A canal is a small body of water that connects two larger bodies. Ironically it also divides. The mere idea of a canal in Nicaragua has revived the dormant rivalry between the liberals and conservatives in this country 25 years removed from a bloody civil war. The canal passing across the middle of Nicaragua would sever the country in two geographically, north and south, and economically, the haves and the have nots. The haves being those who have access to the canal and the global trade it represents.
Map of proposed canal. Image from HKND Group, the China-based company planning to build the canal
Written by: Grace Galloway, Comunidad Connect, Princeton in Latin America Fellow
Sontule is a 600-resident town nestled in the Miraflor Nature Reserve of Northern Nicaragua. Peace and tranquility characterize the community today, but in the 1970s and 80s it was a site of revolution and war: brothers and sisters killing brothers and sisters, mothers hiding in caves with their children as their husbands and sons defended their homes.
Volunteers watch the sunset from Sontule, blog author Grace Galloway sits on the far right.
Three cooperatives, two co-ed and focused primarily on coffee and one exclusively female and focused on both eco-tourism and coffee, held the town together during the Sandinista revolution of the 1970s and the Contra war of the 1980s. I spent a week there leading a Comunidad Connect volunteer group. My host dad, Marvin, explained to me that he lost both his brother and sister in the war, each fighting on different sides. Mefalia, his wife and my host mother, quietly shared with me the impact the women’s cooperative made on her life. “The machismo used to be horrific. There has been a lot of education for both men and women, they are teaching the children about it in the schools. We still have a long way to go, but the men are learning to share the household chores and we are becoming more independent.”
Coffee – the main form of income in Sontule
On my last night in Sontule, I sat around the dinner table with our bus driver Ronald (31) and two of Mefalia’s sons, Wilder (22) and Jason (16). As the conversation waned I decided to ask a what I thought would be a fun get-to-know-each-other question. I asked my new friends, “Si tuvieron que ser de otro país, de donde serían?” “If you had to be from a different country, where would be from?” I was met with looks of hurt, as they struggled to answer my question. They brainstormed about the beautiful women they would meet in Brazil, the delicious food they could eat in France, the American dream. After a few minutes Wilder spoke up, “Yo no cambiaría mi Nicaragua para nada.” “I wouldn’t trade my Nicaragua for anything.”
Mefalia and Marvin’s host family farm.
Leaving Sontule the next morning brought tears to my eyes. Seeing families who less than 30 years ago were in the midst of a nightmarish war now pursuing peace and sustainability inspires me to do the same. I have been working in community development in Central America for three years and have learned so much about internal and external peace through the simplicity of rural life. I encourage all of us to find a way to learn about and through service whether it’s through Comunidad Connect and Sontule, or a different sustainable development opportunity.
Written by: Taylor McNair, Comunidad Connect Volunteer, Emory MBA Candidate,
I was certainly skeptical. I heard so much hype about this trip to Nicaragua, I was curious as to whether the experience would truly live up to all it was made up to be. Beyond this, I could not stop thinking about my high school service learning trip, Builders Beyond Borders. Every winter, hoards of students poured out of their overly privileged lifestyles and brought their J. Crew button downs and Rayban sunglasses to “save” an underdeveloped nation, most recently Nicaragua. It is the fundamental development-support model that many NGOs pride themselves on. Fortunately, my expectations were far surpassed. Not only did the trip and our activities prove to be more than I imagined, but our team of students combined with Wes and Carey’s obvious and unending passion for this work, made the trip a truly enlightening experience. More than anything, this trip to Nicaragua detailed a sustainable development that I had never been exposed to be before, leaving me both fascinated and inspired.
I enjoyed almost every aspect of the trip, and certainly have a few critiques, but above all, I was most impressed with our first half. Living on the coffee farm, and having the opportunity to spend the day with Byron, an experience coffee farmer from Northern Nicaragua, was an awesome experience. For one, it justifies much of what I’ve read about sustainable agriculture. Clearly, these farmers have learned to deal with climate change impacts, and have the ability to produce effectively in an organic and sustainable manner. Byron proved to be just as inspiring and enlightening as the last time he spoke, and doubled down on his sustainability and interconnected ecosystem mantra. While the end of the trip was much less hands on and intimate, it still exposed us to a number of exciting opportunities, particularly the geothermal plant and social enterprises. The lake tour and monkey visit were definitely weird!
