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The Brigadistas of Los Robles

February 9th, 2018

Doña Daisy González, sector Zelaya.

Who are the Brigadistas of Los Robles?

Most volunteer groups and partners who have come down to Nicaragua have met or heard of the network of Brigadistas that make up an integral part of Los Robles. These Brigadistas are community health volunteers: a majority female group of individuals from the community that selflessly give their time and energy to promote health initiatives among the 10 sectors of Los Robles.

One of Comunidad Connect’s driving tenants is to support sustainable community development through working with local partners. This grassroots approach enables community members to identify their most pressing needs and collaborate with other organizations and institutions to achieve their goals. Within the past 7 months, a new network of dedicated, inspired Brigadistas has formed in Los Robles, working in partnership with MINSA (Nicaraguan Ministry of Health) and Comunidad Connect.

Currently there are 17 new and veteran Brigadistas active in Los Robles from each of the 10 sectors. These community health volunteers take on a variety of roles: they frequently check in with families in their neighborhood to identify health needs, coordinate with MINSA staff at the local health clinic to make referrals, receive training on basic health care like First Aid, have monthly meetings to plan future activities, and help outside organizations and volunteers get to know the local community. The Brigadistas have also assisted Comunidad Connect in coordinating our family health and hygiene projects, enabling families to earn clean cook ovens, stoves, concrete floors, and natural insecticide treated painting. Moreover, these strong women and men serve as an invaluable resource to their community.

Having served Los Robles for over 20 years as a Brigadista – as well as volunteering her home as the community health outpost when needed – , Doña Petrona is one of the longest serving Brigadistas in the community. Doña Petrona (sector Rondana), along with Doña Virginia (sector Bodega) and Doña Daisy (sector Zelaya), are the oldest Brigadistas out of the network of 17. They are always grateful for visiting volunteer groups that come to support projects in the community and they look forward to expanding their relationships this upcoming year.

Doña Petrona Díaz, sector Rondana.

Doña Virginia del Carmen Chavarría, sector Bodega.

Stay updated for future interviews and spotlights on the Brigadistas of Los Robles in the next few weeks on Facebook and Instagram. Thank you to all of the groups who have supported the Brigadistas and Comunidad Connect’s health initiatives over the years.

 

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Rural Communities Grateful for Physical Therapy Visits

February 9th, 2018

Doña Gabina, a stroke patient, gets her blood pressure checked by a GSU physical therapy student.

Two physical therapy (PT) student groups visited Los Robles and San Esteban 2 this January to gain a better understanding of health needs in rural Nicaragua and provide PT home consultations.

A group of 9 PT students from Upstate Medical University joined us from late December through early January, followed by 19 PT students from Georgia State University. Due to their rural location and lack of medical and economic resources, Los Robles and San Esteban 2 lack access to specialized medical attention, such as physical therapy. However, many residents have health needs requiring therapy and rehabilitation education.

During their time in the communities, Upstate and GSU conducted a total of 15 home visits to residents with physical impairments. Each individual was very grateful for the one-on-one attention and PT exercise recommendations specific to their unique challenges. One patient, Don Armando, was extremely grateful for the adjustments GSU students made to his wheelchair, which improved pain in his hips and legs, allowing him to move around the house more comfortably.

Meg Prentice, part of the PT program at GSU, commented on the work she did in the community: “We were able to go into people’s homes that had all kinds of things going on with them. I went with a group to assess how someone was able to get around their home and provide ideas of how they could do that better, and how to problem solve to make the care of their family member easier on the rest of the family.”

Don Armando (front center) and wife Reyna were very happy to receive a home visit from GSU PT students. Don Armando is now able to use his wheelchair more and with less pain and discomfort.

In addition, the two groups constructed 12 family health and hygiene projects (i.e. clean cookstoves, ovens, concrete floors) and gave educational health talks. GSU ended their trip with a morning providing PT attention to patients in the hospital in Jinotega, followed by a meeting with hospital staff and directors to exchange knowledge and learn about each other’s health care system.

