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.
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.
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.
Your support will help rural Nicaraguans access medicine and transportation for specialist doctor visits and contribute to the care for patients with developmental delays and neurological conditions, such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis.
Written by: Guest Blogger, Anna Nam, Comunidad Connect Volunteer, February 2017
It was very rewarding to see both children and adults smiling and welcoming strangers like ourselves with open arms.
During the week I was in Los Robles to do projects and to make a difference in the lives of every person that I had come across while I was there, I had a very eye-opening experience. Academically, I realized that education is important no matter where anyone goes or where anyone is. That holds true for boys and girls, and likewise men and women. It also made me realize that education is not something to take for granted. Seeing the children in school uniforms made me smile and it made me think that these children are the future generation who are going to make the world a better place. Without education, I do not think that anything could be achieved. So it made me excited to see these children in school uniforms and even more excited because of the things that they will achieve with the knowledge that they will gain each and every day-not only in school but also from life experiences.
Professionally, this trip was eye opening because I saw that both communication and making social networks are very important. Personally, I am more of an introvert than an extrovert but being in the community of Los Robles, I began to open myself up more to the people in the community despite even the language barrier. This was a great experience in itself because it also made me realize that something like a language barrier will not keep us from offering a helping hand. Though I do not know Spanish to where I can carry on a detailed conversation with another individual, if another person and I are on the same level in terms of what we want to get done and if we are willing to carry out the duty or task together, then nothing else matters. It’s the mindset of unity that is stronger than any barrier that anyone could come across. That is the most important thing that I got out of this trip.
Written by: Yarisleidy Mayorquin, Program Director, Nica Agua, Comunidad Connect
Yarisleidy, far left, distributes water filters to the community of San Esteban with the help of CC staff and community health workers.
A few weeks ago I participated in a free online video conferences for sustainable development in Latin American countries. It was hosted by Actúa, an online platform for consulting projects for change.
I had the opportunity to submit a development project of personal interest and I chose to submit Nica Agua, our clean water project. The prize is that experts in the field, in this case clean water, will provide consulting, edits, and improvements to the project. The idea is to mold the project to make it more effective in the communities and more attractive to potential grant makers and donors. Out of 253 projects from all across Latin America only 15 were chosen for each topic.
I am proud to say Nica Agua was selected as one of the winning projects! Now I have the assistance of two experts in project development and a virtual campus where we have debates and brainstorming session. I already have a few suggestions for ways to improve the project.
Written by Laura Bonin, GSU Physical Therapy Student
Months of planning, endless crowdfunding emails, and feelings of anticipation and excitement all preceded a weeklong trip for fourteen physical therapy students, one professor, and two physical therapists from the Atlanta community. But what better way to start the New Year than leaving the privileges we value, including the luxuries of our own homes in the United States, and traveling to Nicaragua. There we were able to share our physical therapy knowledge and skills while immersing ourselves in some of the intangibles the Nicaraguans hold so dear: community, authenticity, and joy.
During the week we saw community in finding contentment outside our comfort zone. Nicaraguans made us feel a part of their community from day one, even as we relied on nonverbal communication and embraced the flexibility of our daily schedule. We entered homes to treat some of the sickest and most vulnerable members of Los Robles and found ourselves making instantaneous connections built off of trust and empathy. By focusing on the components of patient centered care during each home visit, we built relationships and memories with smiles and laughter, something more difficult to do with patients back home.
However, true community is built on the foundation of authenticity, losing the façade of who we want others to think we are and focusing solely on who we really are. The Los Robles community is the epitome of an authentic community. When we didn’t have our physical therapy hat on we participated in home improvement projects, witnessing firsthand the pride men and women took in lending a helping hand to their neighbors and welcoming our group like family. The brigadistas also embraced authenticity, helping bring basic medical knowledge to those in need, regardless of their age or complexity of the information.
The final theme that illuminated every activity and encounter in Los Robles was joy. For the opportunity to spend time with family. For the bonds made with new friends. For the ability to work on projects while also imparting sustainable healthcare from which the community will continue to benefit. We are so thankful for the life and culture that was poured into us throughout our week in Nicaragua and are eager to take the togetherness of community, the rawness of authenticity, and the contagious nature of joy into our last clinical rotation to leave a mark on every patient just as the Nicaraguans did for us!
The Cultural Connections team started 2017 with a bang. In January alone, we’ve received over 30 volunteers (shout out to Emory @ Goizueta, NYU Alternative Breaks, and Georgia State University Physical Therapy)! And we’re just getting started.
