BRIDGES to the Dominican Republic:
May 2007
Participant Reflections

May_Bridges1There are experiences in life that can never be replaced and will never be forgotten. Those experiences are life altering, and if allowed they can change a person at their core. The Bridges trip has not only helped to change the lives of the impoverished in the Dominican Republic, it has also helped to change my life in many ways with the love I experienced from the community as the driving force. The special care and love that we received from our families there cannot be expressed with words. It is a love that must be experienced. As Americans we are more than lucky to have all that we need. Our lifestyles cannot be compared to that of the people living in La Cuchilla. Nonetheless, the people up in the La Cuchilla have more than we could ever dream.
       -Jimmy Abreu

This trip was one of the best things I have ever done with my life. It was one of those rare opportunities where I actually got to know and to understand the people that I helped. Their community had so much heart, and it rubbed off on me. The people, their culture, and my experience in La Cuchilla are things that I will not forget. The lessons that I learned about life are things that I will bring back to America with me. I can't look at the world the same way anymore.
       -John Atti

May_Bridges2There are no words possible to describe my experience in the May 2007 Bridges to the Dominican Republic service trip. In a short two weeks, the people of La Cuchilla opened their arms and made us feel as if we were members of their families, homes, and their community. Even as a non-Spanish speaker, I was able to communicate well with my family and the people of the community. I felt as if I had known them all for years. Through working in the schools with the children, living in a rural mountain home, helping with some of the manual labor, and just being present in some of their everyday life activities, I have been impressed with their lifestyles.
The people in La Cuchilla live very simple lives and were able to show me how it is possible to survive with few materialistic things, and to thrive through the love they have for each other and their faith in God. This trip has opened my eyes to life as I have never known it. The people have inspired me to truly value the many privileges God has given me and to live my life sharing them with others.
       -Jennifer Barry

May_Bridges3The past two weeks have changed my life. The Dominican Republic is amazing, and I am so happy I was fortunate enough to be here. Living with my family here has opened my eyes to the world. They are the happiest people I know, despite what they don't have. Going back to the states I am going to appreciate all of the little things I took for granted, including my family, friends, and hot water.
I even made new friends along the way, and I hope they all learned a lot and remember this experience the rest of their lives.
       -Melanie May Caveda

This service trip to the Dominican Republic has definitely had a powerful impact on my life. Although I am Dominican and I have visited the country many times, La Cuchilla was a whole different world to me. The warmth and generosity of the people there made me truly feel like I was part of the family. Our mission was to help the community, but in the end they helped me in ways that I could have never imagined. The journey climbing up the mountains wasn't easy, but just looking at the happiness on the children's faces and feeling their love made it all worth it. It's never too late to give something back. Most of us spend a lot of time taking. Whenever you can, take time to give back.
Whether it is love, or knowledge, power, or money, take the opportunity because it will allow you to grow and enrich the lives of others. The rewards are often intangible, but they are great.
       -Vanessa Diaz

The Dominican Republic trip was a once in a life time experience that opened the door to a completely different world. In a matter of two weeks I experienced two very different types of Latin American Culture. Santiago was a city that's bursting with fast paced, vibrant lifestyles, while La Cuchilla provided me with a different perspective. The people are unlike any that I have ever met. The adage "mi casa, su casa" really holds true there. They welcomed complete strangers into their home with open arms and treated us just like they treated their own family members. I went on this trip to make a difference and to change some lives, but the life I ultimately changed was my own.
       -Becky Drexl

May_Bridges6On the morning I was to leave for Santiago, I was terrified. I had never been out of the country, and even though I was a Spanish major, I was far from confident in my conversational skills. Despite my many fears, I dove into this experience eagerly and I emerged with certainty that this has been one of the best things I've ever done.

During my time in the Dominican Republic, I became part of a family, learned a new culture, helped the children in school, undertaken manual labor, made friends, and grew up - a lot. I wouldn't trade the two weeks I spent in the Dominican Republic for anything. This experience has not only improved my Spanish, but has also strengthened me as an individual and taught me lessons that I will keep with me always: money certainly does not buy happiness, cultural barriers can be easily overcome, and that love alone can literally change lives.
       -Valerie Ford

The people I met in the mountains made this a valuable experience. The children were bright and eager to learn and to teach. They knew how to traverse the main and back roads with ease. They knew about the fruits which were safe and about animal husbandry. They appreciated nature. The teachers knew the likelihood of those who will progress in school beyond the elementary years- not necessarily because of lack of ability so much as lack of finances. The parents in the families I met maintain a spiritual life and try to teach these values to their children, despite the poverty. Overall, I found that they enjoy life and the simplicity of the mountains.
       -C Haynes

May_Bridges7My Experience in the Dominican Republic far exceeded any expectations I had for the trip. Our planned work projects and team goals were well established and expected, however, the depth of the lessons learned and relationships built in the mountains of La Cuchilla could never have fully been anticipated. The diversity present within our Bridges group alone permitted an immediate strong bond of unity and acceptance - a bond which consequently ignited our passion to serve and love the families of La Cuchilla.

