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 firstname.lastname@example.org / 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.
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!
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.
Our clean water program, Nica Agua, has been one of our anchor programs for nearly 5 years. At first glance, it may seem pretty different from our two newest programs, the community garden and our sexual and reproductive health education project. However, these three programs have one very important common thread: the All People Be Happy Foundation.
All People Be Happy (APBH) generously provides grants for education and capacity building, healthcare, and sustainable agriculture. Comunidad Connect has been honored to receive funding from APBH for the Nica Agua program’s latest filter project, allowing us to provide 120 filters to families in the rural community of San Esteban.
Community health worker meeting in San Esteban, Jinotega
Earlier this year, one of our Princeton in Latin America fellows, Grace Galloway, applied for a grant to begin a community garden project in our office’s backyard. She was thrilled to receive the grant and is currently harvesting the first fruits as the rainy season subsides. As the new year begins, Grace will continue to expand community and student involvement in the garden.
Reading about trees in the Garden.
Most recently, Theresa Bailey, also a Princeton in Latin America fellow, received a grant to expand the sexual and reproductive health services provided throughout rural communities in the north. She will spend the following months implementing the first steps of a project that will holistically address the expressed needs of men, women and adolescents.
Without generous donors such as All People Be Happy, we wouldn’t be able to provide healthcare for thousands of patients each year, or clean water for hundreds of families. We can’t wait to see how the community garden and sexual and reproductive health initiative develop and expand to empower and education our community members.
Thank you, All People Be Happy, for your ongoing support.
Yarisleidy Mayorquin – Comunidad Connect, con los colaboradores Dr. Ortiz Ayala – FUNDOH, Ejecutiva Alba Gonzalez- UNAN Managua. Ms. Yarisleidy Mayorquin from Comunidad Connect with representatives Dr. Ortiz Ayala from FUNDOH and executive Alba Gonzalez from UNAN Managua.
When the name of an organization shines through in the execution of its work, the results are a clear example of its mission. This is how we feel day to day while “we connect opportunities.” A beautiful example of “links and connections” was this past May when, thanks to the collaboration of our friends from Maderas Sostenibles, we were able to “think green” through the donation of trees dedicated to several reforestation projects: one being with our new friends from UNAN Managua and the other in the community of San Esteban 2 in Jinotega, Nicaragua. And how does this link opportunities? By giving resources we receive to people who could utilize them the best. We are confident that “hand in hand,” “ voices united” is the best way to form networks of friends and collaborators that help each other to strengthen the social work of many organizations and institutions. During this month of independence, we give thanks to the friends and colleagues who have, without a doubt, served as the bridge between resources and various social development opportunities in our beautiful country, Nicaragua.
Yarisleidy Mayorquin and Alba Gonzalez meet to receive the donation of saplings. Yarisleidy Mayorquin y Alba Gonzalez reunen para recibir la donación de árboles.