Coming Home: The Power of a Community

March 12th, 2018

Don Ernesto has lived in Los Robles for over 40 years. 78 years old, he has lived alone in a small, simple home made of tambo (open-air wood structure) without any family nearby. A few people in the community stop by his home to bring food and visit every once in a while, aware of his situation. Due to his age and years of working in the fields, Don Ernesto now suffers from many health issues, unable to work on home improvement projects to enhance his living conditions.

After getting to know Don Ernesto and seeing his circumstances, a family in Los Robles decided to take action. They began working to repair his home, motivated to help Don Ernesto because he had served so many others in the community as well in his youth. Don Ernesto graciously accepted their support, which expanded to over 45 people in the community working together with a private company to improve his home. Each of these community members – neighbors, friends and acquaintances – donated materials (wood, zinc, paint, nails, etc.) and hands-on work in their free time to create a space of dignity for Don Ernesto, little by little.

This beautiful act of community members coming together reflects the power of community development from within. The individuals who saw Don Ernesto’s needs and decided to take action and are determined to continue supporting him to provide a comfortable and happy home where he can spend his days.

Comunidad Connect was excited to join their efforts to support Don Ernesto improve his living conditions. Volunteers with Doctors Ben and Karen Thrower who came down in February worked on home improvement projects to lay down a concrete floor and build a ventilated stove in his home since he cooks for himself. Don Ernesto was extremely grateful for the support.

We invite you to come to Los Robles and get to know inspiring members of the community. If you stop by Don Ernesto’s new place, be prepared to listen to lots of stories and spend a good time with him.

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Home Run in Los Robles

March 7th, 2018

Young athletes in Los Robles smile with professional baseball player Gonzalo López during their clinic.

At the end of February, young athletes in Los Robles received an exciting surprise. Comunidad Connect helped bring three nationally-known Nicaraguan professional baseball players to Los Robles for an afternoon of baseball training and motivational talks.

Twenty-two children arrived to the sports field to meet Gonzalo Lopez (signed by the Atlanta Braves in 2000), Juan Vicente Lopez (played with the national team in Nicaragua six times), and Bismarck Guadamuz (played with the national team in Nicaragua four times). The three athletes shared their stories with the boys and girls of how they became professional baseball players, stressing the importance of studying and practicing with dedication. The children worked with the athletes on basic baseball skills, like using a mitt, catching, batting, and pitching.

Ronald Zeledón, coordinator of Comunidad Connect’s sports program in Los Robles, saw the event as a great success. “These Nicaraguan baseball icons shared basic technical skills with the Academy of Los Robles, which was very exciting because they serve as motivation for the young athletes to continue with their training and love of sports.”


The kids were very excited for this opportunity because they had never had professional athletes visit their community before. They also look forward to meeting another local athlete from Jinotega’s baseball team, Juan Blandón, who will be working with the young athletes in Los Robles in the upcoming weeks.

Thank you to everyone who made this event possible! Find out how you can support youth development in Nicaragua today by emailing:

The kids of Los Robles had a fun afternoon training with three of their national baseball idols.

Juan Vicente López (far left), Gonzalo López (center) and Bismarck Guadamuz (far right) volunteered their time to help young athletes in Los Robles improve their baseball skills and personal development.



Community Close-Up: How a Lens Offers a New Perspective

March 7th, 2018

“There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment.”
— Robert Frank

I view photography as a form of storytelling. – Katie Figura

Capturing special moments on film has taken Katie Figura around the world. Katie is usually found photographing weddings in the U.S. throughout the year, but her passion for travel and documenting untold stories has inspired her to volunteer her time photographing with international organizations.

Although she graduated from Cornell University with a degree in Industrial and Labor Relations, Katie found a passion for photography while serving as an AmeriCorps Volunteer in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has volunteered with nonprofits across Europe, offering her talents to share stories of families in refugee camps in Greece. This February, Comunidad Connect had the pleasure of working with Katie to capture and share stories in Los Robles.

I focus on capturing intimate shots that resonate deep emotion. – Katie Figura

Like other communities in rural Nicaragua, Los Robles may be geographically isolated but it is a community full of vibrant life and generations of personal histories. Some of Katie’s photographs are below, highlighting families living in Los Robles: in their homes, with their loved ones, in the coffee fields, and dealing with the wonderful and challenging moments of everyday life.

Thank you, Katie, for donating your time to help us share these moments as we continue to connect untold stories of the individuals we serve with our amazing network of support.

Juntos Para Salud, Together for Health

March 6th, 2018

Emily Ruger, Bianca Lombay and Dr. Ben Thrower smile with Juan Carlos, a patient with partial paralysis enrolled in the project since 2015.

Comunidad Connect was very excited to welcome Doctors Ben and Karen Thrower and their team back to Nicaragua in February. The Throwers first came to Nicaragua in 2014, when they witnessed the drastic health disparities that exist in rural communities. It was after this trip that they decided to start a project to serve neurological and pediatric patients in Los Robles. The project has since expanded to a second community, San Esteban 2, with 23 patients currently enrolled in both communities.

Dr. Karen Thrower evaluates Priscila in San Esteban 2, a patient who has Down’s Syndrome.

Most individuals in rural Nicaragua do not have access to specialized health services, due to a lack of physicians in the area and economic resources that prevent families from seeking private care. Since 2014, Drs. Ben and Karen have returned to Nicaragua twice each year to offer specialty care to patients with identified needs.

In addition to their yearly visits, Comunidad Connect coordinates with the Ministry of Health (MINSA) to monitor patients and ensure medication is delivered each month. Through this collaboration, pediatric patients and patients with special needs enrolled in this project are able to improve and maintain their overall health condition.

This February, the Throwers were excited to see old patients and welcome a few new ones into their project. The families of each patient were extremely grateful for the support and specialized attention provided by the Throwers and Comunidad Connect. A special thank you to Ben and Karen Thrower, as well as to all our donors who support this and other health initiatives in rural Nicaragua. With your support, we help break barriers to isolation and enhance the health and wellbeing of families in rural communities.

Enma Gutiérrez, MINSA nurse (left), explains to Bianca Lombay how the clinic collects patient statistics. Enma works with Comunidad Connect to monitor patients enrolled in the Thrower’s project on a monthly basis.

Dr. Ben Thrower and group visit Doña Gabina (center) in her home for her monthly evaluation.

Dr. Ben and Karen Thrower and their group were happy to return to Nicaragua for their 6th trip working in Los Robles and surrounding communities.


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

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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 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: 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!

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San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua-Frente a Farmacia Comunitaria/ Jinotega, Nicaragua-Bancentro Lafise Central, cuadra y media al oeste, Barrio Omar García

Tel:011-(505) 2782-2434


Comunidad Connect / PO Box 1687 Madison, Alabama 35758

Tel: Tel: 404-444-9147

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