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Volunteer with Cultural Connections: December 2017

June 12th, 2017

Come to Nicaragua this December!

Join fellow donors, supporters, and volunteers on a week-long Volunteer Adventure December 2-10, 2017.

Volunteers will stay at an organic coffee farm in the hills of Jinotega, complete public health projects with local families, and participate in cultural exchange activities such as baking local treats! Come to Nicaragua to give back, exchange experiences, learn about our work first-hand, and get a taste of the unbelievable beauty this Central American country has to offer.

Learn more and register today!

 

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Member Monday: Meet Reeder, Dentist of Preventive Oral Health!

October 16th, 2017

For this week’s Member Monday, we meet Reeder! Read more to learn about Reeder, his love of dentistry, and experience working with Comunidad Connect.

When did you start working for CC?

I started working with Comunidad Connect on July 18, 2016. At that time, a medical group was down here – Doctors Ben & Karen Thrower – so it was with this group that I started my work here.

Describe your role.

Right now I am directing a preventive oral health project. I give educational talks about dental hygiene, give fluoride treatment to children in schools in Los Robles, San Estéban, Datanlí, and possibly Pueblo Nuevo in the future. This is what we focus on, because in a study that we did last year in 2016 we found that there was a really high rate of cavities in this region. Moreover, the children with the most dental needs and with the fewest resources didn’t have access to dental attention or knowledge about these themes. Because of this, the preventive oral health program was born to give the kids educational talks to teach them how to brush their teeth, what kinds of food they can eat and when they should eat them, and after the talks give them preventive fluoride treatment.

What is your favorite part about working with CC?

My favorite part of working with Comunidad Connect is working with kids because they have a special energy. Although you will always find yourself interacting a boy or girl who is a little more challenging to work with, they are the ones who learn most and, in reality, take what you are saying more seriously. Sometimes with adults this is more difficult. Children are always open and receptive to whatever knowledge you are sharing with them.

What got you interested in dentistry?

My mom is a dentist, so from a young age I grew up in an environment with related themes, but at that time dentistry didn’t really interest me. However, when I grew up there came a moment when I began focusing more and having an interest more in people’s teeth and dental hygiene. In reality, after looking at your eyes, the second thing people notice is your mouth and smile. The mouth is constantly moving, when you’re talking to someone else you are looking at their movements, and mouth is what moves the most. So through that, my passion for dentistry began.

What is one of your best childhood memories?

Well I don’t know if this is good or not, but it’s actually related to what we’re talking about and what I do now. Like I said, dentistry didn’t really interest me at a young age. My mother was a dentist, so I would watch her do tooth extractions. I remember one time when I almost fainted, because she needed more light and asked me to shine light on the patient. And when I saw everything, I felt like fainting because I didn’t like it. This story makes me laugh because today this is what I do and it doesn’t make me faint or anything.

 

What is your favorite place to visit in Nicaragua?

Granada because it’s a completely colonial city. It has a historic atmosphere, and it makes you live and remember the colonial time.

What is your favorite holiday in Nicaragua?

Mother’s Day!

What’s your favorite typical dish?

Baho, which is a mixture of plantain, yucca, beef, salad, and green chile. (same answer as Kelly!) It’s the best food in Nicaragua. 

What is your spirit animal?

I used to say dogs, but recently I’ve felt more connected to birds. I have 10 birds: 6 Australian parakeets, 2 African parakeets, and 2 cockatiels.

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

I’m a Series Marathoner (aka Netflix). I’ll start a series and finish the whole thing in a week. For instance, Game of Thrones.

 

Reeder loves working with the Comunidad Connect team!

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

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Brigadistas Receive First Aid Training in Rural Health

October 12th, 2017

Last week we had a successful first aid workshop with the Brigadistas (community health workers) of Los Robles, Datanlí, Pueblo Nuevo and San Estéban. The Brigadistas received training and first aid kits to ensure immediate health response in their communities. Comunidad Connect partnered with MINSA, the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health, to administer this workshop.

