BRIDGES ...to the Dominican Republic: January 2010

Participant Reflections 

Picture this, you’re on an airplane on your way to spend two weeks with a family.  You can’t speak their language, and they can’t speak yours.  However, all you’ve heard about is how much of an impact they and the people living in their community will have on your life, but you’re wondering “How is this possible?”   The past two weeks that I spent with the people in La Cuchilla opened my eyes to things that my sheltered life back home had blinded me from.  These people are living with so little available to them, but the smiles that are always on their faces made me realize how blessed I am and how grateful I should be for all the opportunities that I have.  The family I stayed with had seven children from ages 13 to early 20’s and although they have such a small living space and a limited supply of food, electricity, and water, they still opened their home for me and two other students to embrace their culture and take part in giving their community more resources for opportunity, such as the new high school that was just built.  Now that my time in the mountains of La Cuchilla is over, I hope to return soon but in the mean time I’d like to share the wisdom and faith that my family and friends there taught me with my family and friends back home.  The students I met on this trip quickly became my family as well and the memories we are all bringing back will always make me smile.  After having such an indescribable experience I hope to someday have the chance to visit again. --Lauren Krakaur

You only need to do it once for it to change your life forever.  Forget about all of that you thought was essential because when you are introduced to La Cuchilla you are in for a rude awakening.  It is not all bad though; you learn to leave facebook and cell phones in exchange for quality family bonding and the mechanics of cheating in dominoes.  You learn the culture and customs of your host family as well as of the entire community.  You also learn to come together as a team with your peers for a cause greater than you.  It is a beautiful process because not only do you affect the life of strangers, but you also come home with a new family and a great new circle of friends.  This trip is not for the faint of heart because you run the risk of having it stolen by the children who inhabit La Cuchilla.  You won’t mind it though. --Valeria Torres

La Cuchilla is like nothing you’ve ever seen, it’s an experience that will last a lifetime and will “ruin” you forever.   At first when we went to La Cuchilla I was really nervous, because this was the first time I ever been on my own.  La Cuchilla has taught me a lot of life experiences and to be happy with what you have and to never take anything for granted.  La Cuchilla has changed me because I feel I am more determined and will work harder to succeed.  One word of advice would be to take life as it goes and always put a smile on and thanking the Lord for what you have. --Rowson Boirond

I can honestly say my trip to La Cuchilla will impact me for life.  The mountains are beautiful in so many ways and the people on the mountains are even more beautiful.  From the moment I walked into my new home, my family instantly made sure I was comfortable and filled my heart with love. I not only formed a great relationship with my family, but with my other BRIDGES members as well.  This trip has taught me so much about a life I had never experienced and made me so grateful for the life I live.  The people you encounter on this trip gave you the pride and determination to fulfill all of your dreams, all by simply being their loving selves. --Nicole Giannuzzi

This trip was an incredible experience.  Spending time and building a relationship with the family was the most impacting.  The families were open and loving, it was sad to leave them.  Walking up the hills was a challenge at first but I managed to get through it.  The children were full of love, and opened their hearts to strangers.  It was a great experience, one to never be forgotten. --Annie Endanattu

As I reflect back on the two weeks that I spent at “La Cuchilla,” I realized that my overall experience had a theme of unity.  I entered into the house of my host family as a stranger or an “Americana” but I left as their daughter/sister.  I came down the mountain knowing and feeling the unconditional love that was given to me.  I experienced the hard life that is lived in this community but I gained the hope that they never lose sight of.  They are so grateful for the little that they have, which made me realized how I need to be more grateful for all the things that I have.  I made a new family in the Dominican Republic and I hope to one day come back to all nine of my family members. --Betsaida Pabon

My trip to La Cuchilla taught me so many things.  So many cliché’s became reality.  There is the saying that it takes a village to raise a child.  In La Cuchilla that really happens.  For the first week I didn’t even know which children belonged to which family.  Every mother fed and took care of every child.  It was a true example of community.  People in the U.S. could sure learn a thing or two.  I will always remember the great sense of community and caring, and will do my best to bring the love of the people of La Cuchilla to the people in my life. --Noah Dennison