As we move full force into our busy season, we’re preparing to host more volunteers, enhance our model of sustainable tourism, all while still visiting some of our favorite spots: Los Robles, San Esteban, Granada, and Leon, among other gems throughout Nicaragua.
In this coming week the Cultural Connections team will host a group of 12 volunteers who will work alongside beneficiary families to whitewash walls with mosquito repellant paint, construct smoke reducing ovens and grey water collection basins, visit chronic neurological patients with a team of specialists, and offer pediatric consultations to over 50 children… all in a span of just 4 days.
Our volunteers don’t end the trip by counting the service hours they gained for school credit or how many cement bags they lifted. They leave remembering the new friendships they made despite the language barrier, the humbleness and generosity of the beneficiary families they worked with and the dedication of the community leaders to sustainably develop their community.
Since beginning my role with Comunidad Connect almost a year ago I have met countless numbers of North American and Nicaraguan volunteers working together towards a mutual goal. Now more than ever, my favorite quote by Margaret Mead’s rings true: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
The “Water Droplets” work on an educational poster. Las “Gotitas de Agua” completan un póster educativo.
The work of Nica Agua doesn’t stop at delivering filters and monitoring their use; the program is becoming more and more like the new model we are implementing in San Esteban. There we strengthen the capabilities of our community volunteers as well as the children, because children are the best demographic to learn and apply new information. A group of 21 kids between the ages of 7 and 13, representatives of their local primary school, receive a talk once a month focused on health and prevention where they learn about filters, water purification, hygiene, and cleanliness. These talks are dynamic and help the kids to strengthen their reading, speaking, and drawing abilities while instilling in them the spirit of volunteering. An environment where children always keep their community in mind, transmit their knowledge to their classmates, and motivate their parents, neighbors and friends to participate in community development is the goal that we hope to one day achieve!
Encouraging team work. Promoviendo el trabajo en equipo.
“Water Droplets” is now the nickname for these children that have participated in our educational talks. After chatting with Martaeliza Blandon, the technical coordinator of Nica Agua in San Esteban, about the activities we’ve done, we wanted to find a name for this group of kids to make them feel special. After many ideas and much laughter, while a rain storm came our way, the name “Water Droplets” was born. The nickname is the perfect fit for the group of kids chosen to learn about various subjects and in turn teach them in their classrooms. I hope that the kids like their new nickname and believe that from a drop can come a stream; that a constant drip can change the shape of the hardest stones.
Nicaragua is unique in its prevalence for volunteering and community organizations. One of the pillars of the free public healthcare system, in this country with the second lowest GDP per capital in the Western Hemisphere, are the brigadistas. These rural health volunteers are the first line of defense for anyone with an injury, pregnancy complication, or dangerous illness. They can triage and call an ambulance if necessary. The brigadistas coordinate their efforts with the Ministry of Health and also provide community outreach focusing on illness prevention.
Theresa and community health worker network of Los Robles. Theresa y la red de brigadistas de Los Robles.
The success of Comunidad Connect health programs in Los Robles is largely due to the support of the brigadistas. After this group of 10 women and 1 man identified diarrhea and water borne illness as a top concern in Los Robles, Comunidad Connect launched is Nica Agua water filter project. Local residents could earn a water filter, which eliminates the threat of bacteria in drinking water, by investing time in projects to improve public spaces or infrastructure, such as the construction of the rural health clinic in the center of Los Robles. Like the other projects, the health clinic construction was organized by Comunidad Connect with help from international donors and volunteers that joined forces with Los Robles residents in the construction. The opening of the health clinic in January 2015 gave more than 2,000 people access medical services in their community.
The health clinic also inspired the brigadistas to create their own project, independent of Comunidad Connect, to build a new cemetery closer to town, that would not require a 30 minute walk up a steep hill, through mud, and across a stream. (Imagine doing that with a casket.) The group started a community bank, purchased a plot of land, and with support of local and international volunteers created a model cemetery, the pride of the community.
Your donation today will help Comunidad Connect work with a new group of brigadistas in our new partner community of San Esteban, to successfully complete a Nica Agua water filter project, providing more than 100 families with clean water while improving community infrastructure. This is how the sustainable development chain reaction starts. We hope you will join us and follow the progress and impact of the brigadistas in both Los Robles and San Juan del Sur. They are the true champions of grassroots community development.