Nurse Francis Aguilar, who works with Comunidad Connect and MINSA, comments, “This training was important because the Brigadistas live in areas that are hard to reach, increasing high health risks due to a lack of resources. Emergencies can happen at any hour, so the Brigadistas will be the first to respond immediately to those injured.”

Over 15 women participated in this first aid workshop and are excited to share their new knowledge with their respective communities. “The health workers learned lots of skills during the training, like what to do in an emergency, how to treat wounds, and immobilize patients,” notes Francis.

Thank you to all the participants and staff for making this event possible!

 

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Member Monday: Meet Roxana, Administrative Assistant!

October 9th, 2017

In today’s Member Monday, we meet Roxana! Read more to learn about Roxana, her dog Lucy, and experience working with Comunidad Connect.

When did you start working for CC?

I learned about Comunidad Connect through my sister-in-law, and started working in 2015.

Describe your role.

I work in office maintenance and administrative work, assisting our accountant and country director with various projects.

What is your favorite part about working with CC?

My favorite part of working with Comunidad Connect is interacting with my coworkers. We’re a small team but it feels like a family.

What is your favorite cultural event or celebration in Nicaragua?

On May 3rd there is the Fiestas de la Cruz in Jinotega, where lots of people climb up to the Peña de la Cruz, a large cross on top of a mountain overlooking the city. It’s the celebration for the anniversary of when Bishop Agustín Morel de Santa Cruz installed the first cross there in  1752.

What is your favorite place to visit in Nicaragua?

Corn Island because it’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. It’s off the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua, far from everything and has a different culture than the rest of the country.

 

Roxana competing in the Traje de Fantasia (Fantasy Costume) contest in Leon.

What’s your favorite typical dish?

Gallo pinto (rice and beans) with cuajada y crema (cheese and cream) and avocado.

What is your spirit animal?

A bird because they can always fly wherever they want.

If you could invent a new fruit, what two fruits would you combine?

Lucy and Roxana are best of friends!

Pineapple and strawberries.

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

I love to stay active with sports, hiking to the Peña de la Cruz, boxing, going to the gym in the mornings, and doing yoga. I also like to draw and look for new healthy recipes. Last year, I started competing in Miss Nicaragua Turismo contests. I also have a really cute dog named Lucy, who loves to hike with me!

 

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

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Cheers for the Craft Beer Fundraiser!

October 4th, 2017

Thank you to everyone who came out on Saturday and participated in the 2017 Craft Beer Fundraiser. It was truly a beautiful day of music, BBQ, beer, and celebration. From all of us at Comunidad Connect, your support of Nicaragua and sustainable community development is inspiring. Thank you for helping us continue to build the puzzle!

We would like to give a special thanks to Coalesce Design and Fabrication for hosting the event, as well as to A-Lodge Boulder, Bili Blanket Baby, Jim Bulter, and Vacasa for their generous support.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Local Volunteers Invest in Community Health

October 3rd, 2017

Since 2016, local volunteers in rural Nicaragua have invested over 5800 hours of community service to earn preventative health projects, such as our painting initiative to decrease the number of mosquitos in the home. Specially formulated paint reduces mosquito-borne illnesses like Dengue, Chikungunya and Zika, which allows children to miss fewer days of school and helps families live happier, healthier lives. Thank you to all of our local and international volunteers for supporting this initiative and enhancing community health!

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Member Monday: Meet Kelly Vlaskamp, Director of Cultural Connections!

October 2nd, 2017

 

Apart from running our Cultural Connections program, Kelly loves harvesting avocados in her backyard!

Today we kick off a weekly series of posts getting to know each of the team members at Comunidad Connect. Our first Member Monday is Kelly Vlaskamp, our Director of Cultural Connections, with honorary member of the team, Memo! Read more to learn about Kelly and her experience living and working in Nicaragua.

When did you start working for CC?

April of 2016. 

Describe your role.

As Director of the Cultural Connections Program, I oversee all the volunteers that come down support our programs to work in Los Robles, San Estaban, and surrounding communities. My day to day is a lot of administrative work, such as preparation for the groups that come down to volunteer: making sure volunteers are prepared and coordinating logistics for community projects.