Through my time spent designing and painting a mural for the school, assisting the children with art and crafts, helping with the necessary construction in the community, and simply spending time with my host family, my eyes were opened to many things. I was reminded that love is a choice; that even in the most pressing and trying of situations, to love and to live love through every action is the best choice one could make.
Similarly, I became more aware of the power optimism and perseverance have in creating change. I learned that creating change in one's life or community must first be initiated by willingness and desire to remain positive - for it is the attitude of ones thoughts which ultimately direct their course.

My time in the mountains of La Cuchilla will forever impact my life. The community we served and my host family have captivated my heart and will forever remain in my thoughts and prayers.
       -Lindsay Lynch

My experience got better for my second time in the Dominican Republic. Life is too short to experience only one lifestyle, and this trip has shown me twice that money does not always bring happiness. When I returned to my host family, they welcomed me with open arms and were happy to see me again. The Bridges to the Dominican Republic is a rare opportunity that everyone should undertake.
There will be rough terrain, creepy bugs, and new challenges, but none of this will compare to the love of the people of La Cuchilla. Step outside the boundaries of your American life because this trip will change your existence.
       -Chris Masterson

May_Bridges8By far, this trip was the most rewarding experience I have ever undertaken.
Never would I have imagined that I would learn this much, not only about another culture and the other students who joined me, but also about myself and my priorities. Although the experience was extremely challenging in many ways, the welcoming love we each received there was amazing. We were all received by loving and caring families that treated us like their own. I loved how my mother rubbed my shoulders every night. We grew very close, and it was very difficult to leave them and the beautiful mountain side. I grew to love the sound of the rooster every morning, and the sunrise is a must see. Will I consider doing it again? Definitely!
       -Paula Mathe

  My experiences in the Dominican Republic are unforgettable. Twenty amazing students came together and created a bond that impacted an entire community. After just one day in the mountains, I had found a safe haven and a place to call home. The residents of La Cuchilla welcomed and cared for us in such a warm manner. Climbing everyday was definitely a struggle. I never imagined my boots to get so muddy and broken. However my Dominican parents'
warm smile and the energy of my siblings made it all worth it. Nights were filled with music, dancing and laughter. After struggling with those mosquito nets, we were fast asleep, exhausted from the day's events. I loved teaching at the schools because it was so rewarding to know that I had enriched at least one student's life. Initially, one of the hardest things for me, especially as a Dominican American, was to see the disadvantages and poverty that these amazing people faced. But amidst their humility and poverty, I later realized that they had great gifts to share with us. Love, unity, peace, and a faith flowed freely and made them grateful for all they had. I came to appreciate this strong sense of unity and community, which was far different from the United States' focus on individualism and consumption.

I went to the Dominican Republic to give my all to the community in La Cuchilla. However, their gift to me was more valuable than anything I could give to them. Because of them I am wiser and stronger - both emotionally and mentally. These qualities make the physical struggles I faced in the mountains minute. If given the opportunity, I'd definitely do it again.
       -Ilyan Nunez

May_Bridges4I cannot think of enough words to express my feelings about the service trip to La Cuchilla. The trip was a wonderful experience that I am sure will have a great impact on my life. While the families and children in the community have very little in terms of material possessions, their lives are filled with happiness. Although we helped the community in many ways, they helped me personally by teaching me many beautiful things, including appreciation for family and community.  While the trip was very difficult the hardest part was leaving.
       -Marie Quinones

Everyone wants to be part of something spectacular, including myself. After attending the May 2007 Bridges trip, I am proud to say that I have been. When I look back, I know the hundreds of pictures will not do any justice - not even in my journal. The smiles, expressions, and experiences will be forever embedded in my memory and heart. Every single person on this trip and in La Cuchilla has touched someone else's life. This is where I lived, learned, and grew. With God's help and love, I became a better and stronger person. It was an absolutely beautiful blessing.
       -Catherine Rivera

In this placed called La Cuchilla, my heart was stolen by the love of the community. I was very nervous to go up to the mountain, but my nerves were settled after I met my host family. On the first day, the mother in my host family embraced me like she was my biological mother. She was there to help me with anything I needed, "siempre" with a smile. One night she even checked the bathroom for me to make sure that there were no bugs.

The children, who were always playing and laughing, were great also. I personally enjoyed playing catch with the boys. They are all so appreciative and wanted to enjoy each day with you.

La Cuchilla helped me realize that the little things in life are worth while.
The simple "hello" from strangers walking up the mountain made the walk more bearable. This was life changing experience that I will forever remember.
       -Amanda Roberts

May_Bridges5The Bridges to the Dominican Republic trip was the culminating experience of my undergraduate career. As a new professional and graduate student, I know this unique life experience helped to open my eyes in many ways. The people of La Cuchilla village were nothing short of incredible. They were the most welcoming and loving people that I have ever met. Even though I only stayed for a brief two weeks, I came to see my host family as a part of my own.