Overall, an awesome trip, and I’m glad I got to experience it with fellow Emory MBA candidates. I’m looking forward to continuing to support these development projects.
Written by Guest Blogger: Dr. Ben Thrower, Neurologist & Comunidad Connect Volunteer, February 2016
A child’s curious eyes peeking out from a doorway. Bright greetings of “Hola!” calling out in the cool morning breeze. The power of human dignity and the pride of accomplishment in spite of the challenge of living in a country with low resources. These are a few of the wonderful memories that my wife and I bring home from our trips to Los Robles through Comunidad Connect.
Dr. Thrower follows up with patients in Los Robles.
Serendipity brought us to Nicaragua and Comunidad Connect. I like to say that Nicaragua chose us, rather than us choosing it. Karen and I are both physicians, she’s a pediatrician and I’m a neurologist. Many years ago we did a medical mission to Haiti and always knew we would like to do something like that again. As fate would have it, our 18 year old son, Nathan, was dating a young lady whose church was going to Nicaragua in July 2015. We went with this group of people and found ourselves in Los Robles.
Agriculture and cattle-raising are main forms of income in Los Robles
It was love at first sight. Let’s start with the Comunidad Connect staff. Jon, Roman, Alisson, Alicia, Theresa, Brian, Ronald and Rosa will all make sure your experience is rewarding to both you and the community. Nerys is a whirling dervish of energy and commitment. Sylvia and Pedro at La Finca Java will make sure you are never hungry. Groups I have gone with are usually sad when the trip comes to an end and anxious to return. The rhythm of life at the farm and in Los Robles seems so much more natural than the hustle and bustle of life at home. From the roosters, sheep and cows announcing the rising sun each morning to the smell of real coffee in the dining area, your senses will seem so much more alive.
One thing that Karen and I found so amazing in Los Robles was the brigadista system. These women and men serve as community health volunteers and truly are vital to the sustained improvement of life in the village. Each sector of the village has a brigadista who keeps a finger on the health of their neighbors.
The brigadistas educate, problem solve and sometimes cajole the people of Los Robles as the community works in unison towards shared goals. I would strongly encourage you to consider a trip through Comunidad Connect. No matter what your training or background, there is something for everyone. You may find that the experience and people touch your hearts as they have ours.
Written by: Dick Olsson, Volunteer & Donor, Comunidad Connect, February 2016
I consider myself well traveled and I had been to Nicaragua before…or at least I thought I had been there. This past November, I got to see the real Nicaragua. I was fortunate to get a tour of some of the projects Comunidad Connect is doing. I am usually skeptical of programs that are established to help people in “third-world” countries. It was exciting to see how CC involves the locals in the projects and to see that they “earn” what they get. They take personal pride in what they receive. They understand that they have power to improve the environment for their families. The community service that people do not only improves their environment; it builds a sense of civic pride that is contagious. The people are not only grateful for the help they receive but are proud for the role they play.
I am so impressed with the impact that clean water, vented stoves and solid floors has on the health of the population. The people are so warm and welcoming that you want nothing but the best for them. The clinic and the human resources CC provide are so valuable yet done at a cost that would embarrass any American facility. It feels really good to see smart young people with the right priorities being successful at something that matters.
The time I spent in a homestay was remarkable. I gained a perspective of history possible no where else. My family told me of hiding out in the mountains during the revolution and how the people were impacted by decisions in the United States. I listened to the dreams of a family with no running water or electricity. They are planning for a better life and I have no doubt they will have it.
This was an inspirational trip I will always remember.
Written by guest blogger: Anisha Patel, volunteer, GSU School of Physical Therapy
Tucked in the lush green mountain region of northern Nicaragua lies the rural community of Los Robles. The community, built by the hands of its coffee farmers, is not only alive with the sounds of creatures living under the brush of its landscape, but also the joy that surrounds its people. It is here that our student physical therapy group experienced one of the most memorable adventures of our lives.
The most impactful experience for me was having the chance to play with the children of the community. All day, I was terrified. Never having worked with a large group of children before, the millions of ways it could all go wrong was constantly in my mind as we approached the home that would serve as our base. The children were already standing at the porch – silent, waiting. I marveled at their stillness, their patience.
Learning to play duck, duck, goose
We were greeted with a kind shyness. As we began to play, the children began to open up and laugh, accepting us without a second thought. Even though I speak little Spanish, it was easy to connect with each of them. We spoke in a language beyond words — one that was filled with gestures, laughter, and a lot of love.
