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Updates from Nicaragua, Letter from CEO Jon Thompson

June 12th, 2018

Ten years ago, Comunidad Connect began with a mission to alleviate poverty in Nicaragua by connecting isolated communities with appropriate resources and opportunities for growth. Relationships grew and impact deepened as more and more people connected across cultures through our projects and programs. The resulting bonds inspired financial and in-kind support, academic research, and significant social impact in Nicaragua. Everything was trending upward. As our network of support increased their engagement, so expanded our capacity to impact the communities of Nicaragua.

All that began to change on April 19th, when student-led protests reacting to drastic changes to the social security system were violently repressed. This incited more demonstrations and violence. As of today, over 100 people have been killed and over thousand wounded. National transportation strikes are making food, fuel, and other critical resources scarce, and our partner communities are struggling to find and afford the items that they need the most.

As a result, the Peace Corps has pulled its volunteers and the US State Department’s travel advisory now urges all travelers to reconsider plans to visit Nicaragua. Many organizations like ours are closing throughout Nicaragua and the tourism industry has already lost 100,000 jobs. All service-learning and mission trips scheduled to travel to Nicaragua with Comunidad Connect this year have been canceled. This has caused us to make some difficult decisions and our staff is much smaller than it was even six weeks ago. Yet our commitment is firm, and our hope is that Nicaragua will emerge stronger than ever…and we will be there to experience it.

Our network of support has the potential to make an incredible difference now in Nicaragua. All of our past and present volunteers, donors, staff, board, friends, and family can all advocate for peace, make a donation, and share our work with others. Together, we can continue to assist communities meet their basic needs through health and wellness programming. Together, we can seek creative solutions to the daily challenges resulting from the current events in Nicaragua. And only together, are we truly Comunidad Connect.

I would welcome the opportunity to talk with you in person about what is unfolding in Nicaragua and how we can make a difference together during these difficult times. You may reach me at 404.444.9147 or jon@comunidadconnect.org. Thank you for your time, prayers and thoughtful consideration.

Jon Thompson

Co-Founder/CEO
Comunidad Connect

Sadness in the Smiles

July 5th, 2018

San Juan del Sur; beautiful port with its beaches and views.

The crisis in the country has not affected {San Juan del Sur} with armed violence or blockades. This small town where everyone knows each other has taken a position of tolerance against ideological differences, especially verbal attacks. Logically, you can feel a great difference in the air. There is a sense of fear and uncertainty about what our nearby cities are going through. There is also a lot of helplessness, but at the same time, calm and hope that the town continues to respect the peaceful struggle. I do not know how long we will continue like this but I hope that all this pain has not been in vain.

I know that this struggle has its consequences for the working population, and each city feels it in different ways. I think that the geographical position and population of San Juan del Sur helps a lot regarding the political crisis that is taking place here, in terms of violence and available resources. Riot police and regular officers are few in number. This has its advantages and disadvantages as everyone has to take care of each other.

Certainly, we do not have capacity to access everything as we did before the conflict started, but at least we have basics products and services. WE CAN NOT COMPLAIN, nor ignore that our brothers in other cities are being killed and persecuted for thinking differently; for dreaming differently.

As in the whole country, unemployment is overwhelming. Tourism is the main economic source in San Juan del Sur and many people have lost their jobs. Some have migrated to Costa Rica and others have even taken up fishing to provide for their families.  Most hotels and restaurants have had to close or reduce staff while others have lowered the prices of all their services to stay open. There are not many people on the streets or beaches. Some tourists come from Costa Rica by plane and are helping to maintain the local economy.

This has been San Juan del Sur until July … A mixture of calm, uncertainty, lonely beaches, rain, sun and a lot of sadness in the smiles.

 

-A personal perspective from a citizen of Nicaragua, and resident of San Juan del Sur.

 

Tranques

June 26th, 2018

Daily life in Jinotega, like much of Nicaragua, has become paralyzed by tranques. Literally, tranques mean “dams” or “obstacles” but they more closely resemble barricades and roadblocks these days in Nicaragua. Made of road pavers, metal signs, and anything else that prevent passage to pedestrians and vehicles, the tranques have brought ground transportation and local commerce to a standstill. Products and services cannot reach their markets, and many businesses, schools, and public institutions are shuttered. Tranques have also been the focal points for conflicts between pro-government groups and civilians.

Comunidad Connect staff in Jinotega explained to me that it is difficult to know who is responsible for each tranque, but there are two primary groups at odds with eachother: pro-government individuals brought in from outside the city and the opposing “April 19th Movement” comprised of local residents. These makeshift roadblocks are on practically every corner and some are inspecting pedestrians who attempt to pass. The tranques are one of the only means locals are using to pressure the government to bring justice, peace, and democracy back to Nicaragua. While the cause in noble, the effect throughout the community is troubling.

