Nicaraguan Cultural Dinner supports Brigade’s service work

Victoria Walker, Contributing Writer

While many students spent this spring break at tropical resorts or relaxing at home, a group of 25 University students stepped off the beaten path and ventured south to take part in the biannual Bucknell Brigade in Nicaragua. The group brought a bit of Central America back into the University bubble on March 30 by hosting a Nicaraguan Cultural Dinner charity event that was open to all of campus.

The annual event was held in Larison Dining Hall. Student tickets were $12 and all funds went towards the construction and maintenance of a health clinic in Nueva Vida, Nicaragua.

In the back of the hall, guests had the opportunity to purchase local items brought back by Brigade participants, including coffee, picture frames, kick-wheel pottery, small figurines, and bottle openers featuring a carved bison. Three original prints by Assistant Professor of Art and Art History Eddy Lopez were also auctioned off for charity.

“Bucknell has been supporting the Nueva Vida Community for nearly 20 years and raises a significant amount of money; approximately $40,000 a year to support the health clinic,” Professor of Education and Director of the Writing Program Abe Feuerstein said, having first traveled with the Brigade in 2009.

Sarah Stroup ’19, who joined the Brigade trip twice and spearheaded the dinner alongside fellow Fundraising Committee Co-Chair Lisa Francomacaro ’18, said that the charity aspect of the event was very important.

“The money we raised through the dinner goes a long way towards keeping the health clinic in Nueva Vida running,” Stroup said. “I do not think the Brigade stresses enough how the clinic in Nueva Vida heavily relies on our fundraising efforts to keep it in a position to help the community.”

This community’s need for financial support stems from a long history of political conflict and relatively recent natural disasters. While guests dined on a Nicaraguan meal of chicken, greens, rice, cottage cheese, pineapple, and tea, past Brigade participants presented on the country’s history of dictatorship and conflict, its evolving sociopolitical situation, and its relationship with the United States. They also talked about the University’s involvement in the area.

“After the devastation of Hurricane Mitch in 1998, one of my students—Jamie Cistoldi Lee—who had studied abroad in Nicaragua, had the brainstorm of asking NGOs in Nicaragua if they could use a group of Bucknellians to help with disaster relief,” Professor of Geography Paul Susman, who has been involved with the Brigade since 2001, said. “Different ones responded no or not now, but Jubilee House Community invited a group down. Bucknell has been sending two Brigades a year ever since.”

The presentation portion of the event also featured personal stories shared by Lopez and Isaac Matamoros ’19, both of whom are Nicaraguan natives.

“Since I was eight months old, I started going to Nicaraguan every year,” Matomoros said during the dinner. “I witnessed poverty and the suffering of the people there. It wasn’t until I was about 12 years old that we got our first paved roads, right where my grandma lived.”

He went on to describe how, despite their poverty, people in Nicaragua could often be found happy and smiling, simply enjoying each other’s company. It was this energy and an effort to support it that inspired him to become involved with the Brigade.

“We helped build the third building for the clinic and honestly, I could not be more proud of [those who went on the trip]. There were people who didn’t even speak Spanish, […] but still everyone connected with the people there and joked around. It was an amazing experience,” Matamoros said.

In addition to connecting with Nicaraguan people and culture, students on the Brigade had the opportunity to connect with each other and with their professors.

“Because we all live and work together, we get to know each other very well and break down the artificial boundaries between us that often prevails on campus,” Susman said.

“Instead, we’re all learning and discussing and experiencing together,” Feuerstein said, agreeing that the experience was a chance to break down the “student-faculty dichotomy.”

“The Brigade exposes students to experiences vastly different from their daily lives, and makes the concept of a global community a reality,” Assistant Director of Service Learning Kyle Bray said. “I’ve seen tears, I’ve seen students change their majors because of the trip, and I’ve seen it spur folks to incorporate service into their lives well after graduation.”

This was certainly true for Madison Bonessi ’17, a Bucknell Brigade intern who has been on the trip three times.

“I have been challenged to think critically about global development, service, and what it really means to live without access to healthcare […],” Bonessi said. “It has instilled [in me] a drive to continue these efforts in my post-graduate plans.”

This year’s dinner attracted between 115 and 200 attendees and is believed to have raised more money than any past event. However, as is seen with many events on campus, a large portion of the audience was already affiliated with the program. Stroup expressed some disappointment in this, although she otherwise viewed the event as a success.

“I strongly believe both in our Nicaraguan Cultural Dinner, as well as in other cultural events on campus, because I find it incredibly important to remind ourselves of the world around us,” Stroup said. “I personally get incredibly invested in and caught up in my life here on campus, so that I forget to remind myself of the big picture. Small things, like taking an hour away from studying and attending a dinner, actually make all the difference.”

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