October 3rd, 2016
From the Desk of the Executive Director
Another three months has flown by and I want to thank you for helping Bridges have another incredible quarter of hard work and successes. Since our last newsletter, 16 more families have received new and repaired homes–families like that of Esmelda and Marvin Hernandez and their two girls–and 15 other families have new latrines or biodigestors, all thanks to the hard work of over 150 volunteers and you.
Last year I told you how we were expanding our scholarship program in Nicaragua thanks to the generosity of several donors who are especially concerned with creating educational and leadership opportunities young people. This month, I would like to report that all 45 scholarship students from that program successfully completed their first semester, and clocked hundreds of community service hours. Meanwhile, in the Dominican Republic, the youth leadership committees that Bridges to Community has formed continue to astonish us with all they have accomplished and this quarter was no exception. Please read the story here which tells how 35 of these young people reacted to participating in a week long entrepreneurial workshop at the Derrumbadero Youth Center focused on helping them plan for the future.
In the area of health, Bridges to Community unveiled its plans for a state of the art health clinic in the northeast of Nicaragua to service over 18,000 residents, and is receiving more medical brigades as it moves to reach its new health goals. The United Nations has recently established new Sustainable Development Goals which include “ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-bring for all at all ages,” and Bridges’ new plans for its Health Program form part of the effort to achieve that. You can read more about those plans in our story here.
Last but not least, there are still a few trips open this year for you to join, like our NYC Professionals Trip in the Dominican Republic, and New Friends and the Fall Business Leaders Trip, both in Nicaragua. We also have some very exciting new trips to kick off 2017, and will be revealing them along with a new website very shortly. Stay tuned for more information.
As you can see, there is still so much to do before the year’s end. I hope I can count on your support to impact even more lives in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.
October 3rd, 2016
This week, Bridges to Community hosted an an iDEA Entrepreneurial Workshop for 35 local teens as part of its economic development program in the Dominican Republic. The six day workshop was led by entrepreneur and motivator Juan Casimiro of the Casimiro Global Foundation and business consultant Efrain Sora of Sora Global Insurance and Consulting.
The workshop was held in the Youth Center built by Bridges to Community in 2015. It taught participants the basic skills needed to start a business and put together their own business plan proposals. Following the workshop, the participants presented their plans to a panel of judges and the winners will receive rewards to help put their plans into action. All participants received certifications upon completion of the workshop.
“I’m really enjoying this course because it’s giving me a plan for after I finish high school,” reported Sebastian Montero from the community of Derrumbadero. “Now I know the steps to take to start my own business.”
Seleidi Encarnación also found a lot of value in the workshop: “The concept is simple, and our team has learned a lot.” While she admits that the math was a bit complicated, she appreciated the way the teacher explained it until it made sense. “Our team has a really great business idea,” she added. “But it’s a secret!”
Juan Casimiro began using his experience as an entrepreneur to help young people reach their goals 16 years ago when he formed the Casimiro Global Foundation. Since then, the foundation has inspired over 150,000 youth from over 20 countries. “Our mission is to empower youth to become entrepreneurs, social innovators and leaders who create positive change in their communities and the world,” states Mr. Casimiro.
Christina Balint, Country Co-Director of Bridges to Community in the Dominican Republic, saw immediately the effect that the course had on the participants, who have been participating in youth development workshops with Bridges to Community for over four years. “One of the most beautiful aspects that this course offers our youth is a shift in thinking. Right from the first day, they were challenged to think differently…to find motivation within and meet challenges with a smile. There’s no doubt in our minds that this experience has been life-changing for all of them.”
The workshop ran from September 26 to October 1st. The winners of the business proposal contest will be announced next week.
October 3rd, 2016
This November five medical professionals led by Dr. Michael Lahn, an emergency physician at New York Presbyterian/Lawrence Hospital, will be participating in a medical brigade in Nicaragua with Bridges to Community. The group will provide care and engage in cross-cultural exchange in rural communities where Bridges to Community works, and contributes to Bridges’ goals to expand its health program.
Dr. Lahn, who has participated in many Bridges to Community service trips with his family and friends, decided to form the group after being involved in a medical emergency with a local teenager in the Dominican Republic. Dr. Lahn accompanied the youth to the local clinic. “I walked away from that experience wondering if I could have taught the local doctor some things that could have helped him be a better physician, and vice-versa,” recalls Dr. Lahn.