Students from Upstate Medical University hard at work putting in a concrete floor in a family’s home. Concrete floors help reduce parasites, improve families’ hygiene, and enhance child development.

A special thank you to Upstate Medical University and Georgia State University for your support in providing much needed physical therapy attention in the communities we serve. If your school or professional team would like to partner with Comunidad Connect in addressing health needs in rural Nicaragua, please contact us at info@comunidadconnect.org.

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Kick-Off to Chicas Fuertes Sports Initiative

February 9th, 2018

Jump, set, spike! Girls in San Juan del Sur practicing their volleyball skills at the Chicas Fuertes camp last summer.

Comunidad Connect is excited to expand our girls sports program with the start of the Chicas Fuertes (Strong Girls) initiative in San Juan del Sur. This initiative builds off the three-week girls empowerment volleyball camp, also named Chicas Fuertes, hosted by volunteer Mitzi Kincaid last year. Mitzi, a Sports Psychology MA candidate at John F. Kennedy University, led over 150 girls between the ages of 7-17 in San Juan del Sur. Girls learned how to put important mental skills into practice, like deep breathing and positive self-talk, on and off the volleyball court.

We are also proud to partner with Brooke Rundle, a long-time advocate for women’s sports and empowerment through volleyball. She brings NCAA volleyball teams to Nicaragua for exhibition matches with the Nicaraguan national team, while engaging the players in service learning while in country. Chicas Fuertes will benefit from the interaction and role models associated with Brooke’s program.

Chicas Fuertes will provide a safe and structured environment for Nicaraguan youth to participate in sports-related activities to promote healthy lifestyles in rural communities. Through soccer, baseball, and volleyball leagues and clinics, young women will develop positive leadership and team-building skills.

 

With your support, we can all do our part to love and care for this wonderful community and the amazing girls who desire to play sports. Volunteers can support these projects by leading clinics in Nicaragua and donating supplies, such as uniforms and equipment while engaging in intercultural exchange. Chicas Fuertes will also partner with local businesses, municipal leaders, other NGO’s and the Nicaragua National Volleyball Team in organizing sports leagues, exhibition matches, and enrichment activities.

Learn how you can support Chicas Fuertes by contacting us at info@comunidadconnect.org. Whether you want to join as an individual, bring a group of friends or family to Nicaragua, or partner with your sports team or organization, we look forward to working with you this upcoming year!

Girls at the primary and secondary schools are always excited to share a week or more with visiting volunteers, developing athletic and leadership skills.

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Los Robles Health Clinic News

January 30th, 2018

2017 brought tremendous progress for our health initiatives in northern Nicaragua, with the greatest achievement perhaps being the formal establishment of the Los Robles Health Clinic by the Nicaragua Ministry of Health (MINSA). Since renovated and converted to a health clinic in 2014, the clinic was affiliated with MINSA but management and fiscal responsibility rested with Comunidad Connect. It quickly became the center for all of our local projects relating to health and wellbeing, including training for community health volunteers, health fairs, medical consultations, and home base for research and data collection. Human and financial resources invested by monthly donors and longstanding program partners like Emory University (Social Enteprise @ Goizueta) helped finance the daily activities and staffing of the clinic. Since inception, there have been over 5,000 consultations provided to residents of Los Robles.

The Brigadistas (community health volunteers) of Los Robles receive a First Aid training from MINSA in October.

Now that MINSA is managing the clinic, we have increased bandwidth and focus on our grassroots capacity building work in rural Nicaragua. These efforts include providing individual care for 20+ special needs patients, dental care and education for 2,000+ children, monthly training for all community health volunteers, health fairs, academic research and health talks with youth groups throughout the year. We continue to fund a nurse’s salary at the clinic, which reflects our partnership with MINSA and ensures year round consultations at the clinic. In 2018, we will invest approximately $40,000 in the above mentioned initiatives and wellness activities in partnership with local health volunteers.