Improvised shelters adjacent to tranques house those who are not residents of Jinotega and hygiene and sanitation have become critical issues. Trash service stopped weeks ago and many residents have resigned to leaving their garbage in the street. There are no taxis available and residents prefer to buy staple goods at the local pulperia than risk the trip to a larger supermarket.

There are no tranques in Los Robles, but their impact is certainly tangible. Farm work has dried up and without money, food and medicine can be hard to come by. Families that depend on jobs in Jinotega can no longer count on that income either. To address these challenges, we have begun fundraising to finance local projects in homes of the elderly, single mothers, and families with special medical needs patients that not only improve their quality of life, but also create jobs for local masons and assistants. Our in-country team can navigate the tranques, but we need your help to reach the 100+ families eligible for projects.

Join us in this important work by making a donation and sharing this update with others. If you would like to learn more, please contact me at jon@comunidadconnect.org or 404-444-9147

-Jon ThompsonImage result for donate

* The next installment to our series “Nicaragua Now” will spotlight how San Juan del Sur is managing the national crisis.  We would love to know your perspective and invite you to contribute to the Nicaragua Now series by contacting me via email.

Communities Pushing Through Current Unrest

June 12th, 2018

The current social unrest in Nicaragua has affected communities throughout the country over the past 7 weeks, including the areas where Comunidad Connect works. However, our efforts in San Juan del Sur and the communities outside of Jinotega continue to operate, and our team members in the field are actively identifying community priorities and challenges as the situation evolves.

Our in-country staff report that San Juan del Sur has remained calm without instances of violence to date.  Although with a tourism-based economy, the lack of travelers has caused many businesses to close temporarily and lay off hundreds of local workers.  National transportation strikes have caused shortages of food, fuel, and cash, and access to health services is very limited.

Until recently, our Northern office in Jinotega kept normal operating hours and our health programming in rural communities outside the city continued unimpeded.  However, violence rocked the region June 7th, and roadblocks have kept our staff from working in the office. Residents in Los Robles and San Esteban cannot travel to Jinotega to work or sell produce in the market. Consequently, this lack of employment means little to no income to purchase food and critical supplies like medicine.  

Over 2,000 residents in the community of Los Robles have been affected by recent unrest, concentrated in cities throughout Nicaragua.

Jesús Rodriguez, a community leader from Los Robles, shared his thoughts on the pressing situation facing the country:

“Tortillas for sale” at a home in Los Robles.

“With respect to the situation we are living in in Nicaragua, it is difficult because one way or another it is destroying the economic standing of families, here in our community and in other communities in the Department of Jinotega and throughout the country. If there are roadblocks or a national strike, there is no transportation to be able to travel in order to buy the items that we most need.”

Jesús explained that in Los Robles families can buy a few items in the community – like cream, cheese, and toilet paper – but people need to travel to Jinotega to purchase their main necessities – like rice, oil, meat, and detergent.

 

Jesús Rodríguez, community member from San Esteban, shares concerns about access to vital resources due to unrest.

Kohl Dothage, graduate student from the University of Alabama currently conducting research in Los Robles, also commented on the situation in Los Robles.

“Los Robles has been very calm. However, that does not mean the situation is not impacting families. Many people have loved-ones who work in Managua, who travel back and forth, and are unable to do so now. So of course this is going to have an impact on the community on some level even if it appears calm.”   

Despite these challenges and lack of access to resources, our staff continues to work with community members to address local needs. Three times a week, Comunidad Connect nurse Enma Gutiérrez travels to the Los Robles health clinic to provide primary care attention to residents. Additionally, Enma follows up with patients and delivers medication to special needs patients as part of our Together For Health program during monthly appointments. And as always, she supports the Brigadistas (community health volunteers) of Los Robles with training based on identified local priorities.

 

In this time of national change and new challenges, Comunidad Connect is dedicated to strengthening partnerships with community leaders, like Jesús, who will play a vital role in sustaining families and communities going forward.

Building Foundations: Homes and Health

June 11th, 2018

Most volunteer groups pour at least one concrete floor for a family during their service-learning experience in Nicaragua. For the most part, these projects are straightforward and simple to complete. However, the resulting physical and emotional health benefits are abundant.

Concrete floors:

  • Reduce parasitic infestations, diarrhea, and anemia.
  • Improve cognitive development in children by permitting “floor time”.
  • Increase satisfaction with housing and quality of life.
  • Reduce depression and perceived stress.
  • Enhance respiratory health by limiting mold spores that can flourish on damp-earth floors.

See below for a step-by-step to see how these floors are created.

Each healthy home project requires the assistance of a local mason and some prep-work. Before a floor can be laid, the mason must visit the home to level the ground and create the framework using pieces of wood and cement mix.

