April 14, 2008

Students Host Dinner to Raise Funding for Trip to Nicaragua

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Last night, Cornell’s Bridges to Community hosted 75 guests for an evening of local delicacies — from Wegman’s sandwiches to pizza from the Nines — and musical performances at the Statler. The event raised over $700, which will benefit the group’s trip to Nicaragua next March.
The money raised at the benefit dinner, which was made possible by donations from local eateries and the services students in the School of Hotel Administration, will help Bridges to Community members support the Nicaraguan economy by funding local masonry labor building materials for important construction projects in Nicaragua.
But the benefit dinner was more than just an important fundraiser; it was an opportunity to share excitement about the young club’s mission and a milestone in its development. Marcus Cohn ’07 and Jessica Lustvader ’06 took part in the group’s inaugural trip to Nicaragua in June 2004 with six other Cornell students after having met on a high school Bridges to Community trip to Nicaragua. Since then, participation has grown rapidly. The group sent 39 undergraduate students out of a maximum of 40 allowed on the trip this past Spring Break.
“I am really glad that the benefit dinner happened,” Cohn said. “I think it really shows the power and energy surrounding the trip and the experience that it gives to students … There’s an interest in the community to support these efforts and these students … It’s been wonderful to watch [Cornell Bridges to Community] grow, but it’s hard to watch it and not be there. It’s amazing that they’ve been able to pull it off.”
In its grassroots approach, Bridges to Community members learn about community projects from Nicaraguan community committee members, who are elected to direct volunteers to address the community’s most pressing needs. On their recent Spring Break trip, Cornell volunteers constructed three separate four to six person homes, each at a cost of $3,500 to $4,000, and a footbridge to help Nicaraguans get to work and school during the rainy season. [img_assist|nid=29813|title=Picture this|desc=Students from Cornell’s Bridges to Community deliver a presentation on their Spring Break trip to Nicaragua yesterday. The group has raised over $700 for the trip.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Bridges to Cornell members take a 2-credit independent study course every week with Prof. Phil McMichael, development sociology, to learn about both current and historical events, including natural disasters that have destroyed the country’s resources and left it susceptible to external political forces. Second only to Haiti in poverty in the western hemisphere, Nicaragua has a $3,600 GDP per capita and nearly 6 million.
“I think it’s really easy to get caught up in living at Cornell in a bubble, and it’s important to see other cultures and experience what the rest of the world is like,” said Adrienne Zak ’10 who participated in the trip this past Spring Break.
The building projects not only make a physical impact on the community, but also empower the community and enlighten volunteers’ worldviews.
Although the volunteers donated their time and the building materials, Bridges to Community organized payment plans for the families who would live in the homes, in order to finance approximately half the value of the house. According to Carrie Down ’08, co-president of Bridges to Community, this helped to build confidence within the community. The money from the finance plan will be used for subsequent Bridges to Community development projects.
Students also learned first hand about the world outside the Cornell “bubble” by working alongside local masons and engaging with students from Universidad Centroamericana to discuss political and social issues.
“It’s shocking to go out of your element and meet people who have such a different perspective, and have different perspective,” said Melissa Quick ’10, another trip participant.
But Cornell Bridges to Community is only one part of the solution to enriching lives in other nations and in Ithaca.
“I would love to see more working together amongst other service learning groups, and a global initiative group to network and share resources, fundraise together and increase awareness in terms of the global perspective,” Down said. “Service learning could be such a big component of the Cornell education.”