FlipSide... A few minutes with Leslie Barry

A few minutes with Leslie Barry

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For her day job, Leslie Barry is director of business development at Computer Associates International. But she took a break from the high-tech world two years ago when she went on a trip to Nicaragua, where she and her family spent a week building a house for a local family. When she returned, she decided to recruit volunteers from the information technology community to repeat the experience. The small group she assembled joined a project developed by Bridges to Community, a New York-based volunteer organization co-founded by Barry’s cousin.

The group traveled to Nicaragua for a week last month and helped build two houses — basic shelter for families whose homes had been destroyed by Hurricane Mitch in 1998. They worked in the community of La Borgoña in the municipality of Ticuantepe, Nicaragua. La Borgoña has more than 5,000 people who own no farmable land and live on less than $2 a day. It is the second-poorest community in all of Ticuantepe.

Why did you go to Nicaragua?
Barry: It takes a while to process the emotions of this type of trip. You get much more out of it than you think you will. I know that with all the talk of “the world is flat,” while down there, we were all pondering ways that we could help these warm, open and hopeful people out of the “unflat” world. After all, we’re IT and business people.

What was it like?
Barry: There were no cell phones, BlackBerries — nothing. It allowed us to become very connected to the group. We had brought soccer balls, baseballs, coloring books, fingernail polish to play with the kids when we weren’t working. It was wonderful.

What did you do?
Barry: We built two houses — basically one large room with tile floors. To the people, it’s a palace. We worked right there with the family that is living in the house now. It was a community effort. People would just come and help. The people we were building the house for worked the hardest, and it made us work harder. We spent a lot of time bending steel and mixing concrete. The 10-year-old was so excited she was going to have a tile floor and not [have to] stand in the dirt.

What did you hope to accomplish?
Barry: My hope is that this trip with a few of the IT business leaders will spur more trips with people willing to give not only homes to these communities. I hope it will generate other ideas and opportunities for increasing employment and improving the standard of living of people in Nicaragua. It’s a huge transformation for the families in terms of pride and in terms of ownership.

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