What struck me the most is how much joy these children exuded. They each thoroughly enjoyed even the most simple games. When they fell, they got up and kept running. In the span of two hours, not one of them shed a tear, yelled an insult, or displayed any displeasure. They each rose to every challenge with the grace of the wise old and the unparalleled joy of those who have learned to appreciate everything. From them, in such a short span, I learned the true meaning of gratitude.
Last Saturday Comunidad Connect celebrated our 9 years of community development work.
Trophies and prizes for the frisbee golf, cornhole and horseshoes tournaments
Over 300 of our friends and supporters came out to the Marsella Valley Nature Center for an afternoon of games, food and drinks. Skilled and aspiring players competed in frisbee golf, cornhole and horseshoe tournaments; others enjoyed burgers and beers in the shade. San Juan del Sur’s Tae Kwon Do champion, Juan Pablo Lopez, taught basic techniques to children, who showed off their new skills by kicking open a piñata. As the final games came to a close trophies were given out and raffles prizes were drawn. At sunset, we wrapped up the day by honoring Jon Thompson, a Comunidad Connect co-founder and agent of social change in San Juan.
Grand raffle prize: a night at Rancho Chilamate Eco Guest Ranch
We are thrilled to share our accomplishments and continue connecting with our supporters and teammates from near and far. In San Juan del Sur our sports and youth development program works with over 2,000 athletes, facilitating soccer and baseball leagues while providing a safe, healthy space. We sponsor English classes and university-level scholarships for students in El Carrizal, a small town 20 minutes outside of town. Nica Agua – our clean water program – has provided water filters to hundreds of families in the Tola area. However, our work expands far beyond the San Juan del Sur area.
Final basket of the frisbee golf course
In the northern department of Jinotega, our health clinic in consults over 200 patients each month. Our medical and community health staff provide preventative care, treatment and education. Across the country we host North American volunteer groups for week-long trips based on community service and cultural exchange. These student, professional, or church-based volunteers lay cement floors, paint houses with insect-repellent paint, and construct eco-stoves for family homes. They visit families, provide educational workshops, and spend time getting to know Nicaraguan families.
Do you like frisbee golf? Corn hole? Horseshoes? Eating food? Most importantly, do you want to be a part of the positive social changes happening in our community?
Head to Marsella Valley Nature Center this Saturday, January 16th from 12-5:30pm for Fun Bajo el Sol, an afternoon of fun and friends. Compete in tournaments of frisbee golf, horseshoes, corn hole. Food and drinks will be provided by Big Wave Dave’s, Dia de los Donas and La Cervecería. Kids activities include the San Juan Day School kids’ area as well a bounce house!
Marsella Valley Nature Center is located just before Playa Marsella, on the left side of the road. Please feel free to park on the road. Free transport will be leaving from the Central Park in San Juan del Sur.
Entrance will be 20 cordobas for adults and 10 cordobas for children.
We are so grateful to our wonderful sponsors:
Aurora Beachfront Realty Frisbee Golf Open
Discover Real Estate Tae Kwon Do Demostration and Lessons
Rancho Chilamate Horseshoe Showdown
Remax Coastal Properties Corn Hole Championship
SJdS Cerveceria KanJam, Relays, Races, and Games
SJdS Day School Kids Area and Bouncy Castle
Additional Event Sponsors
Casa de Tierra
El Encanto del Sur
You can help us double our impact over the next two years by helping us buy a truck for our second location. We will use this new truck in rural communities near Jinotega, Nicaragua to deliver:
* Health supplies to our rural health clinic which sees more than 200 patients each month
* Water filters to more than 200 additional families in our new major partner community, San Esteban
* Sports equipment to our recently launched rural sports academy supporting dozens of girls and boys developing athletic and life skills.
Best of all, you can come down to Nicaragua for a tour of our projects in the truck you, your friends, and your family helped make a reality!
The Los Robles health clinic doubles as a health education center.
Millions of people around the world and tens of thousands in Nicaragua do not have access to clean drinking water, healthcare, or safe recreational activities for their children. Since 2007 Comunidad Connect has developed successful initiatives to provide clean water access, healthcare, youth development, and cultural exchange, with the help of 450 small and large donors. Each year we grow bigger with more patients, more filters, more athletes, and more students on service learning trips. Now we need your help to expand our efforts and reach more communities.
