By Linnet Tse
This year marks the eleventh time that members of St. John’s Church in Larchmont, have journeyed to Nicaragua with Ossining-based Bridges to Community (BTC) to build houses. BTC, a non-for-profit community development and service learning organization that promotes cross-cultural partnerships and sustainable community development, is celebrating 25 years of service trips. Bridges began its work in Nicaragua in 1993 with a goal of combatting the entrenched poverty in that country. Over the years, Bridges has developed a sustainable and replicable community development program focused on four key areas: housing, health, education and economic development.
Eleven people participated in the St. John’s Family and Friends trip at the end of June. Six of the eleven volunteers have made the trip multiple times; according to them, “the experience never gets old.” They remain astonished by what a bit of hard work can accomplish in just four days - the construction of a water-proof cement block house that will forever change a family’s life. And, they are drawn back to Nicaragua time and time again by the strong relationships they form with the beneficiary families, the community members, the local masons, and the Nicaraguan BTC staff.
The group spent an intense four days building a house in the very poor community of San Joaquin, which is located about 45 minutes southeast of Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. The community of San Joaquin is rated one of the most economically disadvantaged communities in the region. Most of the homes there are “built” with scavenged material – scraps of corrugated metal, sticks, plastic sheeting, and cardboard – which provide little protection from the elements or from disease.
This year’s beneficiary family consisted of a mother, her husband and their two young daughters, ages 4 and 9. Members of the community worked alongside the St. John’s team to build the house. The experience was eye-opening and life-changing for all involved. The Nicaraguans were incredibly grateful that the volunteers would take time from their lives to travel to a poor, rural area of Nicaragua to help them. In turn, the volunteers were moved by the friendliness of the local people and the joy of the children, despite their poor living conditions and meager prospects.
Volunteers also gained first-hand insight into the struggles and challenges that Nicaraguans face. For first time participant Abby Bennitt, a junior at Mamaroneck High School, “one of the main things that really hit home was the importance, but luxury, that education is. Something that is very accessible here is nearly impossible for them. The community we were working in didn’t have a high school, and the added expenses of going to school in Nicaragua made it hard for many kids to get education beyond elementary school.”
College sophomore and third-time volunteer Axel Steinmetz maintains that he gets much more out of the experience than he contributes, and that keeps him going back year after year.
2017 trip participants included: Abby Bennitt, Pete Bennitt, Tim Bennitt, Freya Cantwell, William Generett, Megan McCarthy, Riley McCarthy, Frank Pierson, Harry Sober, Axel Steinmetz, and Linnet Tse.