BRIDGES to the Dominican Republic:
January 2008
Participant Reflections

This experience is so hard to put into words. The love that came from these mountains and their people are more than anyone could ever imagine. These people have nothing, yet they have everything we (USA) lack. It never mattered that the electricity barely came on, that the water was cold, that the roosters crow all day and night, or that they had to walk up and down hills everyday to get anywhere. The things that mattered there were the simple things in life that we take for granted…love, smiles, family, community, and faith. Helen Keller said, “The best and most beautiful things are not seen. They are felt with the heart.” I now have in my heart the best and most beautiful feeling…a taste of heaven.
–Jessica Flores

One thing I must say about BRIDGES is “don’t judge a book by its cover.” The cover of La Cuchilla is a photo of poverty and poor living conditions. But beyond that is the book which tells a story of beauty and happiness. For me, being in La Cuchilla was very much outside of my element. How I reacted to that situation showed me who I am and who I want to become. To be able to look back on my experience at the beautiful smiling faces of my family gives me hope for the future all over the world. Originally I went on this trip to help those in need, but it turned out that those people helped me. Now, that I have been altered into a more humble and grateful human being, it will be something I carry with me for the rest of my life.
- Karen Cardinal

It’s hard to imagine that a tiny mountain village called La Cuchilla could have such a tremendous impact on a person. But it does, and it is hard to put into words just how much this community means to me. This was my second trip to La Cuchilla and yet I was still amazed at the love and strength that glowed within these beautiful people. They get by living on simple things in life and survive without the things that we take for granted. It’s because of this that I have been “ruined for life.” The people of La Cuchilla will always hold a special place in my heart.
- Erin Ashton

Our two week journey to La Cuchilla was an unbelievable, life altering experience. The people of La Cuchilla are amazing and filled with unconditional love which they shower over anybody who visits their village. As soon as we arrived at our house, our family adopted us as one of their own. When we left it was no longer 3 American kids living with a Dominican family; we all melted into one, big loving family. The unconditional love of the people from La Cuchilla was not limited only to the household – we were greeted with open arms from the entire community. Working with the children at school was irreplaceable. They showed me firsthand the importance of faith, family, love, having a positive outlook on everything. Despite not having a lot, they knew how to be happy. Every single person I met in La Cuchilla has inspired me to re-evaluate what I deem as important and reinforced who I am and what I would like to achieve in life. The last two weeks in La Cuchilla are a time in my life I will never forget and I feel blessed to have been lucky enough to experience it. The people of La Cuchilla are forever in my heart and prayers.
- Whitney A. Breckenridge

When I spoke about this tip to friends and family before I left, everyone said doing service for these people was such a nice thing to do. What people don’t realize is that you get more from the people of La Cuchilla in those 11 days then you could possibly give back to them. The love and acceptance of La Cuchilla cannot be matched by any other community. This experience is too important to miss, and you will benefit just as much from the families you meet and work and dance with, as they benefit from the work you do for their community.
- Sarah Miller

The past two weeks in the DR have been the most enriching two weeks of my life. Prior to leaving for the trip, I was a little worried that I would have such a hard time communicating to the families and children because I didn’t know much Spanish, but in actuality it didn’t make much difference. As soon as we got to La Cuchilla, we were greeted with open arms and smiling faces; there was a powerful connection from that point on. We were always treated as family and nothing less. Spending the two weeks in La Cuchilla really reinforced and made me realize that happiness does not come from material things or having a lot, it comes from spending time with family and friends. The people of La Cuchilla are some of the most loving, caring, and gracious people anyone could or will meet in their lifetime.
-Dottie David-Wilson

The trip to La Cuchilla is life changing. The complete experience is worthwhile as you get the opportunity to live in a poor mountainous community. The families are so loving and unforgettable. The BRIDGES program gives students the ability to live in a town that has minimal resources we are not used to. Even though life is completely different, the people and kids are so appreciative of our presence. Words cannot explain what you leave with from La Cuchilla. Once you go through the program you will have a greater appreciation for family and the smaller things in life. No matter what life throws at you, after this trip you will have a true picture of how to go about living your own life as the people of La Cuchilla do.
- Arturo Moreira

I was the only person from my college going on the trip, and I didn’t know any of the people going. It was the first time I was truly on my own. But by the end of the first day I knew my feelings of loneliness wouldn’t last. The other college students were friendly and accepting. I would soon find out that their kindness could only be surpassed by how much love and care for all of us that the humble people of La Cuchilla had. When people say “they are like our second family,” they’re right. These people offer you everything they have – heart and home.
- Andrea Miranda

This trip was an amazing experience that has changed my outlook on life and helped form new friendships. I have learned to appreciate the little things in life that we sometimes take for granted. I’ve seen families that have had just about nothing and yet everyday they are happy and with a smile on their face. Something I will take back from this trip is the way a community comes together and forms one family “with a smile”.
– Jessica De Sousa

This trip I can honestly say is a life changing experience. The people in La Cuchilla made me feel at home as soon as I met them. It is so amazing to see them so alive and enjoying themselves. I would have never thought that the people in La Cuchilla were the way they were. They always had a smile on their faces and were ready to make you smile. The kids were so full of energy and always wanted to play. We went to La Cuchilla to help the people there but I feel like they helped me. They made us feel welcomed, treated us like family and gave us unconditional love. This trip is not only a great experience but it’s also a great way to create new friendships. The people in La Cuchilla will forever stay in my heart.
– Patricia Pauyo