In 2016 we are expanding the water filter project to a new community called San Esteban, expanding the recently launched sports program in Los Robles, adding on to the preventative healthcare at our clinic, and looking to support all of these community development efforts with a new education and community center.
So what does it take to double our organizational impact? It takes double the donors, double the programs, and double the tools! With your donation today, you can be a part of all three of these actions.
Beyond our talented staff, our most important tool is our vehicle. But with two locations and only one truck, we spend tons of money on car rentals and gasoline to drive between the two locations. Our first truck has gone more than 100,000 Km in more than 5 years. It has been the foundation of our success. Now we want to double that success. We need a second vehicle.
Former CC PiLA Fellow, Brian Reilly, ready to deliver water filters in our awesome but only truck.
What You Can Do To Help
Help us raise $15,000 for the down payment on a second truck.
Join our work in Nicaragua and bring your friends and family along.
Share our mission to bring together local and global resources to address the most pressing development priorities with your network, and help us grow our donor base from 400 to 800 by the end of 2016.
Sports and youth development programs for girls and boys have been hugely popular our San Juan del Sur location. Now we are expanding them to Los Robles.
What You Get
We want to recognize your contribution, after all trucks drive on two-way roads (unless it’s a river crossing or a jungle road or a tight squeeze through a heard of cows…you’ll see.)
The biggest perk is that your donation is tax-deductible if you make it before the end of the year! Here are some more amazing perks at each giving level. Perks are optional.
5 day Nicaragua adventure with private guide for you and up to three friends. Visit stunning coffee country and colonial Leon. Ride horses, active volcanoes, and of course, your new truck. Your bi-lingual guide will take care of everything. (Food, lodging, and transportation not included, but the guide is!)
When you visit you’ll see rainbows over coffee country (if you come in the rainy season.) We can’t promise unicorns, but you can ride horses.
Everything at the $500 level and a guide for a 3 day rural Nicaragua experience with a homestay, including a ride in the back of the truck through coffee country. Taste freshly roasted and brewed coffee with farmers that grew the beans and picked them. (Food, lodging, and transportation not included, but the guide is!)
Everything below and a 2 day adventure tourism experience in colonial Leon with, you guessed it, your own bi-lingual guide! Take the truck to a volcano you can surf. (Food, lodging, and transportation not included, but the guide is!)
Everything below and 5 pounds of better than fair trade, freshly harvested coffee right from the farmer to your door. You can share it with your friends or keep it till next December’s harvest! Support the farmers and their new health clinic with one click.
Everything below and 1 pound of better than fair trade coffee right from the farmer to your door.
Everything below and a hot new CC T-shirt or tank top with the softest fabric this side of American Apparel.
Eye exam in the Los Robles Clinic
Everything below and a personal post card from one of our staff sent all the way from Nicaragua.
Everything below and a hot new CC sticker. Show your friends that you are part of the puzzle!
Everything below and be a guest blogger on our site. Tell the world why you support community development in Nicaragua.
Our model is built on investment. not handouts. To receive a water filter each family has to volunteer for 16 hours on a community improvement project.
Spotify playlist of the best Nicaraguan music made by entire CC staff, and Facebook post.
Facebook post on your wall recognizing your global citizenship with a photo of you photo-shopped into Nicaragua. Next year we can take a real photo.
Antes de CC tuve varios trabajos informales mientras estudiaba.
Inicié mi experiencia laboral y profesional con Comunidad Connect, mientras estaba en mis últimos años de la universidad. Inicié como asistente del director y ahora estoy a cargo de Nica Agua y proyectos comunitarios. Desde planificar proyectos hasta ejecutarlos, ha sido un enriquecimiento tanto personal como profesional. Cada vez surgen situaciones nuevas, retos nuevos dentro y fuera de oficina que con autoaprendizaje, retroalimentación y compartiendo con colegas se logran con éxito, CC es un equipo y sin duda nuestro trabajo en equipo logra resultados positivos.
Yarisleidy trabajando en analisis de data con CC staff
Mi carácter es una mezcla entre flemático y colérico, así que me describo como una persona con múltiples cualidades. Me gusta trabajar por el bienestar de las personas, de las familias, y de sus comunidades. Siempre tengo en mente que mi prioridad ante cualquier cosa es la comunidad. Es mi gente, son las familias con las que he conectado y han depositado su confianza en mí. Por lo tanto en ocasiones tomo el control total de las situaciones para poder cumplir con las perspectivas de cada colaborador. (more…)