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!
Tagged: first aid, Health, Nicaragua, preventative health, Rural Health
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!
Tagged: Cultural Connections, Nicaragua, Staff, volunteer
September 12th, 2017
Interview with Lindsey Harbison, Nursing Student at Kennesaw State University
Tell us a little about your background in photography.
I have always loved taking photos, but more so specifically I wanted others to see details of moments that some may miss. I have never taken a formal class, but am more self-taught.
What role did photography play during your trip? Did it influence your perspective or the way you interacted with the community?
It actually wasn’t my intention to take so many photos on this trip, I had some mishaps with my camera, and hadn’t gotten my new one. So I embarked on the trip with the intention of taking mental photos and cherishing memories. However a nursing friend on the trip brought her daughter’s and didn’t know how to use it, so I happily documented our trip for her.
For me it allowed for the opportunity to bring back parts of Nicaragua that might be overlooked, or never seen. With photography, details are important. Noticing little moments like a kitten chasing a cicada which could have been it’s only food for the day, a woman not just making cheese, but a woman opening her doors and telling us about her life and what brings her joy while teaching us about cheese. It’s capturing moments when we are able to connect with people or parts of the community which allowed me to make a deeper connection with the people I spoke with.
What do you hope your photographs from Nicaragua portray to others?
An interest in Nicaragua, an interest in helping others, to enliven the senses and instill hope that there are great people making humble choices to help the communities in Nicaragua. To show how beautiful Nicaragua is and how beautiful the people are that live there.
Tagged: Nicaragua, photography, volunteer
September 4th, 2017
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!
Tagged: Health, Kennesaw State University, Nicaragua, nursing, volunteer
September 1st, 2017
Written by Susi Martinez, Princeton in Latin America Fellow
Grace Galloway, PiLA ’15-’17 (left) and I at the Museo de la Revolución in León.
It’s hard to believe that I have already been in Nicaragua for over a month, yet at the same time it feels like I have been here much longer. When I got my placement through Princeton in Latin America, I saw I would be working with Comunidad Connect in Nicaragua for a year on public health and community development initiatives. I’ve traveled to a few countries in South and Central America before, but I had never visited Nicaragua. I was immediately excited for the new experience, and as my studious habit resurfaced, I started reading anything I could get my hands on that was about Nicaragua before I left Ohio.
As I watched the clouds pass by from my plane window, large mountains and lakes came into view. I had arrived to my new home. I luckily spotted Grace and Theresa, the two PiLA Fellows I was replacing, at the airport eagerly awaiting my arrival, and we started our journey north to Jinotega. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to spend in Managua, but as we left the city – after first having lunch including a nice helping of gallo pinto (rice and beans, also a favorite of mine growing up in a Colombian household) – I felt the weight of the history that those buildings, roads, and countryside had seen. Names of Nicaraguans I had remembered came to mind – Ruben Dario, Gioconda Belli, Sandino – as Bob Marley quietly played on the radio in the background.
As soon as we started our descent into the valley that hid Jinotega in the mountains, I knew I was going to love living here. Lush, vibrant mountains carefully encircle the city, providing the most beautiful backdrop to a small, old town. Being in Jinotega immediately reminded me of Cotacahi, Ecuador, where I studied last year, because of being nestled in the mountains and the relaxed pace of life. But, as my travels have proven in the past, no two places are exactly alike. And so I became even more excited to get to know my new home and community. Listen to stories and immerse myself in Nicaragua. So I jumped right in.
Life in Los Robles was tranquil and very beautiful, even in the rainy season!
After my first two weeks of orientation, I had moved to Los Robles to live with my host family and shadowed one visiting group of doctors and their team in the community. Within the next week, Theresa and Grace bid me farewell and I was working with a new group from North Carolina, helping facilitate projects in Los Robles. I loved the energy that the volunteers brought, and it was really special to be able to facilitate their interactions with the families receiving our projects. After hearing so much about the cement floors, mosquito-repelling paint, improved stoves and ovens, and water filters, I was excited to see these projects in homes and meet the families that had earned them through community service hours. One of my favorite moments was translating for a volunteer as she spoke with the mother of the family. They both asked questions about each other’s families, cultural differences, and shared gratitude on both sides.
