Bridges to understanding

Kirlin Charitable Foundation would like to introduce you to Bridges to Understanding, good friends and partners in addressing some of the most challenging issues of our time. Bridges leadership and staff bring a richness of imagination and a bigness of heart that continues to inspire us every day.

Bridges to Understanding partners with international school-based organizations to engage students in direct, interactive learning and storytelling to build cross-cultural understanding. Bridges connects students in the developed world with their contemporaries in indigenous and low income communities worldwide. Students share their cultures and issues in their communities using technologies such as digital storytelling, pod casting, video conferencing, in-person student exchanges, and teacher-led text-based communication.

Phil Borges, founder of Bridges to Understanding and world-renowned photographer, believes “interaction is the path to understanding and empathy” – and empathy is a key ingredient in creating a more peaceful and just world.  Using the emotional power of photo images, voice, and live interactions, Bridges connects students in the United States to students around the world in hopes of developing an understanding and appreciation of daily realities and belief systems outside their experience and comfort zones.

Phil Borges shares a tip with a student from Peru.

Bridges to Understanding is unique in its comprehensive approach to developing empathy: start in the schools because schools touch the lives of almost every child; engage teachers in global collaboration in a way that not only integrates with the schools’ curriculum, but also uses life-changing communication methods to develop mental and emotional flexibility about issues such as cultural diversity and conflict resolution; build a corps of dedicated and passionate volunteers and mentors through Bridges workshops and volunteer opportunities; and partner with international school-based organizations and businesses in order to test out and scale Bridges’ reach and impact. Partnerships include Adobe Foundation, Getty Images, iEARN, Microsoft, the Amy Biehl Foundation, and state, national and international education ministries.

Bridges volunteer Kristen Eddings (Miss Washington 2007) mentors a student from the Tibetan Children's Village in Dharamsala, India.


Since its inception, 4,000 students in 30 countries have worked on Bridges to Understanding projects, exchanging stories about everything from families to child labor, water pollution to housing for children separated from their families by war. Led by a team of seasoned educators and community organizers, Bridges works with groups of teachers and classrooms of students, from 10 highly diverse Puget Sound schools, connecting them with students in schools located in Guatemala, Peru, India, South Africa, the Middle East, and more than 20 other countries. In each of these named locations, Bridges provides on-site digital story-telling workshops, and on-going assistance to ensure that students engage in rich dialogue, learning about each other and sharing perspectives on meaningful issues in their lives.

Progress to date

Kirlin Charitable Foundation provides expertise and leadership for the organizational growth of Bridges to Understanding. We choose to identify initiatives where there is a clear vision, where there is drive and strong leadership, and where there is an opportunity for partnership and collaboration. We are actively engaged with the development of Bridges’ programs, policy agenda and evaluation design. Bridges to Understanding promotes international communication in a systemic way that changes schools and school systems, and activates international corporations and other community volunteer organizations. It is a sustainable model for helping students and teachers engage in global collaboration in a way that fully integrates with their existing curriculum.

South African student creating his digital story at a Seattle workshop, in consultation with two Bridges volunteers, one from Seattle, one from the Netherlands.

Contact Information

Joyce McClure
Interim Executive Director
Bridges to Understanding
601 N 34th St
Seattle, WA 98103
ph: 206.925.5300