Health / NCHC

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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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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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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Ohio State & University of Calgary Researchers Mark Preliminary Findings of Maternal & Child Health in Los Robles

August 11th, 2017


Over the last two months, students from the University of Calgary and Ohio State University have been carrying out research, providing a more holistic understanding of health in rural Nicaragua.

Natasha Hoehn, a graduate student from the University of Calgary, has been presenting preliminary results of her research to community members in Los Robles this June and July. After two years of researching the health of mothers and children in this area under the direction of Dr. Warren Wilson, Natasha and her team have generated data on child growth rates and digestive health. A brief summary of their primary findings are shown in the table below. Their research also looked at levels of food security, diabetes, and mental health of mothers. With the completion of additional sample analyses by Dr. Jason DeCaro at the University of Alabama, the results of this two-year study will soon present a more comprehensive picture of health in Los Robles.

Primary Report of Maternal & Child Health in Los Robles

Los Robles, Jinotega Nicaragua Regional
Child Stunting 14% (2015) 22% (2012) 22.9% (Global, 2016)
Child Overweight 13% (2015) 6.2% (2012) 19-37% (Latin America, 2007)
Mothers with diabetes 26% (2015)

22% (Mexico, 2014)
Mothers with food insecure households 93% (2015) 75% (León, 2015)
Mothers with poor mental health* 44% (2015) 20.7% (León, 2016)° 20% (Global, 2014)°
*Anxiety-related, depressive, and somatoform disorders
° Individuals who have experienced a common mental disorder in past 12 months


Ohio State researchers Alba Mayta and Helena Fox organize their research samples at the end of the day.

A team of anthropologists, public health students, and veterinarians from Ohio State University also began researching how households’ domestic animals affect diarrheal disease in children living in rural Nicaragua. Also based in Los Robles, these students, under the direction of Dr. Barbara Piperata, conducted household surveys and collected samples of gut microbiota, which will be analyzed back at Ohio State. Results from this study will give insight into how a child’s environment affects their microbiota and disease risk. This information will be useful to the Ministry of Health (MINSA) and rural communities in this region to enhance children’s health. Stay tuned for more updates and results from both studies in the next few months!

Thank You Donors!

August 9th, 2017

A committebeauty, travel, service, health d group of donors we call our NCHC Advocates make recurring financial contributions to ensure our good friends in Los Robles and surrounding communities have access to health care services and education.  Strategic partnerships and critical funds generated by Advocates help cover the cost of health related programming and staff. including:

  • In-home monthly case management of 26 special medical needs patients
  • Oral health outreach and education to over 1,000 students in 2017
  • Sexual and reproductive health training for 20+ high school students
  • Nursing services at the health post in Los Robles for up to 30 patients daily
  • Support and coordination of ongoing research and data collection

A special thank you for recent support from Connie Bryans and the Julia Hunt Good Samaritan Fund, Decatur Presbyterian Church, Westminster Presbyterian Church, and HOI.  Academic partners like Emory, GA State, Kennesaw State, University of Calgary, and Ohio State (among others) have also provided incredible in-kind and financial support.  Without these partners, the communities we serve would continue to struggle to meet their basic health needs.  Thank you to all donors, supporters, and advocates!!

Kids Are All Smiles During Dental Hygiene Talks

August 9th, 2017


Dr. Reeder LanDentistry zas has been spreading smiles across primary schools this past month. Dr. Reeder had great success with his dental hygiene talks, working with 56 students in San Esteban and 680 in Datanli. In his health talks, students learn how to take care of their teeth and prevent illnesses. Dr. Reeder notes that working with kids and adolescents is one of the greatest challenges in dentistry, because the majority of kids are afraid of dentists. However, “this is what makes our work more interesting,” Dr. Reeder states, “especially for me, being able to teach these kids and adolescents aDentistry nd seeing how they put this new knowledge into practice is very gratifying.” During the first weeks of August, he will expand these dental hygiene talks to Los Robles, where he will work with over 630 new students. We are excited to see this program growing and watch these kids ready to tackle dental hygiene in their communities.


Farewell to NCHC Fellow, Theresa Bailey

August 8th, 2017

After two years of supporting our Health Connections programs, Princeton in Latin America Fellow Theresa Bailey has concluded her time with Comunidad Connect and will begin her graduate studies at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University.. Theresa’s contributions across a wide range of projects – including research, preventive and primary health care, health fairs, presentations, mentoring, translating, impact measurement, and communications – were a tremendous source of support for all stakeholders and have had a profound impact in Los Robles and the surrounding communities. Theresa worked closely with Dr Mayra Rivas, Dr. Lia, Dr. Alaniz, Dr. Reeder Lanzas, the Ministry of Health, and the network of brigadistas of Los Robles tirelessly to coordinate our collective efforts and improve health outcomes in rural Nicaragua.  

Spending her first year in Los Robles, Theresa formed strong relationships with community members and her co-workers. As fellow NCHC colleague Reeder Lanzas describes, “Working with Theresa was like working with the entire community. No one from our team knew the community better than her. She was also one of the best interpreters I have ever known.”

Theresa’s compassion for others, sense of responsibility, hard-work ethic, and friendship were greatly valued. Marketing intern Adam Rosendale remembers Theresa as a wonderful mentor and co-worker, wishing her the best with her studies back in Georgia.  

This fall, Theresa will continue pursuing her passion of global health as she begins a Master’s program at Emory University’s School of Public Health. We wish Theresa the best of luck and are excited to see the amazing work she will do in the future.

