During the summer of 2018, Executive Vice President Mark Carani traveled to Bolivia with other team members to participate in a bridge build for Aldridge’s 2nd Bridges to Prosperity mission. After finishing the bridge, they discovered another opportunity to help the local people. Mark shares his story about how a small donation made a big difference.
We ended our Bolivian trip with an informal Q&A session between our team of ten and the village teens who were graduating high school and considering their options for the future. The teens were fascinated by us, outsiders in their community, and wanted to know more.
Through a translator, we learned kids their age typically take one of three paths: stay in the community to support their family, enlist in the military, or go off to the university to start a career such as a teacher. We answered their questions on travel opportunities available to them, what life is like outside of Bolivia, our careers and how we pursued them, and American culture. Though they were the ones asking the questions, it is safe to say that this gathering was enlightening for both the students and our team.
The community schoolteacher approached us toward the end of the discussion and asked us to act as a “Good Father” to those students who were going off to the university. Essentially, this meant we would provide support as they transitioned out of their community and into a larger world. We would be available for the students to answer questions and to offer guidance. It also meant providing financial support to cover basic expenses of travel, food and lodging for the time between leaving the village and starting university studies.
I was asked to respond on behalf of the team. Thinking this would be a significant endeavor, I explained that I was open to the idea, but would need to bring this back to the US for approval. The teacher then informed us that a couple hundred dollars would afford the students bus transportation, food, and interim accommodations at the university.
We were shocked.
“A couple hundred dollars?” Think about where you spend “a couple hundred dollars” and what it truly gets you. A cell phone? A nice dinner out? Two week's worth of gas? So, the team gathered and we pooled the necessary funds on the spot between the ten of us. We all took comfort that day knowing we had contributed to the village beyond the bridge.
I was fortunate enough to receive an update in January on the teens, which, unbeknownst to them, had left a considerable mark on me since I left that small village. Out of the ten students in that gathering, six are attending the university and two are taking the admissions test this year. Beyond the financial resources, I would like to think that having outsiders visit their town, work by their side, and share experiences and stories from the US helped inspire these teens to explore opportunities outside of their village.
Stories like mine are common for Bridges to Prosperity, but they are rare for most of us. If you take away anything from my story, take away the knowledge that a small amount adds up to a lot for these communities. The scarcity of basic human needs exists throughout the world, which is the drive behind the Bridges to Prosperity mission and their desire to make a difference. All of us can make a difference by participating in our Bridges to Prosperity bridge build, whether you go on the trip or donate to the team. So, please consider making a small donation. By doing so, you are supporting the bridge build and beyond.