted to be a beneficiary. “The problem was that I didn’t have land of my own,” she explained while sitting on her newly constructed porch. “My stepfather said that I could have some of his land, that he would give it to me, but I said, ‘no, I want to buy it from you.’ And that’s how I acquired the land and I quickly began to get the paperwork in to Bridges.” While her paperwork was in process, however, Idania and her family suffered a tragedy–her husband passed away. “It was very difficult. My children and I were left without a place to live. We didn’t know what to do.” A couple of months later, Idania received the news that her housing project had been approved, and a group of Bridges volunteers came down to help construct her new home.
Once constructed, Idania began to work extra hours at her job to help pay off the house. “I knew that I had more time to pay it off, but I preferred to pay it off sooner than later, and not have any debt. Plus, I had plans to make the house a bit bigger, and I wanted to have the money to do that.” Idania was working at a US call center located in the capital, and the commute there and the long hours became difficult. After a lot of consideration, Idania renounced her position with the company, and with the money from her severance pay was able to pay off the rest of what she owed.
A little while later, Idania remarried, and she and her husband have been able to make the additions she dreamed about. “We’ve added on one more room and a porch. Now, we’re thinking about putting in a wall to separate the main room and have a living room and an extra bedroom. And in the future, I’d love to put in a small kitchen with ceramic tiles…and maybe another small room next to that.” Idania laughs, “We are just going to continue moving forward little by little, and see what we are able to do in the future.”
There’s a lot to come in the future, too, as Idania’s 9 and 7 year old children will soon be welcoming a new sibling. “My children feel happy to have a place to live,” she says, “especially considering everything we went through, they’re content to have their own house. And I myself never stop giving thanks to God because I know that I may not always be here, but at least my children will always have a place to live.”
She added, “I’m always thankful to God and to Bridges to Community because this is a wonderful project that has benefited so many people in my community.”
Over 700 volunteers have traveled to Nicaragua this year already to build homes for families in need. Over 50 houses have been built, benefiting over 300 parents and children. Here are two stories from families who benefited from Bridges to Community homes at the beginning of this year. Read on to see how incredible the work of our volunteers and supporters really is, and how happy these families are.
When John Jay High School volunteers from Cross River, New York arrived to Sasle in the second week of February, they were introduced right away to Margarita and Felipe, one of the beneficiary families who would be receiving one of the two houses John Jay volunteers were there to help build. Margarita, a young women of 26 with a big smile, and her husband Felipe, a hardworking farmer, have three energetic children–Katerin, Ashley, and Oscar, the baby of the family. Margarita rose to a leadership status in the community almost immediately after moving there almost nine years ago with her charisma and passion to help others. She works tirelessly for her community when she’s not helping her husband to grow and sell their crops in the community, or making traditional tamales to sell on Sundays. For all their hard work and dedication, however, Margarita and Felipe struggle financially, and their home, made up of old pieces of wood and a leaky tin roof, was not a safe place for their children.
What an incredible difference to see them on the front porch of their new house just seven months later! Just as she told volunteers she would do, Margarita used some of the wood from the old house to make a porch and kitchen on her new home. The family then chose colors for their home–red and white–to reflect the brightness that has entered their lives since the construction of the home. Now, Margarita and Felipe can sell items right from their home, the children have a secure place where they can sleep, study, and play, and the whole family has a place they can be proud of.
Margarita in front of her new home
The feeling of pride is similar for Karla and her husband, who have come so far from their situation at the beginning of the year where their house, made out of wood, had collapsed in a storm and they had tried the best they could to put the one-room structure back together. As Temple Shaaray Tefila of Bedford Corners, New York, and Bedford Presbyterian Church of Bedford, New York volunteers would learn when they arrived, Karla’s husband had been in an accident in the vehicle that he drove for work a few years back, and is no longer able to work.