This trip has been a life changing experience for me; never did I imagine that the simple things in life that I may sometimes take for granted are treasures to the people of La Cuchilla. The people at La Cuchilla were the most amazing, grateful, and most humble people I have ever met. My “family” made me feel so at home that it never felt like I left New York. Whether it was the hugs we got in the morning before leaving to school or the good night kisses before bed. The other part that made me feel so at home was the wonderful friends that I made. “It is not where you travel but with whom.” Someone wrote that in my journal and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The friendships that were created during these two weeks are unbreakable. I only made it to the 1st planning meeting and for the last meeting, and never once did they make me feel out of place. Team U.S.A. thank you for all the love and I cannot wait for the May 2008 trip.
– Steven Laboy

Looking back on this trip I only remember good times with my family from the Dominican Republic. From the first step I took into the house I felt as if I was already part of the family. My family was so happy to have me there it made me feel so comfortable. Overall the people of La Cuchilla were a family of their own. Everyone in the town treated each other with respect, something we don’t see everyday in the states. The main lesson I learned in La Cuchilla is that money doesn’t buy you love or happiness. Sometimes we get caught up with our $5 coffee and designer jeans but in the end we don’t realize the real part of life. As my Dominican host mom and I would say every night, I don’t have any money or anything to give, the only thing I have to give is love and La Cuchilla is filled with this love.
– Victor Woolworth

It is hard to try to explain my experience in La Cuchilla without crying. The people there have so little and yet gave us so much. The love that those people have for us was amazing. The welcomed us with open hearts from the first minute they met us. My host family stole my heart. Isabel and Albino opened up their home and hearts to Jessica and me right away. I fell in love with my “family.” Teaching at La Cuchilla School was an experience I will never forget, the kids were so loving and filled with energy… they were breathtaking! My goal was to go on this trip and help the community of La Cuchilla without needing anything in return. However they gave me so much more. They gave me love, hope and strength. There was not a single day without the laughter, so rich and pure that it went right from them to your heart, of the kids and even the adults. The people of La Cuchilla are beautiful, amazing, loving and strong individuals. I pray to God that I can return as soon as I can to my “family” in La Cuchilla. I am blessed to have been able to be part of this trip. I am also blessed with the friendships that I formed with the other students on the trip. I will always treasure the awesome memories. I truly recommend this trip to anyone; your life will never be the same!
– Julissa Diaz

Being apart of this trip was a life changing experience as Father Ron said it would be. When I first arrived to La Cuchilla I didn’t know what I was getting into, and had to admit that I was scared, but when I walked into my host home and met my “family” I wasn’t scared anymore because they welcomed me with open arms. They were just like my family in the states. Every day I spent in La Cuchilla was truly amazing. I truly believe the people from La Cuchilla made me a better person. They all truly stole my heart from day one.
– Carlos Garcia

Since my first day with my family in La Cuchilla, I felt comfortable and at home. Their capacity for such hospitality and unconditional love, which is so prevalent among the members of their community, will stay with me as I continue my life back at home. Not only am I grateful for my experiences with my family and students at the school, but I am incredibly grateful to have become so close to my travel companions. Overall the trip was an unforgettable learning experience that I hope to share and take with me for the rest of my life.
– Maria Geyman

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to return to La Cuchilla for the second time. One year ago I fell in love with the people of this community. Returning to La Cuchilla has intensified my love and deep appreciation for the community. Over the course of the two trips I have experienced countless smiles and laughter which have been cemented into my heart. After visiting the community for the second time I feel as though the path of life which I have chosen has been solidified. The people of La Cuchilla have brought me the greatest joy I have ever known. A joy that I am eternally grateful for.
– Kerry Reynolds


BRIDGES to the Dominican Republic Project
Final Report

From January 4-18, 2008, BRIDGES brought 18 college students and staff to do community service in the remote mountains of the Dominican Republic. The participants lived with eight 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 1,500 pounds of new clothing, bedding, vitamins, medicines, books, toys, appliances, and 2 laptop computers, to various rural communities.

2. Constructed basketball courts for La Cuchilla and Jagua.

3. Painted the interior of the La Cuchilla school and the Jagua chapel.

4. Provided materials to construct a cinder block community storage building in La Cuchilla.

5. Purchased three large fiberglass ladders, a winch, and four work tables and benches for La Cuchilla and Jagua.

6. Purchased building materials for 1 family to build a new home, for another to construct a kitchen, for another to complete a flush-toilet bathroom, and for another to install a 1000 gallon tank to collect rain water, so that the family doesn't have to carry all their water up from the gully far below their home.

7. Provided materials in El Ocho, outside of Fantino, to construct a sanitary system for 38 families who are being helped to build new houses on higher ground, after they had lost everything in a flood.

8. Installed four additional rural homes with "inversores" to provide electricity during the daily black-outs.

9. Provided over 200 children in La Cuchilla and Jagua with basic school supplies for Children's Day.

10. Provided $600 to a community leader from La Cuchilla whose home and all his family's belongings had been washed away in a flood.

11. Provided a bulldozer and construction materials to transform a natural swimming hole in La Cuchilla into a large cement community swimming pool.

12. Provided $700 of food a month for the 30 students, from various rural communities, who live in La Casa Madre Maria from Monday through Friday so that they can continue their studies.

13. Paid the tuition for 2 college students, 1 student in an English Institute, and 6 rural students to study in a Computer Center.