2017 brought tremendous progress for our health initiatives in northern Nicaragua, with the greatest achievement perhaps being the formal establishment of the Los Robles Health Clinic by the Nicaragua Ministry of Health (MINSA). Since renovated and converted to a health clinic in 2014, the clinic was affiliated with MINSA but management and fiscal responsibility rested with Comunidad Connect. It quickly became the center for all of our local projects relating to health and wellbeing, including training for community health volunteers, health fairs, medical consultations, and home base for research and data collection. Human and financial resources invested by monthly donors and longstanding program partners like Emory University (Social Enteprise @ Goizueta) helped finance the daily activities and staffing of the clinic. Since inception, there have been over 5,000 consultations provided to residents of Los Robles.
The Brigadistas (community health volunteers) of Los Robles receive a First Aid training from MINSA in October.
Now that MINSA is managing the clinic, we have increased bandwidth and focus on our grassroots capacity building work in rural Nicaragua. These efforts include providing individual care for 20+ special needs patients, dental care and education for 2,000+ children, monthly training for all community health volunteers, health fairs, academic research and health talks with youth groups throughout the year. We continue to fund a nurse’s salary at the clinic, which reflects our partnership with MINSA and ensures year round consultations at the clinic. In 2018, we will invest approximately $40,000 in the above mentioned initiatives and wellness activities in partnership with local health volunteers.
We look forward to working with our community partners in Nicaragua and North America in 2018 and beyond. As research and experience continue to guide our programmatic development, we invite you to engage further with us and our partner communities in Nicaragua. For more information on how, please contact us as: email@example.com or call Jon Thompson at 404-444-9147.
Brigadistas meet with Comunidad Connect and MINSA staff to discuss their yearly progress in the community and plans for the upcoming months.
Representatives from HOI listen to Brigadista Verónica Araúz addressing the other health volunteers at their monthly meeting.
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).
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.
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 Gutiérrez, who 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!
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!
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!
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.
Representatives from Georgia State University, Kennesaw State University, and the University of North Georgia gathered in Jinotega, Nicaragua to attend Comunidad Connect’s Third Annual Health Summit. From April 19th – April 21st, invitees learned about Comunidad Connect’s model for sustainable development, grew in their understanding of health care delivery systems, and made connections with representatives from the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health, the Local System of Integral Health Care, Ohio State University, the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua – Matagalpa, the Red Cross, and other community development institutions working in the region. This summit promoted interdisciplinary research and advocated for volunteer trips to the region that will complement national programs and initiatives impacting the health of thousands of Nicaraguans living in rural communities with limited resources.
Comunidad Connect Co-Founder, Jon Thompson
During the first day, Comunidad Connect co-founder Jon Thompson presented on behalf of Dr. Warren Wilson of the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology of the University of Calgary. Other presenters speaking on current research taking place in the community of Los Robles included Maryanne Tranter, MS, CPNP of Ohio State University College of Nursing and Johnathan Steppe, MSN of Kennesaw State University School of Nursing. Topics included, respectively: “The Health of Mothers and Children in Los Robles,” “Adolescent Pregnancy in Nicaragua,” and preliminary findings from a “Health Education Needs Assessment for Los Robles, Nicaragua.” After listening to the first day’s presentations, Brian Culp, PhD of Kennesaw State University said he was “learning better ways to promote health and human services to underserved communities, particularity women” through these presentations.
Jonathan Steppe and Barbara Blake from Kennesaw State University
Attendees also visited the newest community in which Comunidad Connect is expanding its services, San Esteban II. Maryanne Tranter was excited to see that “the community of San Esteban is very engaged with CC in such a short period of time.” The second day of presentations and visits to health centers was met with similar enthusiasm; Kandice Porter of Kennesaw State University remarked that she was delighted by “community participation with the solutions, rather than just coming in with [an] artificial, external approach.” National and international attendees enjoyed presentations about the Nicaraguan Model for Community Health and ways in which universities can prioritize social justice and community development.
Vanessa Jones of the University of North Georgia felt that “this experience has renewed [her] desire to really see where [she]…can continue working with Comunidad Connect, to see where the biggest impact [in these communities] will be.” Comunidad Connect is excited to continue facilitating partnerships between both nationals and internationals and hopes future summits will help others be part of the solution to improved community health in Nicaragua.
