Programs

Kick-Off to Chicas Fuertes Sports Initiative

February 9th, 2018

Jump, set, spike! Girls in San Juan del Sur practicing their volleyball skills at the Chicas Fuertes camp last summer.

Comunidad Connect is excited to expand our girls sports program with the start of the Chicas Fuertes (Strong Girls) initiative in San Juan del Sur. This initiative builds off the three-week girls empowerment volleyball camp, also named Chicas Fuertes, hosted by volunteer Mitzi Kincaid last year. Mitzi, a Sports Psychology MA candidate at John F. Kennedy University, led over 150 girls between the ages of 7-17 in San Juan del Sur. Girls learned how to put important mental skills into practice, like deep breathing and positive self-talk, on and off the volleyball court.

We are also proud to partner with Brooke Rundle, a long-time advocate for women’s sports and empowerment through volleyball. She brings NCAA volleyball teams to Nicaragua for exhibition matches with the Nicaraguan national team, while engaging the players in service learning while in country. Chicas Fuertes will benefit from the interaction and role models associated with Brooke’s program.

Chicas Fuertes will provide a safe and structured environment for Nicaraguan youth to participate in sports-related activities to promote healthy lifestyles in rural communities. Through soccer, baseball, and volleyball leagues and clinics, young women will develop positive leadership and team-building skills.

 

With your support, we can all do our part to love and care for this wonderful community and the amazing girls who desire to play sports. Volunteers can support these projects by leading clinics in Nicaragua and donating supplies, such as uniforms and equipment while engaging in intercultural exchange. Chicas Fuertes will also partner with local businesses, municipal leaders, other NGO’s and the Nicaragua National Volleyball Team in organizing sports leagues, exhibition matches, and enrichment activities.

Learn how you can support Chicas Fuertes by contacting us at info@comunidadconnect.org. Whether you want to join as an individual, bring a group of friends or family to Nicaragua, or partner with your sports team or organization, we look forward to working with you this upcoming year!

Girls at the primary and secondary schools are always excited to share a week or more with visiting volunteers, developing athletic and leadership skills.

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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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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 info@comunidadconnect.org. 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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Year in Review: Highlights from 2017

January 5th, 2018

As 2017 came to a close, we took a look back to some of the best highlights from the past year. Thank you to all of the donors, trip participants, and partners who helped Comunidad Connect extend our reach and impact in communities throughout rural Nicaragua. Take a look at some of our favorite photos below from 2017. We look forward to making even more great memories with you all in the year to come!

  • We were excited to close out 2017 with a visit from our Board of Directors. Leslie Stewart, Carey Smith-Marchi, Mat Mendonca, and Michelle and Austin Drill meet with a family in Los Robles.

Thank you to all of our partners!

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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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Youth Connections Soccer Tournament a Success in Jinotega

December 18th, 2017

Last week our Youth Connections Program hosted a soccer tournament in Jinotega. Four teams of youth age 13-15 participated, including a teams from Los Robles and San Juan del Sur, as well as Saprissa – a sports academy school from Costa Rica – and another local team. After a few rounds of games, San Juan del Sur and Saprissa made it to the finals. Both teams played a spectacular game, with San Juan del Sur winning the championship.

Ronald Zeledón, the coordinator of our sports programs in Los Robles, organized this event and was proud of all the teams involved. “One of the most important outcomes of this tournament was that it was the first time we have collaborated with San Juan del Sur in one sports event. This was a great way to bring together athletes from both areas of our Youth Connections Program.”

Athletes from San Juan del Sur and Saprissa (Costa Rica) compete in the final game of the tournament.

Ronald also noted the importance of these kinds of events for youth development. “Activities like this tournament are important not only to witness the great talent that these athletes have, but also to see the improvement and development of their abilities. They serve as an opportunity for adolescents to step outside of their comfort zone and be able to share experiences and what they have learned with youth from other parts of the country.”

 

Thank you to everyone who participated and came out to support this tournament!

 

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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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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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Member Monday: Meet Kelly Vlaskamp, Director of Cultural Connections!

October 2nd, 2017

 

Apart from running our Cultural Connections program, Kelly loves harvesting avocados in her backyard!

Today we kick off a weekly series of posts getting to know each of the team members at Comunidad Connect. Our first Member Monday is Kelly Vlaskamp, our Director of Cultural Connections, with honorary member of the team, Memo! Read more to learn about Kelly and her experience living and working in Nicaragua.

When did you start working for CC?

April of 2016. 

Describe your role.

As Director of the Cultural Connections Program, I oversee all the volunteers that come down support our programs to work in Los Robles, San Estaban, and surrounding communities. My day to day is a lot of administrative work, such as preparation for the groups that come down to volunteer: making sure volunteers are prepared and coordinating logistics for community projects.

What is your favorite part about working with CC?

I really like when you see the spark in volunteers, of someone wanting to become an agent of change and ambassador of Nicaragua and work to promote sustainable community development. It’s inspiring to see that change happen in such a short amount of days.

Kelly coordinates Cultural Connections trips to support intercultural exchange and promote community development. Here, Kelly was working with LifeBridge Church from Savannah, GA.

Students march in a parade during the Fiestas Patrias in Jinotega, September 14-15th.

What is your favorite cultural event or celebration in Nicaragua?

Fiesta Patrias (independence of Central America) because I really enjoy seeing the parades in the streets and the kids in their nice clothes. Everyone is in the streets and you get to see people you haven’t seen in awhile. It’s a great time to reconnect with the country and culture.

What is your favorite place to visit in Nicaragua?

The Laguna de Apoyo because it’s a beautiful crater lake with warm water. It’s also the deepest point in Central America. 

Where can you find the best rosquillas in Nicaragua?

So they say the best come from Somoto, but my favorite in Jinotega are from El Arbolito because of their Somoto style. Something that’s really fun do to on the weekends is go to fairs, like farmers markets, that En Tour (part of the Nicaraguan department of tourism) puts on representing different regions in the country. It’s a great opportunity to try food from different departments without traveling. I’ve gotten coffee from Esteli, rosquillas from Somoto, and cheese from Boaco.

What’s your favorite typical dish?

Baho, which is a mixture of plantain, yucca, and beef. I’m a sucker for soups!

What is your spirit animal?

I have two: Koala Bear or Goat.

Kelly’s new puppy Memo loves to play and run around, especially at the farm when volunteer groups visit!

If you could invent a new fruit, what two fruits would you combine?

Papaya with grapefruit to combine the blandness and creamy papaya with the kick of a grapefruit. 

What hobbies or talents do you have that most people don’t know about?

A fun fact about me, I can dislocate my shoulders. Also, in middle school I was a part of a Houston Dynamo halftime show (MLS). Most of my moments of glory happened between the ages of 8-15.

Thanks Kelly! Check in next week for our next Member (& Memo) Monday! 

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