What is your favorite part about working with CC?

I really like when you see the spark in volunteers, of someone wanting to become an agent of change and ambassador of Nicaragua and work to promote sustainable community development. It’s inspiring to see that change happen in such a short amount of days.

Kelly coordinates Cultural Connections trips to support intercultural exchange and promote community development. Here, Kelly was working with LifeBridge Church from Savannah, GA.

Students march in a parade during the Fiestas Patrias in Jinotega, September 14-15th.

What is your favorite cultural event or celebration in Nicaragua?

Fiesta Patrias (independence of Central America) because I really enjoy seeing the parades in the streets and the kids in their nice clothes. Everyone is in the streets and you get to see people you haven’t seen in awhile. It’s a great time to reconnect with the country and culture.

What is your favorite place to visit in Nicaragua?

The Laguna de Apoyo because it’s a beautiful crater lake with warm water. It’s also the deepest point in Central America. 

Where can you find the best rosquillas in Nicaragua?

So they say the best come from Somoto, but my favorite in Jinotega are from El Arbolito because of their Somoto style. Something that’s really fun do to on the weekends is go to fairs, like farmers markets, that En Tour (part of the Nicaraguan department of tourism) puts on representing different regions in the country. It’s a great opportunity to try food from different departments without traveling. I’ve gotten coffee from Esteli, rosquillas from Somoto, and cheese from Boaco.

What’s your favorite typical dish?

Baho, which is a mixture of plantain, yucca, and beef. I’m a sucker for soups!

What is your spirit animal?

I have two: Koala Bear or Goat.

Kelly’s new puppy Memo loves to play and run around, especially at the farm when volunteer groups visit!

If you could invent a new fruit, what two fruits would you combine?

Papaya with grapefruit to combine the blandness and creamy papaya with the kick of a grapefruit. 

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

A fun fact about me, I can dislocate my shoulders. Also, in middle school I was a part of a Houston Dynamo halftime show (MLS). Most of my moments of glory happened between the ages of 8-15.

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

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Congratulations Justin Winter, September Donor of the Month!

September 27th, 2017

Thank you Justin Winter for your continued support of Comunidad Connect! Justin became a Comunidad Connect donor in January of 2014, and donates $10/month. His long-term contributions have greatly helped improve health and community development in Nicaragua.

Justin first got involved with CC by taking a trip with Emory’s Business School in January 2014. In his work at the time Justin was involved in a coffee project, so he was very eager to learn about the production and coffee farmer life. Through volunteering with Comunidad Connect, Justin was able to learn more about this trade. The work to fund a local medical clinic in Los Robles and personal conversations with farmers about their employees, crops, and communities opened his eyes to the opportunities to do business better by integrating economic and community development. Since then he has followed and supported Comunidad Connect as able and is happy to be able to do a small part.

Thank you for your great work and support, Justin! Stay tuned for our next Donor of the Month in October!

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Volunteer Spotlight: KSU Nursing Student Lindsey Harbison, pt. 2

September 12th, 2017

Interview with Lindsey Harbison, Nursing Student at Kennesaw State University

Tell us a little about your background in photography.

I have always loved taking photos, but more so specifically I wanted others to see details of moments that some may miss. I have never taken a formal class, but am more self-taught.

What role did photography play during your trip? Did it influence your perspective or the way you interacted with the community?

It actually wasn’t my intention to take so many photos on this trip, I had some mishaps with my camera, and hadn’t gotten my new one. So I embarked on the trip with the intention of taking mental photos and cherishing memories. However a nursing friend on the trip brought her daughter’s and didn’t know how to use it, so I happily documented our trip for her.

For me it allowed for the opportunity to bring back parts of Nicaragua that might be overlooked, or never seen. With photography, details are important. Noticing little moments like a kitten chasing a cicada which could have been it’s only food for the day, a woman not just making cheese, but a woman opening her doors and telling us about her life and what brings her joy while teaching us about cheese. It’s capturing moments when we are able to connect with people or parts of the community which allowed me to make a deeper connection with the people I spoke with.