NCHC Academic Partners and Comunidad Connect Staff at the 3rd Annual Health Summit in Nicaragua
About Comunidad Connect
Comunidad Connect is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization working in Nicaragua to promote sustainable community development, cultural exchange, and civic engagement through programs in rural healthcare, water access, youth development, and service learning. To learn more visit: http://comunidadconnect.org
NCHC Academic Partners and Comunidad Connect Staff at the 3rd Annual Health Summit in Nicaragua
The 3rd Annual Nicaragua Community Health Summit was a tremendous success, and could not have been possible without the participation of our partners from the USA, Canada, and Nicaragua. We joined the staff of Comunidad Connect and local community partners to hear presentations, discuss, and see firsthand the health priorities facing rural Nicaragua. Presentations included:
Maternal and Child Health in Los Robles – University of Calgary
Adolescent Pregnancy in Nicaragua – Ohio State University
Women, Children & Adolescent National Health Strategy – Ministry of Health
Oral Health in Rural Nicaragua – Comunidad Connect
Health Education Needs Assessment in Los Robles – Kennesaw State
Community Organizing & Health – Autonomous University of Nicaragua
Civic Engagement & Clean Water – Comunidad Connect
Health & Tourism Based Community Development – Comunidad Connect
Vanessa Jones from the University of North Georgia, with Francis Aguilar Rizo – the nurse we sponsor at the new public clinic health clinic in Los Robles.
The cross-pollination of ideas and openness to collaborate across universities were apparent throughout the summit. We look forward to our future work together.
Doug Gardenhire is the chair of Respiratory Therapy at Georgia State University and attending the 2017 Health Summit was his first experience in Nicaragua. Smoke was pouring out of the kitchen of our first home visit, and he turned to me to say “we can definitely do something here”. After visiting the health outpost of La Fundadora and seeing the only nebulizer being used improperly, he turned to me again to say “we have got to do something here”. And after visiting the Hospital of Jinotega, I spoke first “So Doug, what are we going to do?”
The fact is that respiratory illness is the leading cause of clinic visits in Nicaragua, yet can be easily mitigated with education and appropriate technology in the home. We will soon engage the expertise of Doug’s team at GSU to address respiratory health in not only our partner communities, but also in all of Jinotega with the Ministry of Health. This work will expand on our 2016 GHIP project, and is open for collaboration. For more information, contact me (Jon Thompson) at email@example.com / 404-444- 9147
Calling All Advocates!
Yarisleidy with recent recipient of improved stove in San Esteban
You may already know that a little goes a very long way in Nicaragua. However, you might not know that as little as $20 a month provides a special medical needs patient with monthly home visits by a qualified doctor, medicine, and special exams. NCHC relies on the support of Advocates like you to ensure our good friends in Los Robles and San Esteban have access to critical health services like primary care at the local clinic, oral health education and care in area schools, ongoing research, and appropriate technology projects like improved stoves that improve respiratory health. Everyone who believes health is an essential human right can be an Advocate. All you have to do is something. Spread the word, introduce someone to our work in Nicaragua, make a donation. Remember, our capacity to make a difference increases as our network of support expands. Click here to become an Advocate today.
Written by: Jon Thompson, Comunidad Connect Co-Founder
At the NCHC Academic Partners meeting in December 2016, I shared the incredible news that for the first time ever, the Ministry of Health (MINSA) has established a public health clinic in the community of Los Robles! Located in the humble home of long time brigadista Petrona Diaz, the MINSA clinic is managed by nurses Sonia Rosales, Francis Rizo and Rosa Aguilar. They see over 250 patients a month and reflect a much improved commitment by the government to Los Robles. Given this progress and to avoid duplicating efforts in providing primary care, we have closed our clinic and broadened our preventive health strategy in Los Robles and neighboring communities. We will support the MINSA clinic with donations of medicine, materials, and equipment, and we will continue to partner with local brigadistas who promote and facilitate preventive health education and outreach initiatives. Together, we look forward to collaborating with volunteer groups, medical brigades, and MINSA in Los Robles and beyond.
Doña Petrona Diaz (left) and nurse Sonia Rosales at the new MINSA health clinic in Los Robles.