The past two weeks have been absolutely breath-taking.  The scenic views and the cheerful greetings have already left me wanting to come back for more!   I was just so touched by the warmness that my host family showed me from the day I stepped into their house.  Today they are no longer a host but a part of my family and will always remain so.  I came on this trip wanting to leave an imprint on the community of la Cuchilla and somewhere along the bumpy hills up in the mountains. I have found a place where I have left my trademark.  La Cuchilla, thank you for everything you have given me.  The fire that you’ve ignited will always remain lit in my heart. --Sabina Kurian

Returning to the Dominican Republic was the best thing I could have ever done.  As soon as I arrived, I felt like I never left. The people were wonderful and our relationships grew closer.  It was an incredible and rewarding experience and one I will never forget. --Christie Cruse

 Coming back to La Cuchilla for the second time was an amazing experience that I will never forget.  The warmth that my family and the community have shown me is incredible.  What they lack in material things they make up for in love.  They have given me much more than I could have ever asked for and I am truly “ruined for life.”  They are and always will be my Dominican Republic family. --Jessica King

My second time to La Cuchilla has been even more than a success than my first time.  I have developed a better Spanish vocabulary by interacting with the families verbally and even becoming a translator for many who did not speak much Spanish at all.  To return  back to the mountains brought double the happiness to the family who now I call my own, because they are filled with appreciation that I provided as a result from the first trip.  Helping to build the high school up was joy for me because it meant that I was a part of continuing the success of others, leading them to opportunities and happiness in the future.  I can’t wait to return to the mountains and be of great service and love for the people next January of 2011. --Gerald Washington

During my third trip to La Cuchilla, I felt like I never left home.  My Family greeted me with such excitement and full of love.  I was glad to see my La Cuchilla family once again.  Every year I have gone, I grew as a person; and cherish my family back home and what I have.  The love that grows inside of me for my La Cuchilla grows bigger every year.  My family, home and at La Cuchilla, is what keeps going through my daily life.  What I would say to incoming students who would be interested in coming on the BRIDGES to the D.R. is that it is truly a life changing experience, and would change your life or perception in life, but for the better.  It is a taste of heaven and I am looking forward in going back, God permitting. --Carlos Garcia

“Get ready to be ruined forever,” Father Ron said.  BRIDGES to the Dominican Republic has changed me in more ways than one. I have learned to appreciate everyday items, such as water, and food in a different light.  Even though this was a service trip to help others, it has helped me just as much.  The people you encounter on this trip leave foot prints in your heart forever. --Jessica DeSousa

Well I have to say going to La Cuchilla is overwhelming.  The experience is filled with excitement, anticipation, and anxiety; so brace yourselves.  The families are so generous and take you in as one of their own.  Their love is unconditional.  From this experience I take back with me a large appreciation for life and gratitude for having the things and people I have.  Do not take anything for granted.   For the first time, I left my family and made a new one of my own in another country.  It’s amazing! --Jennifer Torres

BRIDGES to the Dominican Republic was more than I expected.  Being in Dominican Republic, especially La Cuchilla, was so much different than being back home in New York.  From the simple things we take for granted, like paved roads to transportation, to the major things, like the community’s Faith and sense of family.  We went to La Cuchilla to help the poor families, but being there helped us too, it helped us see how money and material things doesn’t make people happy.  The people of La Cuchilla have very little and still make due, no complaining.  The families welcomed us with open arms as if we were their own.  The way the people are and live in La Cuchilla, D.R. impacted me in a way that I will never forget.  I only can hope that we made an impact on them and that I can continue to help in any way that I can. --Elizabeth Charlotin

Accomplishments 

1.  Collected, transported, and distributed 2,000 pounds of new clothing, bedding, medicines, vitamins, school supplies, etc. to a dozen mountain communities.
2. Contracted for the construction of 4 new doors and frames for the rural school in Jagua
3. Provided $700 of food a month for the 24 students, from various rural communities, who live in La Casa Madre Maria in Juncalito from Monday through Friday, so that they can continue their studies.
4.  Provided special medical assistance for 2 rural people.
5. Provided scholarships for two rural students to study English in Santiago; purchased school uniforms and supplies for nine rural students.
6. Completed construction, in the mountain community of La Cuchilla, of a cinderblock high school, with steel doors and window guards, and a large water tank to catch rain water for 2 flush toilets, enclosed by a concrete based and soldered cyclone fence.