She and her husband now grow vegetables to sell at the market, but the income is hardly sufficient for the two of them and their five young sons. Nevertheless, they work hard with what they have, and the week that the group of volunteers showed up was no exception. In addition to their normal work, as well as caring for their five children and the household tasks, the whole family came together to help in the construction of their new home. Karla couldn’t help but smile as she told some of the girls in the group what she hoped to do with the new house, and how much it would help her family.
That smile remained six months later as Karla showed us the little store she had put in the house, where she sells items to her neighbors through the wooden window of the house. They used the wood from the old house to construct a larger, covered kitchen, and they have plans for even more changes in the future.
The little store Karla has in her new house, and the kitchen that they added off of the main house.
Below are photos of eight more beneficiary families, whose homes were built during Valentine’s Day Week in February, when over 130 volunteers traveled down to Nicaragua to work on projects ranging from home building, to medical care!
Epifania Fonseca: Oxford Solutions of Pittsburgh PA, in Nindiri
Idalia and Angel: Temple Shaaray Tefila and Bedford Presbyterian Church from NY, in Masaya
Dora Rostran: Hilton Head Island High School from South Carolina, in Nindiri
Fatima and Jose: Temple Shaaray Tefila and Bedford Presbyterian Church of NY, in Masaya
Vilma Estelia: Temple Shaaray Tefila and Bedford Presbyterian Church of NY, in Nindiri
Wendy Suarez: University of Delaware in Nindiri
Olimpia Calero: Hilton Head Island High School of South Carolina, Nindiri
Lorenzo Avellan: Temple Shaaray Tefila and Bedford Presbyterian Church of NY, in Nindiri
Mercedes Gonzalez: Wellington College of Berkshire England, Jinotega
Johanna Vega: Temple Shaaray Tefila and Bedford Presbyterian Church of NY, in Nindiri
Julia Gonzalez: John Jay High School of NY, in Jinotega
Yasnira Hernandez: John Jay High School of NY, in Jinotega
As part of our Bridges to Community Families series, we are sharing the stories of some of the families in the communities we work with in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. Their strength is a reminder of the importance of family in all of our lives. Each story shows the impact that our volunteers, donors, and partners have on families, and how important it is to create bridges between communities.
“I was pregnant with my son,” Karelia remembers of that moment nine years ago, “and we were living in a small room made out of old wood tablets.” It was 2006, and Karelia and her family had just been selected to become beneficiaries of the Bridges to Community housing project in her community, which had just started that year.
With the help of a group of volunteers that came down from the US and a talented cohort of masons, Karelia and her family watched their new home go up in just one week. Since that time, so much has changed in Karelia’s life.
Motivated by being a new home owner, Karelia worked hard to make her monthly payments on the house—“I paid it off in 5 years,” she stated proudly. That’s two years ahead of schedule. That money went into a community fund for use by community members for small loans for businesses, maintenance of a health center, and home reparations.
But Karelia didn’t stop there. “I was working in a factory,” she explains, “and I didn’t have any one to take care of my children.” She and her husband had separated after their second child. “But before my husband left, he had mentioned to me this idea about raising chickens, and the idea stuck with me. After I paid off the house, I took out a small loan to start the hatchery, but with idea that it would be mine—my own business.” Karelia used the same community fund that she and others had helped to pay into through their house payments to take out her first loan, for $500. With that, she began to build the chicken coop.
Today, Karelia has several coops that house a total of 600 chickens. “I paid off the first loan, and also started a small sewing business out of my home. I combine to the two things in order to provide for my children, now 9 and 12 years old.”
Karelia’s son, doing his homework in their home.
With the income she earns from her two businesses, Karelia has even been able to make changes to the home she received through the housing project, and she remembers how far she and her family have come. “We now have our own home. Whereas before we would get wet from the rain and there wasn’t any space, now each of us has our own space—we’ve made divisions throughout the house. Now the house is bigger, we’ve added another room on it, and added a kitchen.”
