Atlanta

Community, Authenticity, and Joy

February 13th, 2017

Léelo en español

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!

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Dos Muchachas en Atlanta

July 14th, 2015

Escrito por: Kim Gordon, Princeton-in-Latin America Fellow, Comunidad Connect 2015

Cuando me di cuenta de que mi beca para la pasantía con Comunidad Connect cubriría dos vuelos a Atlanta, hice mi meta personal llevar a mi colega Nicaragüense, Nerys Blandon, a los Estados Unidos.

Nerys es una líder increíble, haciendo todo con pasión y fuerza. Sin embargo, todo le da miedo, todito. Siempre me contaba de las pesadillas del día anterior en una manera graciosa pero seria: la amenaza de enfermedades, peligros, animales bravos, lluvia, y tormentas. Por eso, yo sabía que su reacción a la propuesta de viajar a los Estados Unidos sería “¡¡NOOOO, KEEEM, NOOO!!” Pero también sabía que ella quería decir, “¡¿Tal vez, Keem, no lo sé, puede ser?!”Yo le dije que sería una oportunidad profesional e inolvidable, y que no podemos crecer si estamos demasiadas cómodas. Ya era hora de sentirse incómoda. No importaba que nunca haya salido más allá de Jinotega en su vida.

 

 

Nerys, Kim, and Sustainable Tourism Program Manager Alicia Harvey at work in Los Robles

Nerys, Kim, and Sustainable Tourism Program Manager Alicia Harvey at work in Los Robles

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The Inspiring Journey of Nerys Blandon, Community Servant

May 27th, 2015

By Jon Thompson, Comunidad Connect Co-Founder and Board President

By the time Comunidad Connect launched the Nica Agua program in Los Robles in 2011, I had been in Los Robles for almost 5 years.  I had met Angela Lopez, a local pioneer health volunteer, and her daughter Nerys on several occasions.  I knew of the brigadistas and their work out of the Casa Base, which consisted of their living room that they offer up for basic health care 24/7.  They facilitated post and prenatal care, calls for the Jinotega ambulance, and general assistance with an emergency situation. Having grown up in such an environment, Nerys was the logical person to emerge as the project coordinator for Nica Agua.

And emerge she did.  I realized this in no uncertain terms when I looked over my shoulder to see her seated in 6D on Delta 370 to Atlanta, GA.  She had been invited by Social Enterprise at Goizueta to speak to students and faculty and meet with a growing number of NCHC Advocates (more on them later) who were eager to reconnect with Los Robles.  Flying over the Gulf of Mexico, I thought back to when Nerys was once too shy to speak with me directly, much less speak in front of 30 foreigners.  She once fumbled through text messages.  Now she manages her email via via her smart phone, participates in video conferences, and submits monthly reports.

 

Nerys with her two youngest children, Engyl (right, 6) and Ashly (left, 8), before leaving Los Robles for her flight the following morning out of Managua.

Nerys with her two youngest children, Engyl (right, 6) and Ashly (left, 9), preparing to leave Los Robles for the Atlanta visit

Just how far she has come was highlighted as we ascended to the 4th floor of Emory’s Goizueta School of Business and walked the long hallway past offices and cubicles.  We found the conference room with all the A/V appointments you could imagine and a sea of smiling graduate students, staff, and faculty waiting for us.  As I set up the powerpoint presentation she and Kim had prepared, Nerys’ smile became infectious throughout the room.  And as she seamlessly explained the message behind each slide, her confidence could not have been more evident.  She commanded the room, and she impressed us all.  The applause at the end was perfect punctuation.

Nerys (second from the left) meets with students of Emory University's Goizueta Business School. CC's Kim Gordon (immediately to the left of Nerys) translates.

Nerys (second from the left) meets with students of Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. CC’s Kim Gordon (immediately to the left of Nerys) translates.

