By Skyler Badenoch, Director of Development – East Coast
I recently visited the village of El Trabon in Nicaragua, where buildOn was just days away from completing a three-classroom primary school. El Trabon was electric with excitement about the imminent completion their new school, and the community members were eager to ask me questions about the status of the afterschool students from the Bronx who had spent two weeks living with host families and helping build their school.
To date, we have sent more than 2,000 high school students from our U.S. programs to the developing countries where we work to help build schools. We know that this experience is transformational for both the buildOn students and the community members in the villages where we work.
But during this trip, there was one student who stood out. This became clear as I spoke to El Trabon community leader Don Antonio. “I was surprised at how hard the students worked,” Don Antonio said. “We were all surprised. They showed great courage and they inspired our community, our children, our parents, and our grandparents. But while we will remember all of the students who traveled from the U.S. to help us build our school, we will specifically remember Gina Bunche. When Gina fist arrived, we thought she was going to be so serious and difficult to get to know. It turned out that she was the opposite. Her enthusiasm was contagious, and she was always smiling and giving encouragement. We can never forget that.”
When I returned to the United States from my trip to Nicaragua, I called Gina to let her know that she had succeeded as a grassroots ambassador for buildOn and for youth in the United States. While Gina was touched to hear about the impact she made, she was quick to point out that experience and her interaction with the community members of El Trabon made a great impact on her belief system.
“In El Trabon, I was impressed by how much the people were able to accomplish with so little, and I was touched by the genuine hospitality of the community”, Gina told me. “My experience during those two weeks will be something that I have with me for the rest of my life. It gave me perspective, inspiration, and motivation that I will remember forever.”
buildOn’s school building trips overseas have powerful and lasting outcomes, and they are the galvanizing link between buildOn’s U.S. and International Programs. But most importantly, they help us define what we know to be true: That there is a common bond between people like Gina Bunche from the Bronx and Don Antionio from El Trabon, Nicaragua. They are both very intelligent, and they are both capable of making positive change in the world. They just need the opportunity to make that change–and that is why we do what we do at buildOn.
POSTSCRIPT FROM BUILDON’S NICARAGUA PROGRAM DIRECTOR
“I had the opportunity last month to attend the inauguration of the school at El Trabon. Following the inauguration, the buildOn team was invited to have dinner with some of the community leaders. During the dinner and celebration, I was snapping photos of some of the community members when Don Antonio, his wife, and one of their baby girls showed up. We took a couple of pictures, and without even knowing me, they asked, ‘Are you sending these pictures to Gina?’ When some other people heard that name that all began asking if I knew Gina and got really excited. I think this was a great testament to the fact that once buildOn students leave the communities, they are not quickly forgotten.” – Bryan Goldfinger