Before finishing her story, Karelia made sure to add one important thing: “We just want to say thanks again to Maria, Michael, and Mark,” who were the leaders of the group that came to build her home. “It is thanks to them that we have our own home now.”
To celebrate International Day of Families on May 15th, we are sharing the stories of some of the families in the communities we work with in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. Their strength is a reminder of the importance of family in all of our lives. Each story shows the impact that our volunteers, donors, and partners have on families, and how important it is to create bridges between communities.
Lennin Segundo and Johana
Lennin Segundo and Johana knew that if they kept working toward their dreams, things would pay off for their family in the end. Now, sitting in front of their three year old house–freshly painted in a bright seafoam green–they can talk about how far they have come, and speak confidently about where they’re headed.
“The children love having more space,” Johana reflected, her two young children at her side. “The place where we were living before had only one room–barely enough space for one bed, and that’s where we all slept. Now, everyone has their own bed, there’s so much more space, and we now even have a small shop in the house where we sell things like soda and bread. Every day we’re moving a bit further–we’ve seen so many changes already.”
When Lennin and Johana first applied to be beneficiaries of the Bridges to Community housing project in Piedra Menuda, Lennin had just started working at a career that would soon become his passion and livelihood. “I’m a barber,” he states proudly, “and that career has helped us so much.”
His wife steps in: “Back in those days, [when we first became beneficiaries of the house with Bridges], I was working, and we were saving up money. He had just started working as a barber from home, and so we were all in this one room, and I said, we can’t keep doing it this way–we’re going to have to push ourselves just a little more.” And they started putting the money Lennin was earning into a savings to construct an extra room on the new house.
Today, they have their house, divided into two bedrooms and a living room, with a small space for the little soda and food shop. Attached is another large room where Lennin has his barbershop where his loyal clients know they can go for a haircut or a shave. He even has a space for where he will soon hire another barber to help with all the business.
Johana smiles as she runs her fingers through her daughter’s light brown hair: “I am just so grateful because before, we didn’t have a house, and we have benefited so much from this project, and were then able to achieve a little bit more in order to make the space a bit bigger, for the family. We are so appreciative for what we have been able to achieve.”
The Bridges Families Highlights Series shares the stories of some of the families in the communities we work with in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. Their strength is a reminder of the importance of family in all of our lives. Each story shows the impact that our volunteers, donors, and partners have on families, and how important it is to create bridges between communities.
The whole idea came about from one wish: for the family to be together. “The situation we were in before made it so that we…couldn’t dedicate sufficient time to our children,” Tamariz laments. She describes how back then, she had been working at a factory and her husband for a company. They were both coming home late at night, and leaving very early in the morning. Then, Tamariz’ eyes sparkle a bit, and she leans forward, “This was our idea: my husband had learned how to work with mirrors,” she explains. ” He learned this trade so that we could start our own business.”
She describes how everything fell into place when she heard of the Bridges to Community economic development project that had just started in her community, now almost 8 years ago. “And finally the moment came when the organization came into the community, and they were offering small loans [through a community fund], and this changed our lives because now, we told ourselves, we could make our dream come true–we could start our own business.”
Since that time, Tamariz and her husband have taken out 3 small loans, all paid off. Each one was invested into their business. But it’s not just their business that has done well.
Tamariz’ children, now 14 and 17, have been able to grow up with their parents at their side. The oldest is deciding what to study after high school. “She’s considering options not too far from home,” Tamariz explains.” And the younger one studies English on Saturdays, preparing herself for the future.”
“The largest benefit that we’ve received, the one that I wanted the most, is to spend time with our children. Now we all work together as a family. Now, even my oldest daughter comes to help us sell our products. So we work together, we go out to sell together, and that’s how we keep moving forward.” The success of the business has allowed for Tamariz to leave her job at the factory, something that she sees as a great achievement.
All in all, “The loans have been a great blessing that have changed all of our lives for the better.”