The support of the other nineteen members of our team also helped to make the trip a success. We bonded and found new strategies to help this special community in the beautiful mountainside of La Cuchilla. I recommend this trip for anyone looking to find the "Real World" and the greatest adventure life has to offer.
       -Jordan Roldan

No words can truly express my feelings about this trip. All of my work in the Dominican Republic has helped me to grow as an individual and to discover new horizons in a completely different world. La Cuchilla opened my eyes to a whole new culture that I will always remember and incorporate into my future. As a team, I was part of twenty people who successfully aided the community in many different ways.

Now that my experience is over, I only hope to see more individuals who are willing to take two weeks out of their lives to help people who deserve nothing short of the best. No matter what happens or where I go in life, I will never forget the warmth of the families. Their strength and kindness is their key to growing together and succeeding.
       -Joel Santana X

This trip is different from other service trips because it's not about you or them; it's about you and them together. The people in La Cuchilla were just happy that I was with them in their community and I was grateful for the experience. The people live their lives with a unique grace and devotion for God. They live simply, but are genuine people with no false exteriors or fronts. They take nothing for granted and embrace new people.
During the trip I had trouble gauging exactly what we gave and how we helped the community, but in the end it just seemed that they appreciative of the fact that we came and wanted to help out. The sense of community that they shared only displays their mastery of love and benevolence. What I saw made me stop and question myself- it compelled me to make changes in my American life. I was worried about communication because I didn't really know Spanish, but it wasn't a problem. However I hope to go back and I wish to improve my language skills so I can communicate better. This trip is something that I will always remember and keep close to my heart; my only regret is that I have only gone once.
       -Gregory Schwalje

In all honesty this has been one of the most life changing experiences in my life. I am not going to lie and say it was easy, because it definitely was not.
At times, I thought I was going to quit because there were parts of the trip that were so hard. Even though I had been warned about the hardships beforehand, none of it seemed real until I got there and experienced it firsthand. However, the most challenging part of the trip was the saying goodbye to my family. The kids and their families were happy with so little, and they made me realize how selfish I can sometimes be in my own life stateside. I built some great memories with my fellow participants on this trip, gained a second Dominican family who loves me just as much as my own, made new friends in the Dominican Republic, and received little notes or gifts of appreciation from the kids. This trip just truly opened me up as a person, and made me see a whole new door to life.
       -Alexis Webb

There is a certain kind of peace that only prevails within these rugged hills and through the hard twisting trails of La Cuchilla. The rain seems to wash away our privilege, while the terrain challenges us to look at poverty with renewed vigor and transparency. The light of the people in the community of La Cuchilla touches me in different ways every time I return, and it allows me to see past the shadows of materialism in my own life in the United States. In this way, I am humbled in the presence of this beautiful community. Time and time again, it all brings me back to this place that I am honored to call home.
       -John Yao

BRIDGES to the Dominican Republic Project
Final Report

From May 21st through June 4th, 2007, BRIDGES brought 20 college students and staff to do community service in the remote mountains of the Dominican Republic.  From June 23rd through 30th, we brought a second group of three bilingual school teachers to prepare ten 8th graders for their national high school entrance exams.  The participants lived with  seven poor farming families.  Each day the group came together to offer a variety of services.
Our volunteers taught English, math, arts & crafts, and dance in two rural public schools.  Among the concrete services we provided were the following:

  1. Collected, transported and distributed 2,000 pounds of new clothing, bedding, vitamins, medicines, books, toys, electrical appliances, etc. to various rural communities.
  2. Provided materials and labor to construct two cement foot bridges crossing creeks, and re-cemented  La Cuchilla's community meeting building and water tank.
  3.  Re-painted the outside of the schools and chapels in Jagua and La Cuchilla, adorning the La Cuchilla school with colorful murals.
  4.  Installed swing sets for two rural schools and for three families.
  5.  Provided fifty feet of reenforced concrete to cover a muddy section of the gravel road to Dojima.
  6. Purchased building materials for a fence and front gate for the chapel in Jagua.
  7. Provided the materials to construct two houses, a flush-toilet bathroom, and a new tin roof.
  8. Installed three rural homes with "inversores" to provide electricity during the daily black-outs.
  9. Contributed towards construction of a second floor for the Juncalito High School.
  10.  Purchased large locked cabinets and a table for the schools of Jagua and La Cuchilla.
  11.  Paid for construction of a grocery store/fish shop in Caraballo, Fantino.
  12.  Bought pipes to bring water almost a mile to 5 remote families.
  13.  Provided $700 of food a month for students living Monday-Friday in La Casa Madre Maria.
  14.  Provided monthly food aid to 4 families in La Cuchilla and Jagua.
  15.  Funded special medical care for 5 rural people.
  16.  Provided full tuition for 2 students in college, 3 in an English Institute, and 1 in a Computer Center; provided financial aid to 2 other students, and school supplies for 20 rural students.