Health / NCHC

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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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!

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 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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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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We’ll Go Farther, Together: 2017 Holiday Campaign Kick-Off

November 30th, 2017

Tania America Picado is the mother of Crisbell Gutiérrez (far right), one of the beneficiaries of our Neurological and Pediatric Patient Project in Los Robles.

Over the past ten years, Comunidad Connect has provided thousands of Nicaraguans with access to health services, youth development programs, and improved living conditions. We are thankful for your financial support this year, without which this incredible impact would not have been possible.

As we begin our next decade of work driven by our collective experience in Nicaragua, Comunidad Connect kindly requests you to consider extending your impact further by participating in our Holiday Campaign. Your contributions will allow us to expand our programs to reach thousands more residents of isolated communities in Nicaragua and connect them with critical resources and services.

Take for example the family of 9 year old Crisbell Gutiérrezwho we met in the community of Los Robles in 2015. An accident at 2 months old left her partially paralyzed with frequent seizures, while her single mother struggled to provide for her 4 children. Through our health and service programs, we connected Crisbell to Drs. Ben and Karen Thrower who helped provide the appropriate medicine and monthly check ups. Today, Crisbell has increased mobility, seizures are now rare, and her mother is happy knowing her daughter’s special medical needs are being met.

Connecting vital resources to those who need them most is what Comunidad Connect does best, but we cannot do it alone. I invite you to watch Crisbell’s story, share it with others you know and consider making a contribution to our Holiday Campaign. Each of us can be a piece of the solution…and we can indeed go much farther, together.

Keep a look out for more videos in our three-part video series and stay updated with our Holiday Campaign!

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Nursing Student Gains Greater Insight into Rural Poverty

November 6th, 2017

Written by Brandon Spratt, Doctor of Nursing Practice Candidate at the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing

Brandon came to Nicaragua in December 2016 with a group of nursing students from Emory University.

As my first true experience outside of the US, Comunidad Connect’s opportunity to volunteer in southern Nicaragua was an escapade I’ll never forget. Then a second-degree student in nursing at Emory University, Comunidad Connect reached out to the School of Nursing to offer students a one-week trip to Nicaragua to invest in opportunities of service within the healthcare systems that aim to increase civic engagement in certain areas. Following my several years of in-country cross-cultural service during my first undergraduate degree, I was ready for such an experience on different soil.

My arrival to Rivas, a southern city of ~40,000 not far from the border to Costa Rica, started with a tour of a local hospital that let me see first-hand the striking difference between the healthcare system here and the one I was used to back in the States. Obviously a lower-resource facility, I was struck at the resilience and versatility that was demanded of the healthcare staff as the nurses were often tasked to 25 patients per nurse. In asking one of the nurses how one could possibly keep up with this demand, she simply smiled and said, “you have to be an octopus to do our job!”.

Our next stop took us to Tola, a smaller community near Rivas that housed a health post for local members to receive basic curative services. It was here that we learned about Nicaragua’s MOSAF healthcare model that capitalizes on community health workers to have an intimate knowledge of the health history of each household in their community to gain insight of the current trends of disease and predict related risk factors. I was impressed at the level of detail that each worker was required to memorize for each household and found this model to be quite intriguing.

While these experiences were quite fascinating and interesting, the most impactful memory I had came from a small, rural community called El Tambo, not far from Tola. It was in this place that I really understood what poverty really is. It is not some tangible idea that can be gleaned from watching videos or reading books, but rather a felt sensation that one only understands when one is in its midst. Dirt floors, tin roofs, and a barren yard were all that many of these villagers owned and while paralyzing at first, I began to see the internal beauty and richness that these people had to offer.

At their request, we gave several presentations about how to understand and address some of the chronic health problems many of their members face. Following this, the villagers did something I will never forget: a great feast. Although our baseline luxuries in America would easily surmount this offering as mediocre in the States, it was obvious that this was no ordinary gala. Out oftheir poverty and of what little they had, their presentation was immaculate. Toiling for days, their cooked chicken, gallo pinto, and juice was displayed before us in banquet-like fashion. Yes, indeed, the food was delicious, but that was not the overarching message that was clear that day. Instead, what was seared into my mind is a life-long lesson that that I will never forget: when poverty-stricken communities come together collectively and harmoniously, it breeds a spirit of generosity.


El Tambo’s generosity is a lesson I will take with me wherever I go and for that I am grateful to have learned such a valuable nugget of truth in the larger arc of life. I hope that others may be able to encounter similar experiences in their lives. I’d like to thank Comunidad Connect for making this possible and hope that they continue the great work they are doing in those communities.

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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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