BRIDGES to the Dominican Republic: May-June 2008
This trip was a life changing experience that I was thankful to be a part of. It was a privilege to serve those who are less fortunate and make a difference in the lives of such beautiful people. The physical needs we donated to them were reciprocated tenfold through the love that they shared with us.
- Danielle Pittaluga
These past two weeks have surpassed all of my expectations. The bonds I’ve made, both with my family and the group, are stronger than I ever imagined they could be. This trip showed me how much of a difference a single person can make in a number of people’s lives. I feel like I didn’t do much, but the reactions of the people of La Cuchilla, told me differently. I am very happy I decided to do this service trip.
- Maria Nappo
May 29th marked the experience of a lifetime. I was off to an unknown civilization with all of my guards up. Mixed emotions were going through my head as I entered La Cuchilla. As a non-Spanish speaking person, I was not sure if I would be able to build an attachment with the family. I was so wrong; the Guiterrez family welcomed me with open hands. Regardless of my ethnicity or economic background, they treated me as if I was one of their own. I have never experienced anything like it. It amazes me how these people were so loving and genuine, despite their economic status. Family always comes first, this is something that I admire and will always keep with me forever and ever.
- Deja Vann
My time in the mountains of La Cuchilla was very valuable to me. I went on this trip expecting to learn culture and diversity, but I learned so much more. Living with the families, working in the school, and being part of this community opened my eyes to a different side of life. All my worries from home were gone as I took in the beautiful world these people live in. While many think these people are poor, I came to realize that I am poor. These people were rich with love and compassion. They opened their hearts, their homes, and their community to us with no hesitations. They know how to recognize that it is the small things in life that make it worth living. A simple walk to school with friends or a night of cards around the table is enough to make life enjoyable. I fell in love with each and every one of the people in this community, and because of what I experienced on this trip I will never be the same.
- Ashley Cummings
For the past year, whenever I needed to find a place of peace and happiness, I would think of the beautiful mountains of La Cuchilla. I dreamed of the wonderful people every night before my return. The families and kids have truly touched my heart. They able to bring out emotions from me that I never knew existed. Everything about being in the program is worth loving: the relationships I formed with other group members, the kisses the mother of my family gave me every night, the screaming contest with my little sister Esmerlin, and the breath taking sunrise between the hills, trees, and everything in between. I will go back to these people for as many opportunities as I can get. This program has definitely affected my future career plans, and I don’t regret one bit of it. Many thanks to the other group members, and Father Ron who has given me not one, but two opportunities to spend time with the beautiful people of La Cuchilla.
Where can one walk into a house they have never been to and be embraced with love? Where does one cry when leaving after only being there for a short time? La Cuchilla is a place that will always be in my heart. The community, the people and their culture will always have a special place in my heart. We always take things for granted, until we actually see what poverty is. This group came to help out, but in the end we are the ones who were changed for life. Whenever I see a tostón or hear a bachata I will always think of the time I spent in La Cuchilla, and will dream of the return back. To all those in La Cuchilla thank you for taking me in and letting me be a part of your family.
- Victor Woolworth.
Going to La Cuchilla was a wonderful experience that I’m glad I had the opportunity to do. The people there are so loving and giving to anyone they meet. The moment I met my family in La Cuchilla, I felt welcomed and loved. They made a huge effort to make me feel like I was one of their own children. Although they didn’t have a lot of material goods to offer, they gave an abundance of love that will change my life forever. I’m very happy I went and I hope that God will bless me with the chance to be reunited with my La Cuchilla family once again.
- Melanie French
Bridges to me was an opportunity for many things. Among them was to grow as an individual and develop my identity. The relationships that were created are indescribable, but the best way to put it is that everyone you go with and the people you live with become your family. It was an amazing experience that pushed me to my limitations and made me a better individual. Saludo
- Andrew LaBarbera
Who in a million years would have the opportunity to travel to a third world country to provide community service not once but twice, well thanks to the Bridges program I did. The people of La Cuchilla are loving, compassionate, and caring. When we sign up for the trip we wonder what did we get ourselves into, another country, people we never met, it’s a whole new world for us. But imagine how they feel letting students in their house that they know nothing of, or that they might never see again. These people had no problem with the adjustment; they treated us like if we were one of their own. I went to provide the service to them but in the long run they provided the service to me. They taught me the real meaning of family, faith, and showed me that it’s not how much you have but what you do with the little you do have. They never complained and always had faith that God will get them through anything. I would like to end with this quote that sums the whole experience up. “Volunteering can be an exciting, growing, enjoyable experience. It is truly gratifying to serve a cause, practice one's ideals, work with people, solve problems, see benefits, and know one had a hand in them (Harriet Naylor).”