We look forward to working with our community partners in Nicaragua and North America in 2018 and beyond. As research and experience continue to guide our programmatic development, we invite you to engage further with us and our partner communities in Nicaragua. For more information on how, please contact us as: info@comunidadconnect.org or call Jon Thompson at 404-444-9147.

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A Quick Look into Los Robles: Research Updates

January 30th, 2018

Approximately 2 out of 3 families in Los Robles do not have a latrine in their home. Poor sanitation is linked to the transmission of diseases including cholera, diarrhea, typhoid, intestinal worms, and others.

In 2017, Comunidad Connect collaborated with several academic partners to improve our understanding of the current socioeconomic and health status of the community of Los Robles.

Research teams from the University of Calgary, The Ohio State University, and the University of Alabama – headed by Warren Wilson (Calgary), Barbara Piperata (OSU) Kammi Schmeer (OSU), and Jason DeCaro (Alabama) – also presented preliminary findings from their research on maternal and child health in Los Robles this past summer. Some notable findings from these preliminary results are below, along with data collected from Comunidad Connect’s 2016 in-depth survey of 300 households.

In explaining her 2018 vision, Dr. Piperata aims to look at how children’s interactions with their environment (soil, water, food, animals) affects their gut microbiome and incidence of diarrhea.

“We found the people interested and very willing to help with all aspects of the research.  This is a major plus for moving ahead… people in the community are interested and willing to help advance understanding and make evidence-based changes to improve well-being. You cannot say that about every place. I think this is very important for seeing a sustained impact.”

As we move forward in 2018 and beyond, we will continue collaborating with academic and community partners to provide a holistic understanding of health in rural Nicaragua. Ongoing research is the key that drives in-country programming. For example, sanitation has emerged as a critical priority.  Currently, over 60% of Los Robles is defecating in the open air and only 20% of existing latrines are in decent conditions.  We are seeking viable solutions, so please contact us if you know of best practices, colleagues, or research related to rural sanitation in developing countries.  We hope to begin with several prototypes in 2018.

Less than 1 in 10 households have reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. Food insecurity puts people at risk for chronic stress, depression, and the inability to fight infections.

One out of every five children exhibits symptoms of chronic stress, generally due to an inadequate diet. Chronic stress during childhood has dire long-term consequences for the child’s cognitive abilities, work capacity, and the function of their immune system.

Over 50% of participants surveyed in Los Robles did not finish primary school or have received no education. Research has shown that education helps promote and sustain healthy lifestyles: families are more likely to take advantage of health care provision, the effect of education on health is at least as great as the effect of income, and additional education nurtures human development, relationships, and personal, family, and community well-being (Feinstein et al. 2006).

 

 

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Photo Gallery: Thank You Academic Partners!

January 29th, 2018

In 2017, 13 academic and health-focused groups sent 130 student volunteers to work alongside Comunidad Connect and rural communities in both northern and southern Nicaragua. They provided medical attention, physical therapy, nursing, clean water, health talks, research, and much more to hundreds of residents in communities at most risk of illnesses.

Thank you to all of our partners in health for enhancing the health and wellbeing of vulnerable communities throughout Nicaragua. Together, we played a critical role and made a direct impact on the lives of those needing our support the most.  Take a look at some of our favorite photos below from 2017. We look forward to creating even more memorable experiences with you all in the years to come!

  • Our Health Summit was a success this past May. Medical and academic partners joined us in Los Robles to discuss our Health Connections Program, research, and initiatives going forward.

Thank you to all of our academic partners!

Oral Health Initiative a Success

January 29th, 2018

Dr. Reeder Lanzas teaching children in Los Robles how to prevent cavities.