What do you hope your photographs from Nicaragua portray to others?

An interest in Nicaragua, an interest in helping others, to enliven the senses and instill hope that there are great people making humble choices to help the communities in Nicaragua. To show how beautiful Nicaragua is and how beautiful the people are that live there.

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Volunteer Spotlight: KSU Nursing Student Lindsey Harbison, pt. 1

September 4th, 2017

 

Interview with Lindsey Harbison, Nursing Student at Kennesaw State University

Tell us a little about yourself. 

I am currently in my last semester of Nursing School at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia. I moved here from Snowmass Village, Colorado, but am originally from Nashville, Tennessee! I have a background in Baking & Pastry and I ran a bake shop in a hotel in Colorado, before moving here to further pursue Pastry with the Ritz Carlton.. I have always loved Nursing and I come from a family full of medical professionals and health care givers. I decided to switch gears a few years ago and pursue Nursing and here I am about to graduate with my BSN and I feel that life has given me so much more than just another degree. I have been given opportunities, life changing experiences, and friendships that I will always cherish.

What brought you to Nicaragua?

Nicaragua was a study abroad trip through KSU for our Community Health Clinical rotation. The goal was to assess the health beliefs, values, attitudes, and practices of individuals, families, groups, communities, and populations and to provide spiritually and culturally appropriate health care. However what I learned was how the community of Nicaragua are not just individuals, they are families that make up a larger family called community, and each family is a vital source to the well being of their “community family”.  

This May, Lindsey traveled with a group of nursing students from KSU to Nicaragua to learn about the health care system and serve in rural communities around Jinotega.

What expectations did you have before coming on your trip?

I expected to see a resource poor country with households inside of rural communities that battle daily struggles with just living. I expected to see homes that were in poor condition, and families with chronic illnesses; Maybe even families that have no drive to help themselves and weren’t thankful for the help they did receive. What I had read, and researched did not present a country with community members that pride themselves on self-sufficiency, resilience, optimism, and hard work. What I was taught was not about how each family and every individual and even the animals are pieces to a bigger picture, and that every animal, individual, and family mattered so that the picture was complete.

What I learned while in Los Robles was that cleanliness, education, and hard work created the foundation for a prosperous life for many families. Being grateful wasn’t just saying the words “thank you,” it was explaining how you have affected their lives for the better, and how you will be kept in their prayers; and whatever the action or the item was that was given to them, how it will help each family member in some way. So I guess one could say I had unrealistic expectations, and thankfully what I expected was not reality.

 

What observations of the health care system, or health in Nicaragua in general, stood out to you?

Nicaragua sees health and wellness as a lifestyle and not an area in which your life revolves around. They aren’t focused on diets that result in an illness that requires medication management, like diabetes and obesity. They don’t see health problems as a common issues that one just lives with. The people I interacted with spoke of eating healthy, and using herbs and more holistic remedies for ailments. They seemed to be aware what unhealthy lifestyles resulted in and made it a priority to not succumb to that. They are focused on preventing health issues and generally seeking out a lifestyle that keeps them in good health.

What experience had the greatest impact on you?

I assisted with a family interview for the basis of composing a health assessment with recommendations on how to better the family’s overall health. I sat with an older woman who had 5 adult children and numerous grandchildren. She spoke of her son’s health and a tumor on his brain he was receiving treatment for. She told us of how she didn’t have minutes on her phone to even call to see if he had made it through surgery the previous day. She continued and explained that she had faith that God would provide for her and her family, but she also understood that didn’t mean not trying to help herself.
She knew that by working hard and supporting her grandchildren and those in her community, others might support her in her time of need. She was a Brigadista, and gave her community aid when needed and selflessly opened her home for little to no compensation. This to me was true community. Everyone was interconnected, everyone helped each other in their community, and there was such an environment of thankfulness and grateful hearts. They may have a life of less, less material things, but they had more in the way of appreciation and love. That is something that impacted me the most. Coming back to Georgia, I looked around at all the ‘stuff’ I have and how full my pantry was, but yet I wasn’t as grateful as those in Los Robles were for water filters and pilas. Learning to appreciate was something I learned from them, and something I will always cherish.

