People

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

September 12th, 2017

Interview with Lindsey Harbison, Nursing Student at Kennesaw State University

Tell us a little about your background in photography.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 4th, 2017

 

Interview with Lindsey Harbison, Nursing Student at Kennesaw State University

Tell us a little about yourself. 

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

What brought you to Nicaragua?

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

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

What expectations did you have before coming on your trip?

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

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

 

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

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

What experience had the greatest impact on you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 1st, 2017

 

Written by Susi Martinez, Princeton in Latin America Fellow

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

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

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

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

 

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

My host sister loved learning how to play the ukulele.

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

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Congratulations Pat Wilson, August Donor of the Month!

August 22nd, 2017

Pat Wilson (right) and friend Marty Coward in Atlanta, Georgia. Pat has been a loyal donor since 2014.

Thank you Pat Wilson for your continued support of Comunidad Connect! Pat became a Comunidad Connect donor in June of 2014, and donates $100/month. His long-term contributions have helped enhance health and community development in Nicaragua over the past few years.

Read more below on Pat’s story and how he got involved with Comunidad Connect!

During his first experience in Los Robles, working with residents to build latrines, stoves, and new roofs, Pat met and became good friends with Jon Thompson (Co-Founder/CEO of Comunidad Connect). The following year, Pat went back to Nicaragua with Jon and a friend from college, Henry Graham, and continued to build upon the good work Comunidad Connect was doing by assisting with the Nica Agua water purification project, as well as some work at the new health center. Pat is excited to return to Nicaragua later this month to work with Jon to conduct research and begin groundwork to begin a construction initiative with the people of Los Robles.

On this construction project, Pat notes, “We want to create meaningful work for the townspeople to fill in the time between coffee harvests. The work will be a continuation and expansion of Comunidad Connect’s efforts to improve homes and infrastructure, and ultimately the health and quality of life of the members of the community.”

Pat has many years of experience working in the construction industry in Atlanta, which he believes will be helpful in this new approach. Once plans are in place in Nicaragua, he will work on developing support and funding to launch the construction initiative, working with Comunidad Connect.

Additionally, Pat is interested in promoting Nicaraguan coffee in Atlanta, Georgia. He states, “The quality and taste of the coffee produced in and around Los Robles is spectacular and we are trying to spread the word and create new loyal customers for this unique coffee.”

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

 

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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.

 

Reflections from the Community Garden

July 20th, 2017

Written by: Grace Galloway, All People Be Happy Fellow, Princeton in Latin America Fellow, Comunidad Connect 2015 -2017.

Last harvest of the season: mangoes, papayas, cucumbers, green beans, and jalapeños.

After working with Comunidad Connect for a year and in Central America for three years, I felt ready to take on my own project. Our office’s spacious but vacant backyard as well as the neighborhood’s complete lack of green space offered the perfect opportunity for a community garden. As I finish up my two years living in San Juan del Sur and working with CC, I have a few memories to share.

Every interaction in the garden, except with bugs and pests, has been a highlight of my experience. Two stand out the most. At the beginning of our time in the garden, the girls from the Escuela Adelante Garden Club refused to touch our compost pile, deeming it gross and insisting that worms are scary. After a few months, the group was assigned to flip the compost, and two of the girls, Brithany and Sinaí, grabbed the shovels, and started scooping, worms and all. The second experience that stands out happened in my last weeks working with Nuevo Despertar Preschool. Our second to last lesson went over ecosystems, what they are and which animals and plants  live in the ocean, forest, and desert. A week later, I asked them what scientific word we had learned the previous week. Shyly, they looked at each other, and after a minute Valeria raised her hand and whispered “ecosistema”. The teacher and I laughed with joy, knowing that our lesson had been effective and impactful in the minds of the young students. 

El Carrizal English class celebrates Garden Graduation.

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Mitzi Kincaid – Chicas Fuertes Volleyball Camp

July 3rd, 2017

Thanks to our amazing volunteer of the month, Mitzi Kincaid, June was filled with volleyball and girls empowerment in San Juan del Sur. Mitzi, Sports Psychology MA candidate at the John F. Kennedy University, worked with our Youth Development Program Director, Alejandro Noguera, and Community Initiatives fellow, Grace Galloway to host Chicas Fuertes (Strong Girls), a three-week girls empowerment volleyball camp.

Girls practicing deep breathing strategies at the Centro Escolar.

Mitzi, Alejandro and Grace worked with three different schools, teaming with select groups of girls to teach mental skills including deep breathing, focus, positive self-talk and goal setting. After practicing their mental skills girls were challenged to bump, set, and spike the ball, while putting into practice their teamwork abilities. By the end of the month, over 150 girls between the ages of 7-17 had had the opportunity to consistently play a sport many of them had only watched from the sidelines. More importantly, the girls each had a chance to express themselves, sharing times that they feel nervous, unconfident, and worried. They also learned about and put into practice positive self-talk on and off the volleyball court.

Mitzi’s energy, positivity, experience, and love of both volleyball and girls empowerment made Chicas Fuertes a success. With continued support from Mitzi and Comunidad Connect, as well as other female leaders and athletes in San Juan del Sur, we hope to make Chicas Fuertes a year round opportunity.

Bump, set, spike!

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Volunteer with Cultural Connections: December 2017

June 12th, 2017

Come to Nicaragua this December!

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

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

Learn more and register today!

 

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Congratulations to Rhonda Moore, CC’s Donor of the Month

May 11th, 2017

Thank you Rhonda – your donations support health and community development in rural Nicaragua.

Rhonda became a Comunidad Connect donor in February 2015, and has donated $10/month ever since. The gifts have added up to make a big difference in an effort to ensure the human right to.

Rhonda expresses the reason behind her generosity:

“As a firm believer in giving my time, talent and treasures, being a donor allows me to continue to touch Nicaragua though I am not there physically. I love Comunidad Connect’s mission and will continue to support as long as I am able.”

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