Dr. Reeder Lanzas, our resident dentist, led and completed the first phase of our oral health initiative with the goal of working with local health volunteers, teachers, and students to identify best strategies to change oral hygiene practices. Over 2000 students participated in 54 educational talks and 1500 students received fluoride treatment in 4 rural communities: Los Robles, San Esteban, Datanlí, and Pueblo Nuevo.

In 2018, we launch the mobile dental clinic to expand our reach and improve the dental hygiene of 500-800 more students. With this clinic, Dr. Lanzas will be able to provide full dental attention, including teeth cleaning services, extractions if necessary, consultations, and preventive oral health education.

We look forward to working with dental brigades this coming year and welcome new academic partners interested in supporting our Preventive Oral Health program. If you would like to become involved, or know someone who would, please email us at info@comunidadconnect.org. Learn more about our dental hygiene initiatives by watching our Preventive Oral Health video and see Dr. Reeder Lanzas’ vision for the mobile clinic.

 

Students excited to use their new toothbrushes and toothpaste after attending Dr. Reeder’s oral health educational talk at the primary school in Los Robles.

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Year in Review: Highlights from 2017

January 5th, 2018

As 2017 came to a close, we took a look back to some of the best highlights from the past year. Thank you to all of the donors, trip participants, and partners who helped Comunidad Connect extend our reach and impact in communities throughout rural Nicaragua. Take a look at some of our favorite photos below from 2017. We look forward to making even more great memories with you all in the year to come!

  • We were excited to close out 2017 with a visit from our Board of Directors. Leslie Stewart, Carey Smith-Marchi, Mat Mendonca, and Michelle and Austin Drill meet with a family in Los Robles.

Thank you to all of our partners!

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New Year, New Dental Mobile Clinic

January 3rd, 2018

Over the past ten years, Comunidad Connect has helped over 10,000 Nicaraguans live healthier lives. We do this by breaking down barriers to isolation and connecting people to local and international resources that otherwise would be near impossible to obtain. This new year, we invite you to join us in a spirit of global citizenship to help launch our new project: a mobile dental clinic.

Most rural communities in Nicaragua do not have access to dental care. The majority of rural Nicaraguans, aged 15 and up, are missing adult teeth. Cavities are present at an extremely high rate in every age group, requiring many individuals to have further extractions, surgeries or restorations – problems entirely preventable with proper oral hygiene and health education.

Through our new mobile dental clinic, we can bring dental education, teeth cleaning services and consultations to new rural communities, reaching 500-800 students. Watch our Preventive Oral Health video to learn more about Dr. Reeder Lanzas, Comunidad Connect’s resident dentist, and his vision for the dental clinic.

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Member Monday: Meet Gloria Rizo, Cultural Connections Coordinator!

December 18th, 2017

For this week’s Member Monday, meet Gloria, Comundad Connect’s newest team member! Read more to learn about Gloria, her love of social work, and time working with Comunidad Connect.

When did you start working for CC?

I started working for Comunidad Connect at the beginning of December this year.

Describe your role.

I work helping to coordinate volunteer groups, making sure everyone is okay, planning logistics for projects, and ensuring that each project is appropriately carried out in the communities.

What is your favorite part about working with CC?

I love to visit new places with the groups of volunteers.

What is your favorite place to visit in Nicaragua?

My favorite place in Nicaragua is Selva Negra (coffee farm and nature reserve). I love the artificial lake that’s in front of the restaurant, and there’s spaces to read and hike. It’s really beautiful.

Where and what did you study in university?

I studied social work at the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN) in León.

What’s your favorite typical dish?

Nacatamales – I love to eat them on weekends!

What is your spirit animal?

I would say a bird, because they’re free, they can fly and travel wherever they want.

What hobbies or talents do you have that most people don’t know about?

I really enjoy reading, especially books that are also movies. But I always read the book first and then watch the movie.

Thanks Gloria! Check in next week for our next Member (& Memo) Monday! 

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