When he returned home, Dr. Lahn spoke with Bridges to Community Executive Director John Hannan about the possibility of a medical brigade: “John explained Bridges’ goal of increasing their medical presence in rural Nicaragua, especially in the northeastern region. It seemed like both my interest and Bridges’ plans could come together easily.”
“These brigades make up the human component of the large plan we have to help build a regional health center that will ensure people in the area receive the basic human right of health care,” Mr. Hannan explains, referring to the Hormiguero Health Clinic that Bridges will begin constructing in 2017. The clinic will provide 24 hour medical service for over 18,000 in northeastern Nicaragua.
Bridges to Community’s goals for their health program echo those established by the United Nations in the new Sustainable Development Goals, which include “ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-bring for all at all ages.”
The group is made up of physicians that cover a large breadth of medicine, including pediatrics, obstetrics, orthopedics, and emergency care. They will go down with the goals of treating local residents with acute problems, as well as screening and identifying some underlying chronic problems such as diabetes and hypertension and getting them started on long-term treatment plans.
Dr. Ingrid Mudge, also from NYP/Lawrence Hospital and who has practiced medicine for over 15 years and is no stranger to ensuring healthy lives, had always aspired to do international medical brigade work, but it always seemed out of reach. Now, with the shorter time frame and affordability of this brigade, she is finally able to.
“This is a great way to begin exploring the experience of international medical work,” states Dr. Mudge. “I have always thought that it is important for those of us who have access to high quality medical training and equipment to use those means to support communities who are not so fortunate. Having the opportunity to improve and prolong life is one of the greatest privileges of a medical career.”
The trip will be going down from November 12-20, 2016. For more information on how to get involved with Bridges to Community’s trips or programs, contact us at email@example.com.
October 3rd, 2016
Jorvin Urbina started his classes this year more determined than ever. Last year at this time, he had withdrawn from the University in Siuna, Nicaragua where he had been studying Local Development due to economic constraints. But in 2015, he applied for and received a scholarship from Bridges to Community to continue his studies as a junior.
Jorvin is one of 45 students to receive academic scholarships from Bridges to Community this year thanks to the generosity of several donors who are especially concerned with creating educational and leadership opportunities for young people. The program offers committed students the funding they need to continue their education, while providing them with tools they need to succeed and become active members of their communities.
“I thank Bridges to Community for supporting us students with limited economic resources, because it is through this scholarship program that I have been able to continue my studies, and work toward my dream of becoming a professional,” says Jorvin Urbina.
In order to participate in the scholarship program, students had to submit an application complete with letters of recommendation from teachers and family members, and pass through an interview process with the Bridges to Community Scholarship Committee.
“We interviewed over one hundred candidates for the program,” recalls Paula Mulhair, Bridges to Community Program Director in Nicaragua. “We carefully selected students that we believed to be the most motivated and driven to continue on a positive educational path. These students consistently attend class, strive to satisfy the requirements of the program and meet with the BTC Scholarship Committee at least once a month to turn in receipts and turn in progress reports.”
All scholarship participants are required to fulfill community service hours, and they have done so in many ways. In Nindiri, five scholarship students have planned and participated in intercultural activities with several Bridges to Community high school volunteer groups, including Rye Country Day and Greenwich Day School. They created cultural learning games like Nica/US Jeopardy, and engaged conversations with volunteers on everyday life.
Scholarship recipient Anielka Gadea, who is studying to be a pharmacist at the International University of Latin America in Jinotega, took it upon herself to develop health workshops for her community. She has also participated in a cleanup of her local Catholic Church, and plans to continue using her service hours to work on local initiatives.
In addition, Bridges to Community has provided scholarship students with tutoring, workshops on academic success, and access to computers equipped with internet in the Bridges offices around the country. The students completed their first semester with a collective average of 85%, and will finish up the year in December.
Scholarship students in Siuna assisting with a community assessment as part of their community service hours
July 7th, 2016
From the Desk of the Executive Director
We are half way through 2016 and, thanks to your support, the impact we have had on the lives of Dominicans and Nicaraguans is incredible. In just the last three months, over 150 Bridges volunteers have helped construct 12 homes, 10 latrines, 5 stoves, perform repairs on 8 houses and provide medical attention to over 700 patients in health posts out in the most rural parts of Nicaragua. Combined with the amazing work from the beginning of the year, we have touched the lives of 2,385 people living across 10 communities.
BUT…We still have a ways to go before reaching our summer goals, so don’t stop reading now! There are 48 families waiting and hoping we can build them a new home, provide a sanitary latrine, a healthy stove or even just repairs to their current house, and that is why I still need your help to be able to make these families dreams a reality. Let’s not let them down!
