In February 1998, Bucknell student Jamie Cistoldi Lee '99 moved in with a Nicaraguan family near Managua, and spent the spring semester taking classes at a local university and conducting community-based research. When Hurricane Mitch struck Central America in October 1998, Nicaragua was badly damaged. Flooding and mudslides killed thousands of people, with the subsequent lack of food and water resulting in further fatalities.
Given her personal connection with Nicaragua, Jamie felt a strong desire to assist with recovery efforts. Days after the disaster, she began working with Cumbre, a Hispanic student group at Bucknell, to disseminate information about the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch and the effects on the already poverty-stricken population of Nicaragua. Students began to collect material aid and donations for relief agencies in Nicaragua, but quickly realized that many members of the Bucknell community wanted to do more. This desire prompted Jamie to propose the idea of the Bucknell Brigade to Dr. LaVonne Poteet, professor of Latin American Studies, and to Reverend Ian Oliver, University Chaplain at the time.
In January 1999, Jamie and Dr. Poteet traveled to Nicaragua for the first time since Hurricane Mitch. During their stay, they searched for an appropriate location and project, eventually establishing a partnership with the Jubilee House Community and the Center for Development in Central America. The first Bucknell Brigade traveled to Nicaragua over spring break 1999, and consisted of 36 Bucknellians and community members, including the medical director, nurses, bilingual translators, and students from a variety of majors and programs.
Volunteers stayed in a tent city in Nueva Vida, which housed approximately 12,000 displaced Nicaraguans. Participants operated a makeshift health clinic, and helped to build temporary shelters for Hurricane Mitch refugees. This marked the beginning of a partnership that has lasted for 19 years, and has included the establishment of a permanent, free health clinic featuring a women's health facility and a pharmacy, installation of latrine and septic systems, restoration of electricity and water services, and myriad other forms of support for Nicaraguan residents.
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