- Steven Laboy
The beauty of the Dominican Republic trip is that you can really start to see the human potential to hold love, and after a while, you might find some of that love inside yourself. The first time I participated in this trip one year ago, it changed my life. Now returning, I can still feel the love shown by the family in La Cuchilla affecting me. This service trip really helped me to figure out what kind of person I could be.
- John Atti
The time I spent in the Dominican Republic is time that I look back on and cherish. I have done a great deal of traveling abroad but this trip is the one that is most near and dear to my heart. The friendships that I made with my family and other members of the community are friendships though miles apart, I will never forget. The hospitality and the love they gave, was like no other. From the smiles on their faces when I woke up until the warm hugs goodnight I received each evening. The love was truly genuine. The moment that stands out most in my mind was the day I came home drenched because we were walking back from school in the rain. My grandma brought me a chair to sit, took my poncho, and my wet boots and brought me out my sandals. Then she proceeded to make a hot cup of coffee to warm me up. All I could do was say gracias and smile. I honestly cherish every moment that I spent with the wonderful people of La Cuchilla and I miss them more then I ever thought I would.
- Christie Cruse
"I am ready for war"... that is what I always told Father. This was a great experience and I will recommend it to everyone. I have become more connected with myself and my culture. This trip has made me realize my gift as well as my calling. I am blessed to have come this far and to have the opportunity to have met a beautiful people. Their spirit is great and, though they are poor, they are wealthy with love and humility. I taught in the classroom and learned all the names of all my students, as well as getting well acquainted with their parents.
I lived with a big family and I loved the way they interacted with one another, and the way they took us in as one of their own. From the moment I walked in that house we fed off each other’s energy and grew together. My family was not only with the children and the parents in our home, but the entire group of summer 08. I love each one for different reasons, but most of all for their open mind. They were humble with each other as well as the families. We built a strong bond within the group and when we noticed a weak link we fixed it. It was not easy I will admit, but very rewarding. We, the “Americans," were not outsiders; to them we were family. We played UNO, bathe and swam in the water hole, painted, took turns teaching, and playing with the children. We learned from each other, we exposed them to new ideas, while they taught us how to be creative and build something from what most of us will see as nothing. They love unconditionally and are genuine, and are very honest. Family is the most important thing to them. Our resources are a luxury and very essential for our development and we take them for granted. This experience was a reality check and made us as a group be more appreciative of what we have, as well as the struggle. Like Kanye West says, "That which does not kill me only makes me stronger." Love and faith is how we are going to get through these hard times. It's not just through physical strength but spiritual endurance. It's not about the destination but rather the journey, and this is just the beginning.
- Francis Geraldo
From May 29-June 12, 2008, BRIDGES brought 21 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 elementary schools. Among the concrete services we provided were the following:
1. Collected, transported, and distributed 1,500 pounds of new clothing, bedding, medicines, vitamins, books, and toys to various rural communities.
2. Painted a 22’ x 14’ mural on the general store in the center of La Cuchilla, and various decorative designs on the school in Jagua.
3. Painted the meeting building and the new storage building in La Cuchilla.
4. Cemented benches in front on the chapel in La Cuchilla.
5. Provided materials to lay 850’ of reinforced cement on the steep dirt road from Dojima down to the river, the first part of the access road to La Cuchilla.
6. Completed cementing a gradual incline to the concrete wall of the new swimming hole, so that the creek’s current can push leaves and debris over the wall and out of the swimming hole.
7. Purchased the materials for the foundation and roof of one house, materials to complete a kitchen for second house, and helped pay for roofing of a third house.
8. Provided the building materials in El Ocho, outside of Fantino, to construct a meeting building, similar to the one we already constructed in La Cuchilla.
9. Installed five additional rural homes with inverters to provide continuous electricity during the daily blackouts.
10. 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. After the last day of classes, brought all the students and staff on the 5 hour bus ride down the mountains for a day of bathing and picnicking at Cofresi Beach on the north coast.
11. Provided special medical assistance for four rural people.
12. Paid the tuition for 2 college students, assisted 2 additional college students with transportation money, and provided uniforms and school supplies for a dozen rural students.
13. Submitted to the Department of Education a formal request to establish a “TV Centro” high school in La Cuchilla, to serve students from four rural communities. If and when approval is granted, we have secured offers of several different sites along the main road where we would construct the building.