Bridges to Community’s mission is “to build a more just and sustainable world through service learning and community development by engaging volunteers to work in developing countries—building community and changing lives.” The emphasis is on shared work and community empowerment, and Bridges to Community makes long-term commitments to the communities where it works. At their beginnings in 1992, they ran a single trip to Nicaragua; for 2013, they organized 50 trips. Many of these trips are organized for private groups (students, youth groups, colleagues from a corporation, a group of neighbors and friends), but others are open to individual volunteers. Open trips often have a particular focus, such as “friends and family,” “college student leaders,” “young professionals,” or “business leaders.”Families with children of any age are welcome.Bridges to Community has four programmatic areas of focus: housing, health, education, and economic development. In addition to building low-income housing, Bridges to Community helps secure land titles and repair existing structures. Health projects have an emphasis on preventative care as well as clinic work, and have included installing smokeless stoves, building water systems to deliver potable water, and constructing and repairing medical facilities. The education program focuses on the construction of classrooms, libraries, and other school buildings, as well as scholarships, workshops, and adult education programs. The economic development program runs training workshops in basic arithmetic, accounting, and small business administration. Bridges to Community also provides grants for small cooperative business ventures, like fair-trade organic farming.
Evening activities might include a soccer or baseball game with other volunteers and members of the community. There are also evening meetings. Some are organized with local leaders who speak to volunteers about the needs in their community and how they are currently working with Bridges to Community. Other meetings are group reflections where the issues of poverty, globalization, fair trade, international affairs, Nicaraguan history, and other topics are discussed to enrich the volunteers’ understanding of the challenges that community members face. There is usually a chance for one or two days of sightseeing sometime during the week.
Bridges to Community works in five regions of Nicaragua, including many rural or semirural communities, as well as in Masaya, Nicaragua’s second-largest city. In 2012 Bridges to Community began a program in the Dominican Republic, with six trips planned for 2013.
Bridges to Community
U.S. tel. 914/923-2200
Application Process: To apply, send an email to indicate your interest in an existing trip or discuss organizing a group trip. A US$250 deposit is required 90 days prior to your trip; full payment must be received one month before travel. Volunteers with youth/student groups must be age 15 or older; those under the age of 18 must provide a signed parental permission form. Families with children of any age are welcome.
Cost: US$1,295, including all meals, lodging, transportation, hotels, project fees, and entrance fees to sightseeing venues.
Placement Length: The average placement length is nine days.
Language Requirements: None, although Spanish study prior to the trip is always encouraged.
Housing: Typically cots in community centers; volunteers must bring their own sheets and blanket. Meals are included, even those at restaurants.
Operating Since: 1992
Number of Volunteers: 900 in 2012.