The students from KSU loved playing with kids in the community and sharing a cultural exchange with families in Los Robles.

What experience(s) brought you closer to the people of Nicaragua?

Being welcomed into the homes of some of the residents of Los Robles allowed for a great cultural immersion. Also while leading charlas for women, I was able to play with their children and got to experience what fun and games they play. Although there was a language barrier, making music out of rocks and bamboo, and playing makeshift volleyball, it was apparent that music and sports speak a universal language.

Check in next week to see how photography played a role in Lindsey’s trip!

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My First Few Months in un País Nuevo: Reflections from a PiLA Fellow

September 1st, 2017

 

Written by Susi Martinez, Princeton in Latin America Fellow

Grace Galloway, PiLA ’15-’17 (left) and I at the Museo de la Revolución in León.

It’s hard to believe that I have already been in Nicaragua for over a month, yet at the same time it feels like I have been here much longer. When I got my placement through Princeton in Latin America, I saw I would be working with Comunidad Connect in Nicaragua for a year on public health and community development initiatives. I’ve traveled to a few countries in South and Central America before, but I had never visited Nicaragua. I was immediately excited for the new experience, and as my studious habit resurfaced, I started reading anything I could get my hands on that was about Nicaragua before I left Ohio.

As I watched the clouds pass by from my plane window, large mountains and lakes came into view. I had arrived to my new home. I luckily spotted Grace and Theresa, the two PiLA Fellows I was replacing, at the airport eagerly awaiting my arrival, and we started our journey north to Jinotega. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to spend in Managua, but as we left the city – after first having lunch including a nice helping of gallo pinto (rice and beans, also a favorite of mine growing up in a Colombian household) – I felt the weight of the history that those buildings, roads, and countryside had seen. Names of Nicaraguans I had remembered came to mind – Ruben Dario, Gioconda Belli, Sandino – as Bob Marley quietly played on the radio in the background.

As soon as we started our descent into the valley that hid Jinotega in the mountains, I knew I was going to love living here. Lush, vibrant mountains carefully encircle the city, providing the most beautiful backdrop to a small, old town. Being in Jinotega immediately reminded me of Cotacahi, Ecuador, where I studied last year, because of being nestled in the mountains and the relaxed pace of life. But, as my travels have proven in the past, no two places are exactly alike. And so I became even more excited to get to know my new home and community. Listen to stories and immerse myself in Nicaragua. So I jumped right in. 

 

After my first two weeks of orientation, I had moved to Los Robles to live with my host family and shadowed one visiting group of doctors and their team in the community. Within the next week, Theresa and Grace bid me farewell and I was working with a new group from North Carolina, helping facilitate projects in Los Robles. I loved the energy that the volunteers brought, and it was really special to be able to facilitate their interactions with the families receiving our projects. After hearing so much about the cement floors, mosquito-repelling paint, improved stoves and ovens, and water filters, I was excited to see these projects in homes and meet the families that had earned them through community service hours. One of my favorite moments was translating for a volunteer as she spoke with the mother of the family. They both asked questions about each other’s families, cultural differences, and shared gratitude on both sides.

My host sister loved learning how to play the ukulele.

Although my time living in Los Robles was short, I’m grateful for the month I had getting to know my host family and community. I came to Nicaragua not knowing a single person. Yet I am continuously struck by the kindness of strangers and sense of community others have shown me. Whether it’s a neighbor offering to carry my 50 lb. suitcase across a muddy field, a child giving me directions to a house, my host mom being patient with my Spanish, or my new housemates motivating me to finish a hike up the mountain at 5:30 in the morning, I have been overwhelmed with the welcoming spirit of my new home. Two months here has already taught me a lot, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the rest of my year in this beautiful country.

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