This quarter really has been about families–the families in Nicaragua and the DR whose lives you’ve touched with your support, as well as the families that have grown together through a Bridges trip. Dozens of families have traveled to Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic with Bridges to Community already this year, either as part of larger groups or as their own Friends and Family Group. We hope you’ll read some of their stories about why they do Bridges together, and how it makes them stronger as individuals, and as families.
Looking ahead to the fall, we have several wonderful trips and events coming up and I invite you to join us on at least one of them. Our NY Young Professionals, NYC Professionals, Fall Business Leaders, and “New Friends” trips each provides a great opportunity to build your network or simply meet new people while engaging in meaningful service projects for families in need. Are you interested in the economics of these countries or just want to know what are the best coffees, chocolate and other retail products to buy? Come on one of our Fair Trade trips to see how fairly traded coffee and direct trade cacao is produced in the mountains of Nicaragua and cloud forests of the Dominican Republic. While there you will experience the most beautiful landscapes, flora and fauna possible. These trips echo our commitment to creating sustainable futures for Nicaraguans and Dominicans, and that’s why we’ve partnered with Birds & Beans to promote bird-friendly fairly traded coffee that will give you the best tasting coffee while giving back a fair economic deal to Bridges communities. I hope you will support this great company and promising collaboration.
And there are fun things to be done at home too. I hope to see you at our 2016 Volunteer Appreciation Picnic next week. This free event is a perfect way for you to meet other Bridges members to swap stories while enjoying a summer barbecue right here at Croton Point Park in New York. There are also two great fundraising events in October that I hope you’ll attend—Raise the Roof in the DC area and Rock the Roundhouse in Toronto.
With your continued support, we hope to see our impact grow even more in the months to come. We thank you for your support, and look forward to all the work yet to come this year.
June 1st, 2016
Bridges to Community is excited to announce a new collaboration with the US Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic. On April 7th, 2016, Peace Corps Volunteer Bruno Estrada began working with our youth project at the new Youth Center in Derrumbadero, Dominican Republic. Below, Bruno shares a little bit about himself and his impressions of the youth program.
1. Introduce yourself and let us know why you decided to join Peace Corps.
My name is Bruno Estrada. I am a 25 year old Peace Corps volunteer serving in the Dominican Republic’s Health Sector. I work on many development projects specifically in the border province of Elias Piña. The biggest project has a goal of building 80 fuel-efficient healthy cook-stoves for our marginalized population. I am also a SUNY Purchase College Alumni- I graduated in 2012. My mother and father migrated to New York City from Colombia and Argentina, respectively, and I was born and raised in Queens, New York. Being raised in a Spanish speaking home, going to school and growing up with friends from diverse backgrounds, and seeing all of the injustice we had to endure were some factors that led to my joining the Peace Corps. However, one of the most influential factors was help from the YMCA of Greater New York’s staff and youth programs, which kept me away from bad influences while teaching me life skills that I did not learn in school. Also extremely influential was my mother, who made sure that I was humble by granting me the opportunity to travel back to her native Colombia. Seeing and experiencing some of the harsh conditions that the majority of the world lives in really influenced how I wanted to live my life. I will forever be thankful.
2. Why did you decide to partner with BTC?
One day while browsing through social media, I found a page where BTC had posted information about the inauguration of its new community center in Derrumbadero. I thought, “how awesome and environmentally conscious.” I decided to reach out to see how we could potentially work together to better both of our communities. After talking with Christina Balint for the first time and meeting the team, I was ecstatic to work with such a dedicated and experienced bunch. We immediately began working on an experimental, fuel efficient, cost effective, and eco-friendly cook-stove, which turned out to be even better than I had anticipated. Seeing everything that I learned from BTC, I decided to dedicate more time to the community and facilitate a PC-BTC work relationship.
3. What was your first impression of the Pre-youth and Youth Committees?
I was blown away by the youth in both Derrumbadero and Caimonial. They were very dynamic during our session and excited for what was to come in the next sessions. Being a Latino male who participated and worked in youth development programs with the YMCA of Greater New York as well as the YMCA of Central and Northern Westchester, not only was I impressed by the youth, but also by how well the staff interacted with these young people. It was refreshing to see invested adults working with marginalized youth and to see how the youth respected and embraced them.
4. Why do you think the youth chose Brigada Verde as their first workshop with PC? Why do you think Brigada Verde is important?
