With bruises, paint-stained hands and bug-bitten legs, 11 members of the Wilton Presbyterian Church returned from Nicaragua on Saturday, Aug. 1, after spending seven days helping improve the lives of an impoverished community.
Through the international nonprofit organization Bridges to Community, the group built a home for a single mother and her seven children who had been living in a one-room house made of corrugated metal, plastic, tarp paper and a sheet.
The Rev. Shannon White said she and the other 10 volunteers worked with the family to build a new home on levels of cinderblocks with metal reinforcement to withstand earthquakes.
“It was a lot of mixing concrete and making bucketloads of cement,” said 20-year-old Wiltonian Connor Brown.
From pushing wheelbarrows of gravel and sand to lifting 50-pound bags of cement, White said, the work was intense, but worth it.
One of the family members, who permanently walks on a crutch, plans to harvest coffee plants around the new home so he will no longer have to travel far. During the house dedication, White said, “his comment to us was, ‘We now have an opportunity.’”

Other projects


In addition to building the house, the group worked on a biodigester for another family, and painted two houses previously built by Bridges to Community.
Connor said a biodigester is “like a fancy latrine” that separates byproducts into chambers. After a month, the top fills up with methane gas, which can be used for cooking, and the rest of the waste can be used as fertilizer for plants.

“All the byproducts get used. They get broken down by the bacteria so that it’s usable. It’s pretty amazing,” said White.
“People would normally just go [to the bathroom] outside, so this keeps the water sources clean and gives them the ability to do other things.”

Relationships


Connor’s mother, Claire Brown, who had looked forward to providing the family with a secure home, said she took away much more from the trip than expected — “because of the experience and relationships that you developed with the family, the masons, the locals and the children.”
A member of the group, who fell and fractured her pelvis early in trip, would sit at the work site and play with the children.
“There was a sea of children around her. She had them all coloring, making bracelets — I mean, it was beautiful,” said White.
“Even though she wasn’t actually doing the physical work, she had a huge part.”
Despite a language barrier, said 27-year-old Wiltonian Alison Wood, she felt a connection with the local people.

“Bridges to Community is not the type of organization that just gives things. They really want it to be a partnership with the people,” she said.
“We didn’t actually talk to them that much, but it felt like we did — from smiling and the way they jumped in to help. It was really powerful.”
Getting to know the family, workers and other Nicaraguans opened group members’ eyes to reality different from the one they are used to back home.
“It was life-changing. It was amazing to see how little these people have and how much happier they are than the average Wiltonian,” said Connor.
“I can definitely say that I’ll be back down there next year, and I plan on eventually applying to Bridges [to Community] to be one of their workers.”

Living in Nicaragua


While in Nicaragua, the group stayed on a woman’s farm and slept on metal bunk-beds in her living room, which she divided up with plywood, said Claire.
During their week-long trip, Connor said the weather was “perfect.”
“It rained a couple times, but it was not humid in the mountains,” he said. “It was hot during the day, but cool at night.”
The trip was the church’s second time going to Nicaragua. Following last year’s trip — during which volunteers were served rice and beans for breakfast, lunch and dinner — White decided to challenge congregation members to spend no more than $6 on food each day for a week to see what it’s like for people living on a limited budget.
On this year’s trip, White said, the group had a little more food variety.
“In addition to rice and beans, there was chicken, fresh fruit, eggs, tortillas and salads,” said White. “It was amazing and a huge step-up from last year.”
White, who has been invited to be on Bridges to Community’s board of directors, said she is very proud of the congregation members’ work in Nicaragua.
“Proud because people took initiative to step outside their own comfort zones and make relationships with people that will be life-changing not just for them, but for us,” she said.
“We were asked to come back [to Wilton] and share the stories, and that’s what we can do. We can say, ‘This is how it is here.’ Our vision needs to be beyond Wilton.”
While local and national outreach is important, White said, “it’s also important to keep our eyes broader.”




Click here to learn more about Bridges to Community.
Click here to learn more about Wilton Presbyterian Church.