My host sister loved learning how to play the ukulele.
Although my time living in Los Robles was short, I’m grateful for the month I had getting to know my host family and community. I came to Nicaragua not knowing a single person. Yet I am continuously struck by the kindness of strangers and sense of community others have shown me. Whether it’s a neighbor offering to carry my 50 lb. suitcase across a muddy field, a child giving me directions to a house, my host mom being patient with my Spanish, or my new housemates motivating me to finish a hike up the mountain at 5:30 in the morning, I have been overwhelmed with the welcoming spirit of my new home. Two months here has already taught me a lot, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the rest of my year in this beautiful country.
Tagged: Nicaragua, princeton in latin america, public health
July 20th, 2017
Written by: Grace Galloway, All People Be Happy Fellow, Princeton in Latin America Fellow, Comunidad Connect 2015 -2017.
Last harvest of the season: mangoes, papayas, cucumbers, green beans, and jalapeños.
After working with Comunidad Connect for a year and in Central America for three years, I felt ready to take on my own project. Our office’s spacious but vacant backyard as well as the neighborhood’s complete lack of green space offered the perfect opportunity for a community garden. As I finish up my two years living in San Juan del Sur and working with CC, I have a few memories to share.
Every interaction in the garden, except with bugs and pests, has been a highlight of my experience. Two stand out the most. At the beginning of our time in the garden, the girls from the Escuela Adelante Garden Club refused to touch our compost pile, deeming it gross and insisting that worms are scary. After a few months, the group was assigned to flip the compost, and two of the girls, Brithany and Sinaí, grabbed the shovels, and started scooping, worms and all. The second experience that stands out happened in my last weeks working with Nuevo Despertar Preschool. Our second to last lesson went over ecosystems, what they are and which animals and plants live in the ocean, forest, and desert. A week later, I asked them what scientific word we had learned the previous week. Shyly, they looked at each other, and after a minute Valeria raised her hand and whispered “ecosistema”. The teacher and I laughed with joy, knowing that our lesson had been effective and impactful in the minds of the young students.
El Carrizal English class celebrates Garden Graduation.
Tagged: community garden, connectnicaragua, Nicaragua, San Juan del Sur
July 3rd, 2017
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.
Bump, set, spike!
Tagged: chicas fuertes, connectnicaragua, Health, Nicaragua, strong girls, volleyball
June 12th, 2017
Join fellow donors, supporters, and volunteers on a week-long Volunteer Adventure December 2-10, 2017.
Volunteers will stay at an organic coffee farm in the hills of Jinotega, complete public health projects with local families, and participate in cultural exchange activities such as baking local treats! Come to Nicaragua to give back, exchange experiences, learn about our work first-hand, and get a taste of the unbelievable beauty this Central American country has to offer.
Tagged: adventure, April, give back, Nicaragua, volunteer
April 27th, 2017
Written by: Adam Rosendale, Marketing Intern, Comunidad Connect, 2017
A bird’s eye view of the beautiful city of Jinotega, Nicaragua
A month ago, I moved to Nicaragua. I am completing an internship with Comunidad Connect, bolstering their marketing efforts and learning Spanish, among other things. Circumstance and good timing brought me here, and for those who have traveled, my wanderlust for new experiences should be relatable.
I have lived an extremely fortunate life and I am deeply grateful for it. Yet, on a call with a CC co-founder the other day, he said something that has stayed with me and is a good reminder for all us that want to get involved with community development or volunteer abroad.
“The simple fact that we have the capacity to travel and serve others means, by definition, that we are beginning from a place a privilege. And everything that comes next needs to stem from that point of view.” Therefore, we must become educated first and every action taken to assist these communities must be conducted with an understanding of the many complex factors involved (culture, history, government, infrastructure, health, education, etc.), in ways that are not patronizing and do not create dependence.
For those able to go, I highly encourage educational service travel. However, we must always remember to tread lightly and walk with humility as we strive to emphasize with the situation of others. This understanding must come first; for there is much to learn about ourselves, how to be happy, and how to live in this mysterious world.
Tagged: connect nicaragua, Jinotega, Nicaragua, volunteer
April 17th, 2017
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.
Tagged: connectnicaragua, Health, Jinotega, Nicaragua, Salud