NYIT students Belinda Silverne, Chanelle Sears, and Devin Zacchino painting support beams for the roof.

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Building a Future: Alternative Winter Break in Nicaragua

January 27, 2017

For the first time, NYIT students participated in a service trip to Nicaragua during winter break, (January 7–15). The group travelled to Jinotega, a small city about three hours from Managua, the country’s capital, where they helped build a home for a family who lost their house in a fire.

The trip was coordinated with Bridges to Community, a nonprofit organization with a two-part mission: to improve the lives of impoverished communities through service trips, as well as to educate and transform the volunteers so that they become aware of the connections people share and help make a positive impact in the lives of others.

Once the students arrived, they wasted no time getting their hands dirty. They helped mix cement by hand and got to work building the 15’x18’ house from the ground up.

Constructing the home wasn’t the only thing on the week’s agenda. The students also had the opportunity to meet with community members and learn about their lives and culture.

The city of Jinotega has 75,000 inhabitants and produces 80 percent of the nation’s coffee. The community of El Mojon, where the home was built, is located in the mountains of Jinotega Department. Approximately 1,500 people live in the community; most of the people work as farmers making less than $5 a day. The infrastructure of the community is basic. The roads are unpaved and there is limited electricity and in some cases limited access to running potable water.

“Alternative break is one of the most meaningful programs run out of our department,” said Amy Bravo, senior director of International and Experiential Education. “It is the most transformative experience for students. They come back enthusiastic about school, their majors, and their roles as global citizens. They often continue to engage in service and several have refocused their educational pursuits to include public work.”

When Chanelle Sears first arrived at NYIT as an undergraduate, she changed her major until she settled on social work and sociology. In her senior year, she participated in Alternative Spring Break to Nicaragua. “After going on the first trip, I realized I can be doing more. That’s when I decided to get my masters in Environmental Technology & Sustainability at NYIT,” she said.

The experience was so great for Sears that she participated in Alternative Spring Break and joined the winter trip this year. “I’ve been on this trip three times. Being able to build a home for a family and see their appreciation for us and the entire community who volunteered their time was a great experience.”

But the experience doesn’t end here. In March, a new group of students will be heading to the Dominican Republic for Alternative Spring Break, including a few of the student attendees from this trip.