February 20, 2012

Students Will Volunteer in Nicaragua

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This spring break, a group of 22 students in Cornell’s chapter of the Bridges to Community service organization will help construct a hospital in Siuna, Nicaragua.

Bridges to Community aims “to create a world where basic needs are treated as human rights” by helping provide necessities such as shelter and nutrition to poverty-stricken communities in developing countries, according to its website.

As part of the Cornell trip, participants will attend a mandatory two-credit seminar prior to their departure. The students will discuss  service, learning and poverty, as well as Nicaraguan culture and history.

Prof. Phillip McMichael, development sociology, has advised the group since it was founded in 2004. He has contacted many of his students to volunteer with the program, according to Amy Couch ’12, president of Bridges to Community.

“I worked on a project with Prof. McMichael in a developmental sociology class, and then he recommended that I take Developmental Sociology 4500, which is Bridges to Community,” Couch said. “I went on the trip [last year] and had such a great experience, and I wanted to become more involved.”

Couch said the trip proved to be a learning experience as well as a volunteer opportunity.

“I got more out of engaging with the community members and learning about issues of poverty,” Couch said. “I felt like it was more of an exchange than I was serving them. What I got most out of the trip was what I learned from the people that we worked with.”

Jessie Boas ’13, vice president of Bridges to Community, who also went on the trip last year, said that the program integrates both volunteering and educational aspects.

“I was searching the Cornell Public Service [Center] website, and Bridges seemed to resonate very strongly with me,” she said. “I found that the educational aspect of the program was both exciting and motivating, as our studies would be applicable in the group’s journey to Nicaragua.”

She also said that the program offered her a chance to gain a better understanding of a different culture.

“Compared to a majority of the world, I come from a very privileged background, and I believe it is essential to connect with those that are less fortunate,” Boas said. “In the past, I have become stuck in the Cornell bubble. In order to break free from this isolation, I pushed my limits and joined the Bridges team.”

The trip costs about $1,700 per student. Students pay for the trip and help fundraise throughout the year, according to Couch.

“We have a concert at The Nines, a raffle at Level B, Shadows Dance Troupe puts on a show for us at Bailey and the hockey team does a skate night with us,” she said.

Couch said the program has helped her determine her future plans. Next year, she will return to Cornell to pursue a master’s degree in international agriculture and rural development, with McMichael as one of her advisors.

“I thought international work was what I wanted to do throughout college, and traveling to Nicaragua has confirmed what I want to do and what I am passionate about,” Couch said. “[The trip] definitely impacted what I wanted to do with my life.”

Original Author: Jonathan Swartz