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LEWISBURG, Pa. – It was more than a decade ago when Jamie Cistoldi Lee, Class of '99, came up with the idea for the Bucknell Brigade to Nicaragua.
Lee, who spent the previous semester in Nicaragua, felt compelled to help when Hurricane Mitch barreled through the country and devastated communities along Lake Managua in October 1998.
Working with the Hispanic student group Cumbre to collect donations for hurricane survivors, Lee later proposed the notion of a travel delegation to Latin American Studies Professor Bonnie Poteet. Together they worked out a plan, found a host agency, and made arrangements for 36 volunteers to travel to Nicaragua to help with hurricane relief efforts. From those beginnings, a 10-year recovery and service-learning effort was born.
Lee and a delegation of 22 others will return to the resettlement community Nueva Vida on Saturday as part of a Bucknell Brigade alumni delegation. The group includes Assistant Director of Service Learning Kristine Kengor, Class of '03, and 10 other alumni, family, friends and community members. Senior News Writer Julia Ferrante of the Office of Communications also will accompany the brigade to develop a series of news stories and video about the significant Bucknell projects continuing in Nicaragua. She also will file a travel journal about the experience of being a Brigadista.
The stories and travel journal will be featured in the coming weeks on the Bucknell home page and on a special Brigade 10th anniversary page launched this past January. Each month, the anniversary page features a mini profile of a Brigadista, focusing on how the brigade changed that person's life.
The brigade travels to Nueva Vida twice a year – and every other summer since 2005 – to address continuing needs. The focus has changed over the years from securing emergency shelter for about 10,000 survivors who settled in Nueva Vida after the storm to working with a host agency, Jubilee House Community, on projects including construction of sewing and spinning cooperatives and a health clinic that operates year-round. When the brigade first went to Nicaragua, the displaced residents were living in shelters consisting only of black tarpaulin and wooden poles.
The brigade is known for bringing together a cross-section of Bucknellians from various disciplines as they work together, eat together and sleep in a one-room dormitory. It also is known for changing lives. Brigadistas come back from Nicaragua with an enhanced consciousness about world issues and the devastating effects of poverty. They also return rejuvenated by the irrepressible spirit of ordinary Nicaraguans, who, despite their living and working conditions, serve as an inspiration.
Many brigadistas have found a calling in public service after their experiences in Nicaragua. Some join the Peace Corps or Teach America or go into public health or international development fields. And Brigade members become more involved in raising awareness on campus. Engineering students in 2007 secured a $10,000 grant from 100 Projects for Peace and the Davis Foundation to initiate a water-line project to serve the mountaintop coffee cooperative of El Porvenir. Another delegation secured a similar grant to film a documentary about the plight of banana workers exposed to toxic pesticides.
The alumni delegation will see the bad and good of Nicaragua. During the weeklong trip, March 28-April 4, the group will visit the Managua municipal dump, where about 1,500 people live and scavenge for food and items to sell. Brigadistas will make the trek to El Porvenir and learn about producing and selling coffee at fair trade prices. And, the group will visit tourist attractions, listen to typical music and go out to a local restaurant and disco.