On the day of the project,  the group and beneficiary family first make the cement mix using three buckets of sand one bag of cement. Some beneficiary family members can be quite eager to help out, like this boy here.

Once the sand and cement mix are thoroughly mixed, a mini-volcano, as we like to call it, is created and water is poured into the “crater”.

More water is added until the proper consistency is reached.

When ready, volunteers shovel the cement into buckets and lug it inside the house where the mason is waiting.

The mason then pours the cement and smooths it out with wood or a leveling tool.

The finished product is quite impressive and completely changes the aesthetic and healthy conditions of the home. These floors usually take about two days to dry and cost an average of $200. By financing a concrete floor in someone’s home, you can make a direct impact from abroad. Donate here today.

Clean Cookstoves, Healthy Homes

May 30th, 2018

Some of the most prevalent yet preventable illnesses in rural Nicaragua are respiratory diseases. To address this challenge, Comunidad Connect’s improved technology clean cookstoves can greatly improve household health.

These projects, earned by accumulating volunteer hours in the community, are built  by beneficiary families, volunteers, and local masons. Not only do these stoves use less wood and save a family money, but they also have the following health benefits:

  • Decrease indoor air pollution from smoke using chimneys
  • Prevent chronic illnesses such as respiratory disease, pneumonia, and low birth weight
  • Increase satisfaction with housing and quality of life

Take a look below to see how these stoves are built step-by-step!

Meet Don Tingo, a mason who lives in Los Robles and helps makes building these stoves possible. Before any construction can begin, Don Tingo pre-fabricates the “burners” with rebar and concrete. One of the burners must have a hole for the chimney, as you can see in the image.

When the time comes to begin construction, the mortar mixture (used to hold the stove bricks together) must be prepared. The simple recipe consists of combing dirt and cow manure with water that has been soaked in dragon fruit leaves. The dragon fruit is sticky and acts as a natural binder. And don’t worry, the cow manure doesn’t smell at all.

While the mortar mixture is being prepared, Don Tingo will lay the first layer of bricks, as these measurements are the most important to the structural integrity of the stove. Once completed, volunteers and the beneficiary family can take over laying bricks, stacking several layers high.

After Don Tingo’s approval of the group’s work, he will lay the burners into place. In the picture above, you will notice one side is higher than the other. This is to create an uneven distribution of heat, allowing one burner to heat up and cook food quickly and the other to function as a warmer. 

With the burners set in place, Don Tingo climbs to the roof of the house to install the chimney. Most of the time he has to cut a hole in the zinc roof or rearrange some shingles.

From the inside, the stove is really starting to come together. With a little bit of concrete to seal the chimney in place, it will be ready to dry. Taking only about a day to set, the beneficiary family can begin cooking very quickly after receiving a project.

And there you have it! In only 2 to 3 hours, volunteers have an amazing experience, make some new friends and significantly impact a family’s health for years to come.

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Fourth Annual Health Summit 2018

May 7th, 2018

 

Academics and health care professionals reunited once again in Jinotega, Nicaragua for Comunidad Connect’s Fourth Annual Health Summit. Comunidad Connect was pleased to host both veteran and new attendees, continuing to augment local and international relationships in the health field.

Professors and students attended from Georgia State University, University of North Georgia, Kennesaw State University, and Ohio State University. The summit began with a day of home visits in the community of Los Robles, an orientation to the organization, and updates of the past year. Highlights from the day included meeting beneficiaries of Comundidad Connect’s healthy home projects of concrete floors, stoves, and ovens, speaking with homeowners about their improved health, and meeting with the network of Brigadistas (community health volunteers) for a Q&A session.

The second day of the health summit began in the city of Jinotega with presentations from the SILAIS (local system of integral health attention), the Health Center Guillermo Matute, the University of Martin Luther, and UNAN FAREM-Matagalpa about community health strategies, achievements through community strategies, and breast cancer, respectively.

Second year health summit attendee and local nonprofit ‘Together for Tomorrow’ founder, Tommy Brown, was happy to participate as it provides the opportunity to connect not only government agencies like the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health (MINSA), but also with academics from the United States. “We were here last year and it is great to hear what the government is currently doing or has plans to do so that we may work together if the opportunity presents itself.”

The afternoon session included presentations of research results from the University of Calgary, Ohio State University, Kennesaw State University, and the University of North Georgia. MINSA representatives and international academic partners saw opportunities to collaborate and look for ways to share research findings with local communities. Presenters covered a variety of topics, ranging from maternal mental health, childhood digestive health, cervical cancer, and a community health needs assessment study.

After presenting her team’s findings regarding cervical cancer screenings in the department of Leon, Professor Vanessa Jones commented, “It’s exciting to see how relationships and collaborations have developed as a result of the Health Summit. We all have the same goal–improving the health of Nicaraguans in rural communities. Sharing our work provides opportunities to work together to achieve this goal. During this year’s Summit, I was introduced to nursing faculty in Nicaragua who were interested in the same research, which could result in future research collaboration.”