Q&A with University of Calgary Researcher, Natasha Hoehn

August 7th, 2017

Interview with Natasha Hoehn, Graduate Student at the University of Calgary

Jinotega, health research, Los Robles, public health, Nicaragua

Climbing to the cross in Jinotega with Daisi Iveth Gonzalez, one of the Los Robles mothers.

Can you give us a brief background of your research study?

I am interested in how the mental health of mothers may, or may not, affect the health of their children. Previous research has suggested that maternal depression may be associated with poor child growth, decreased cognitive development, and increased episodes of diarrhea. However, few studies have examined markers of physiological status that may predispose children to these adverse outcomes. By studying markers of physiological status, we can see vulnerability to disease before it manifests by taking a step back in the process of disease development. My research tests for correlations between maternal mental health and physiological markers of stress in children, which can offer new insight into the relationship between maternal mental health and child health.

Jinotega, health research, Los Robles, public health, Nicaragua

An accurate representation of how afraid I am of machetes (with Maritza de Jesus Romero).

How did your research go this summer while you lived in Los Robles?

While I spent two months in Los Robles collecting data in 2015, there was very little time dedicated to observing the everyday lives of mothers in the community. To gain the context necessary to help explain patterns in our “hard” data, I returned to Los Robles this summer to do participant observation research in a series of households. Participant observation, as the name would suggest, entails both participating in and recording everything that happens in a day. This involved cooking gallo pinto, hand washing clothes, and the occasional pig slaughtering (quite an experience for this city-raised vegetarian). Community members welcomed me into their homes, and allowed me to follow them around with a notebook for week-long periods of time. The insight gained from this experience will be invaluable in writing my thesis. Additionally, and more importantly, my experience this summer strengthened my connection to the women in Los Robles, and I hope the relationships we built together will extend beyond my graduate studies.

How did the community respond to results you shared from 2015?

The second goal of my time in Los Robles was to communicate preliminary findings from the data our team collected in 2015. To achieve this goal, I presented results in a series of community meetings that were organized and hosted by Brigadistas. While women were at times shocked by some of the more troubling statistics (4 out of 10 mothers may have problems with mental health, 3 of 10 mothers are at risk for developing diabetes. Etc.), they demonstrated an appreciation for the knowledge by asking questions about each point. Our team looks forward to continuing to work with the data, and being able to share more findings in the future.

What reflections do you have on experiences that stood out?

The people I spent time with in Los Robles were incredibly open and welcoming. My host family was always there to remind me that, even though I was away from my Canadian family, I had new Nicaraguan friends all around me. This was most evident on my birthday when I felt terribly homesick (and spent a good portion of the day wallowing in self-pity), only to arrive at a surprise party organized by my host mother. There were songs, and music, and special food, and I have never had such a special birthday celebration. While being away from home can be difficult, community members made it clear that they cared very deeply about me, and I will forever remember their hospitality.

Photo of Linda in performance dress on Mother’s Day.

Observations from Los Robles

August 1st, 2017

Written by: Pallavi Oruganti, MPH Student at The Ohio State University

Thank you Comunidad Connect for allowing me to share my experience in Los Robles with you! My name is Pallavi Oruganti, and I am currently a Master of Public Health student at the Ohio State University in Columbus, OH. My concentration is in Veterinary Public Health, and I’m specifically interested in global health, zoonotic diseases and human-animal interactions. This summer, I had the opportunity to work and live in Los Robles, Jinotega, Nicaragua as part of a interdisciplinary research team from Ohio State made up of students from Public Health, Anthropology, and Veterinary Medicine. Our project centers around infant and child gut micriobiomes, and how interactions with soil, water, animals, and others in the household may impact microbiome makeup, and ultimately diarrheal disease risk. To do this, we worked in the community with several households collecting biological samples of children, animals, soil, and water. Additionally, we observed children and babies  and conducted interviews with several moms in the community to ascertain cultural ideas of raising children and animals in Los Robles.

Alba Mayta and Helena Fox organize their research samples at the end of the day.

Our experience in Los Robles was incredibly rewarding and unforgettable. Partnering with Comunidad Connect allowed us to gain our footing in Nicaragua and the community, as they were able to arrange our stays with host families. The love, hospitality, home-cooked meals, and patience with our Spanish we experienced in our homes made our research possible and also allowed us to better understand daily life in the community. We are endlessly thankful for every single household  that agreed to partiicpate in our study, and for their genuine interest and willingness to share their experiences. We are also incredibly indebted to the Brigadistas of Los Robles for sacrificing their time to assist us with identifying households, sharing their public health knowledge, and becoming our friends along the way. One of the main observations we had about the community is the sheer strength and work ethic of the women in this community, and the Brigadistas are a testament to this. Thank you so much ladies for all you did for us the past two months!

My favorite memory of our time in Los Robles is the surprise going-away fiesta my host-family and neighbors threw for us. It was a great way to celebrate with the amazing people we have met in the community and it truly warmed our hearts that in such a short time we experienced such love and care.

We hope next year we are able to return to Los Robles to share the results of our study, reconnect with all the amazing people we met, and additionally work more with Comunidad Connect in identifying areas of outreach to further promote health and wellness within the community. It was tough so say our last “Adios!” but we are so thankful to Comunidad Connect and la comunidad for our incredible first experience working in Nicaragua.


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