In the summer of 2017, Vice President Lynn Meersman and other team members traveled to Nicaragua as part of Aldridge’s first Bridges to Prosperity mission. What started out as a bridge build became much more than she could have ever anticipated. Below she shares her story:
When faced with the opportunity to build a bridge in Nicaragua in 2017, without hesitation I knew it was for me. I love the thought of an adventure but even more important was the opportunity to help people that need it most.
After doing some research on the country and the people of Nicaragua I discovered that it’s the 2nd poorest country in Latin America. Upon arrival, it was clear that these people needed our help.
On Day 2 of our trip, we set up tents in what we’d call home for the next 12 days. We camped on the land of a local business owner that had a little store selling drinks, plantains, sweet bread, and snacks. It was also the place the women of the village came to turn their shucked corn into masa. It was the place kids came to see the visitors from the United States. It’s difficult to explain the feeling the kids gave us throughout our stay. They were always so happy. They were always so excited to see us. Maybe it wasn’t us…maybe it was the crayons and coloring books we brought. Maybe it was the basketballs, baseball, and soccer balls. Maybe it was the jump ropes and frisbees. But all these little things that we take for granted connected us to these children.
It was here I met a shy, 12-year boy named Leynard. He was one of the “regulars”. At the end of our workday, we would pack up into several pickup trucks and drive the winding, dirt road back to our campsite. As we’d get closer, a group of children would give us a daily greeting by running after our trucks and follow us back to our campsite. Leynard was one of those kids.
He typically wore dark sunglasses until one day he came running up following our trucks without the glasses. It was then we realized he had a bad eye. It was somehow damaged. At that moment it really wasn’t a big deal. For the rest of our trip it really wasn’t a big deal.
It wasn’t until I returned to the United States that I realized I couldn’t get Leynard out of my thoughts. I thought about him every day for weeks. That boy changed my life. Something kept calling me, nagging me to help him. I felt that if he was in the USA he would be able to see. I was on a mission to make that happen. A long story short, I was able to track his family down through a random phone number that was written on one of the kid’s coloring book pages. My husband and a coworker became my Spanish interpreters as I tried to explain to Leynard’s family that I wanted to help restore his eyesight if possible. I was able to track down a man (actually an angel) from upstate New York that ran a Nicaraguan eye care mission. Fast forward a little more and I was able to join the mission and returned to Nicaragua six months later in pursuit of Leynard.
In that pursuit I, along with 5 other volunteers from Chicago, joined 12 others from New York and we spent 7 days administering an eye care clinic. Mind you, I know as much about eye care as I know about building a bridge, basically nothing. We saw over 1,800 people that would otherwise never receive medical care much less be given an eye exam and glasses if required.
Building a bridge is so much more than what it seems. It led to a life-changing experience for me. It brought me down a path I didn’t know existed. It connected me to people I never imagined meeting. It opened my eyes and my heart to helping people thousands of miles away. That bridge brought me on a journey I’m still on today and hope to stay on forever.
You don’t have to know anything to be part of a mission to help others. If you can listen and follow directions, work hard and have an open mind, you qualify. Go build a bridge and see where the journey takes you.