For Kennesaw State’s University Dean of Health and Human Services, Mark Tillman, “The health summit was a great opportunity for teamwork and to share our knowledge of health issues. It gives me a stronger appreciation for the country, the people and the concerns that they face. And it also makes me motivated to provide more opportunities for the faculty and students of Kennesaw State to come here.”

If you would like to learn more about Comunidad Connect, the research presented, or how you can can become involved, please send us an email us a info@comunidadconnect.org or call 404-444-9147.

Check out more photos from the Health Summit below!

Staff Spotlight: Meet Enma Gutiérrez, Ministry of Health Nurse!

May 7th, 2018

Comunidad Connect values its partnership with the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health, or MINSA, to carry to out our health programs. This month, meet Enma Gutiérrez, a nurse with MINSA who works with Comunidad Connect at the health clinic in Los Robles. Enma serves an important role providing primary health attention and promoting preventative health measures in the community. Learn more about Enma’s work below!

When did you begin to work with Comunidad Connect?

I started working with CC on October 17, 2017. I’ve been with the organization for about 7 months now!

What is your typical work day like?

My job at the health center in Los Robles is focused on individual care oriented on health promotion, maintenance, and recuperation. I also promote ways to increase individuals’ quality of life and social wellbeing, and create spaces to train people and groups about ways to address their health needs and problems.

 

Enma attends patients at the Health Clinic in Los Robles and gives educational talks on various health topics in the community. Some areas and themes are listed above.

What is your favorite part about working at the Health Center in Los Robles?

I love working with children and patients with special needs.

 

What are the most common illnesses in the community?

  • Respiratory disease
  • Parasites
  • Gonococcal arthritis
  • Hypertension
  • Epilepsy

How do you work with the Brigadistas (community health workers) in Los Robles? 

I meet with the Brigadistas once or twice per month to train them on certain health topics that affect the community. They support MINSA’s (Ministry of Health) community outreach efforts and inform us of problems most prevalent in the area. The Brigadistas play an important role in training and sharing information about health to other community members in the neighborhoods where they live.

Where is your favorite place to visit in Nicaragua?

I love any place that is in the countryside, waterfalls, and the ocean.

What is your favorite typical Nicaragua dish?

My favorite typical foods are the nacatamal and baho.

Do you have any talent or hobby?

I think my talent is creative! I love to make crafts and read books.

Welcome Abigail Hunt: Summer Intern

May 7th, 2018

Comunidad Connect is excited to welcome back intern Abigail Hunt from Savannah, GA for her second summer internship with the organization. She first came to Nicaragua with a volunteer group in 2016 and returned last summer working as a bilingual facilitator for groups and living in Los Robles during the month of June. This year she will be working out of Jinotega with local development projects and communications.

Abigail is a senior at the University of Georgia studying Speech Pathology and hopes to use the skills she is learning while in Nicaragua to provide bilingual speech therapy to children in multicultural communities after graduation. She adds, “Nicaragua holds a special place in my heart. I can’t keep myself from coming back here every year. Who knows, maybe one day I can use my degree to benefit the people of Los Robles.”

Thank You Donors: New Mobile Dental Clinic in Action!

April 25th, 2018

We are excited to announce that our Mobile Dental Clinic is up and running! Thanks to your generous donations and support, our resident dentist Dr. Reeder Lanzas is expanding our Preventive Oral Health program to provide dental attention to residents in rural communities. Dr. Reeder also continues to give educational preventive health talks in primary and secondary schools, provide fluoride treatment, and supply students with basic dental kits while supplies last.

Dr. Reeder is extremely excited to put the new mobile dental clinic to work. “With this new clinic, we are going to do tooth fillings, cleanings, as well as extractions. However, our first priorities are cleanings and fillings. Currently we are working in a community on prevention (about 700 students – 400 primary, 300 secondary), and with the new clinic we are able to provide full dental primary care.”

This April Comunidad Connect welcomed Tufts University Dental students in our first dental brigade to the community of Los Robles. During the week the dental students consulted 105 patients and performed 91 tooth extractions, in addition to delivering toothbrushes and toothpaste to numerous others. Comunidad Connect is excited to expand our reach and health impact in the community with this clinic and looks forward to working with more dentists, hygienists, and university dental programs in the future.

Because of your invested support, Comunidad Connect’s mobile dental clinic is bringing smiles to thousands of students and residents in Nicaragua! The new mobile dental clinic marks an important first step toward addressing oral health in remote areas. However, this is just the beginning. You can expand this impact across rural Nicaragua by contacting us today at info@comunidadconnect.org.

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