They say you never really know a person until you meet their family.  As many times as we have been with Nerys’ family, her recent trip to Atlanta was the first time she had the opportunity to meet our people in our hometown.  Nerys came away with a more profound understanding of who we are as individuals, parents, friends and professionals, where we come from, and why we are so committed to our work in Los Robles.  It is a perspective that can only come from trusting each other enough to open up and share that which we keep close to our hearts.  By spending time in our homes, offices, classrooms, and places of worship, Nerys was exposed to our culture much in the same way she facilitates for us every day we spend with her in Los Robles.   Thank you everyone who made that possible.

Nerys and CC PiLA Fellow Kim Gordon with two students of Emory University's Goizueta Business School and a donation to the NCHC project!

Nerys and CC PiLA Fellow Kim Gordon with two students of Emory University’s Goizueta Business School and a donation to the NCHC project!

I am humbled by how Nerys has embraced NCHC.  The Nicaragua Community Health Connection is a success because of her hard work, yet there are others who play significant supporting roles.  The 14 brigadistas that are the boots on the ground every day in Los Robles, the 30+ NCHC Advocates that make small yet critical monthly donations to support the Los Robles Clinic, and institutions like SEG, CC, MINSA, and a growing number of international universities are all part of the vast network working to ensure NCHC becomes a model for rural community health in Nicaragua.  Together, we are NCHC.

For information on how to become an NCHC Advocate, contact us: nicachc@gmail.com.

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Connecting Communities One Person at a Time

May 8th, 2015

by: Roman Yavich

Nerys Blandon with young volunteers in Los Robles

Nerys Blandon with young volunteers in Los Robles

At the end of April, Nerys Blandon, a resident of Los Robles, Nicaragua will travel to Atlanta, GA to present her work at Emory University as a community health volunteer and the Comunidad Connect Outreach and Education Coordinator in her rural village of 2000 people in the central highlands of Nicaragua. This will be her first time traveling outside Nicaragua. It absolutely fascinates me to imagine her experience of coming from rural Nicaragua to a major US urban center. This experience, however, will not be very different from that of hundreds of US students who come to Los Robles on Comunidad Connect service learning trips. They leave changed forever.

And that is the power of our work! For Nerys and for the students, stepping out of their comfort zone helps to open their eyes to the realities and the possibilities of a part of their world they never knew before. By breaking down geographic, economic, and informational barriers we help people all over the world help themselves and help others.

Roman with one of the first service learning groups back in 2007

Roman with one of the first service learning groups back in 2007

What started as a dinner conversation eight years ago between Jon Thompson (now President and Board Chair), Dariel Potoy (now Executive Director) and myself, has resulted in thousands of student visits, thousands of households with clean water, thousands of soccer and basketball games played in organized leagues, and thousands of dollars raised for a rural health clinic, a remodeled sports facility, the first ever recycling program in San Juan del Sur, and a half dozen other projects, all with the goal of bringing people and communities closer together.

Over these eight years we have made amazing friends in Nicaragua and in the US, created innovative models for funding our work and for helping Nicaraguan people be owners in this work. We have experimented with, failed at, learned from, and succeeded in many projects working side by side with people who benefited from the work. We know what it takes to make sustainable impact at the grassroots level in Nicaragua.

Community Meeting and the new health cilnic

Community Meeting and the new health cilnic

Our blog will be a keystone in our effort to scale our model and work with even more communities in Nicaragua. Creating connections is at the core of our work, and communication is at the heart of every connection. By staying in better touch we hope to invite our service learning alumni, our donors, friends, and supporters, into our community…our global community. Please subscribe to this feed, share it with your likeminded friends, and let us know what you’d like to read about.

We’ll be in touch!

Roman Yavich is the Co-founder of Comunidad Connect and serves as the Treasurer and the Director of Development. He came to Nicaragua on a Fulbright Grant in 2006 and started Comunidad Connect with Jon Thompson and Dariel Potoy in 2007.

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