From my experience with BTC-DR’s projects, it seems that they’ve all had a focus on being intertwined with environmental education. When the youth were offered an opportunity to continue with that education, they were interested and eager to share their knowledge and gain more. In this year and a half of service, I have come to understand how the environment and development work are dependent on each other in many ways. Coming from a big city, I know how damaging the over-consumption of a population can be. By explaining to folks who live in rural areas that we need them more than they need us, teaching them how to empower themselves by educating younger generations as well as older ones, and through protecting life-giving resources, we will ensure that the empowerment they are feeling will be secure for future generations.
5. What do you think of the Youth Center made with 50,000 plastic bottles? In what ways do you see it benefiting the community?
The Youth Center is a pillar of progress. Not just because of its progressive method of building for the Dominican people, but also because of the opportunities it grants them just by being there. Having and using a space outside of a formal classroom setting and away from bad influences has been one of the major ways I have avoided systemic oppression. I feel that having this space has created a sense of pride in the youth that I worked with, and most importantly, cultivated a sense of belonging that they may not otherwise have had.
6. What do you hope to see come from this PC-BTC partnership and the joint workshops?
I believe this partnership links the best of both worlds of development. On one hand, you have a wealth of experience that comes from over fifty years of a Peace Corps presence in the Dominican Republic. On the other hand, you have the pioneering spirit of Bridges to Community that links willing individuals with the opportunity to lend a helping hand within a structure whose focus is sustainable empowerment. I hope that eventually we may be able to place a volunteer who can live and work with these communities while continuing to provide youth and community development technical support. The end goal is that the community no longer needs us and is instead leading the workshops we have shared as well as workshops of their own.
7. Is there anything else you would like to share?
Can we expand Bridges to Community to Colombia when I move there? Just a thought…
May 15th, 2016
“The love of a family is life’s greatest blessing.”
Happy International Day of Families! The theme for this year’s Day of Families is “Families, Healthy Lives, and Sustainable Futures”. This comes from the United Nation’s recently approved 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes 17 goals, all aimed at ensuring healthy living and promoting well-being for all.
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!
May 13th, 2016
What is World Fair Trade Day?
This year, May 14th is the international World Fair Trade Day, with the theme of “Be an agent for change.” This day celebrates Fair Trade farmers, cooperatives and organizations around the world, and is sponsored by the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO). Fair Trade is an ethical way of doing international trade, where the producers of products, such as coffee, chocolate, and tea, are paid a fair wage for their labor.
Bridges to Community’s mission is to create agents for change by facilitating cultural exchanges and sustainable development projects in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. To celebrate World Fair Trade Day, we are announcing our 2016 Fair Trade Trips dates, where you can learn more about fair trade while connecting with communities and growing as an individual.
Why is fair trade important?
Fair trade ensures that everyone that contributes to the production of a product–from the farmer to the barista–receives a fair wage for their work. This helps to lift up families, communities, and even countries, creating a more just and equitable world. A major aspect of Fair Trade and the work done by the World Fair Trade Organization is the idea of “trade, not aid.” Rather than funding communities or allowing them to become dependent on an outside source, this organization helps communities to become self sufficient.
Bridges to Community operates with similar goals. Instead of just sending a group to go into a community for a week, building a house, and leaving, Bridges forms relationships with communities, assists in projects that are community-driven, and promotes the communities economic development by establishing a sustainable community fund, which you can read more about here. The goal for Bridges trips is for volunteers to spend time working alongside the community, not for the community- an important distinction–and to go back home and make important changes in their own communities as agents for change.
Bridges to Community, Fair Trade, and You
Bridges offers the opportunity for adults and college students to take Fair Trade Trips. One trip goes to the Dominican Republic and explores the role of cacao in the local economies. Another trip is to Jinotega, the northern region of Nicaragua, where 80% of Nicaragua’s coffee is produced. On these trips, you will be able to experience firsthand the impact of fair trade by seeing how small businesses and cooperatives are working to improve their economic success through trade with other countries. You’ll become educated about the workings of local economic systems and gain a better understanding of our globalized economy.
How can you contribute to Fair Trade?
The first step to making a difference is knowledge. Educate yourself about fair trade and its impacts. A great way to learn about fair trade is to sign up for one of our Fair Trade Trips. We have trips going to the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua in the fall, and can customize a fair trade trip that meets the needs of you and your group for any time of the year. You can also find a multitude of resources on Fair Trade USA’s website (as well as fun giveaways, events, and contests!) and from the World Fair Trade Organization. So, brew up a nice cup of fair trade coffee or tea while you learn about and celebrate World Fair Trade Day!