FriendsNE and Engineers Without Borders


Introduction by Donovan Hotz

During my work with FriendsNE this past year, I had the privilege of serving as a translator and guide for the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) Chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) during their site assessment trip in the community of San Claudio this past March. The main goal of the group’s program, which will span the next few years, is to construct a bridge that will alleviate transportation issues for the community during the rainy season. Currently, without this bridge, students from the community cannot go to school and goods cannot make it to the market when the floodwaters rise each year. During our stay in San Claudio, the group accomplished its goals of surveying the topography of the proposed bridge site as well as spending time with many community members and getting to know what their lives are like. The week was a valuable opportunity for the group to develop a relationship with the people of San Claudio. With the continued efforts of the passionate students from IIT, I am sure this relationship will only grow stronger throughout the course of the IIT EWB’s program.

In addition to providing much needed infrastructure to a community in need, the cooperation with IIT EWB is also able to raise awareness for the efforts of FriendsNE by exposing more students to some of the issues in the communities that we work in. Here is one student’s take on the opportunity to work with Mike and FriendsNE in the “Our Partner In The Field” section of the Fall 2013 EWB-USA Illinois Institute of Technology Student Chapter Newsletter:

“Our Partner in the Field” by Cara Cummings

Meeting Michael Cipoletti was a wonderful adventure. Anyone who has the pleasure of sharing time with him can attest to how selflessly he gives his time and energy to the people of Nicaragua, and how motivating his story is. His passion for his work with FriendsNE in Nicaragua quickly inspired our project team during our assessment trip over spring break, and we were excited to bring Mike to Chicago this fall. We had a full week planned for Mike: speaking to the local rotary club, high school students, dinners with students, a project social, and many meetings; but most of all, we were excited to see him again and share his enthusiasm with our general body members.

When Mike took over as the Director for FriendsNE for the work in Nicaragua, he identified one key issue with the way things were done: the people were becoming dependent on handouts and there seemed to be a prevailing attitude of “if it’s free it’s for me”. The community members kept asking for for food rather than being empowered to be able to produce on their own. Homes would be built and subsequently sold for less than the production cost. With these issues in mind, Mike set out to change the culture of dependency and make a more lasting impact in the communities where he works. Families are now required to pay 25% of the cost of new housing and have become significantly more engaged in the available programs as a result. The clothing which is now sold at bazaars, rather than given away, has all profits funneled directly into the community projects. Because of the work of Mike and FriendsNE, these communities are experience development like never before.

Mike is excited to be a bridge between the U.S. and Nicaragua and to be a part of our project. We are glad to know him and to partner with him in Nicaragua. He has stretched our minds and opened our hearts.

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