princeton in latin america

My First Few Months in un País Nuevo: Reflections from a PiLA Fellow

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. 

 

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.

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Campaign of the Month: Preventative Health

March 14th, 2017

This March, as the Nicaraguan school year gets into full swing and volunteers join us by the dozens, we as Comunidad Connect staff is focusing especially on two preventative health education topics: oral hygiene and sexual and reproductive health.

Help us meet of our goal of $200 towards preventative health education materials!

Dr. Reeder, our resident dentist, will be providing capacity building workshops with the community health workers of San Esteban on a variety of oral health subjects, ranging from the damaging effects of sugar and tobacco to the warning signs of gum disease. Theresa Bailey, Princeton in Latin America Fellow, will be working closely with adolescents, women and men providing information and safe space for discussions in order to reduce rates of teenage pregnancy, increase family planning and communication amongst partners, and engage men and women to work together to reduce violence and promote human rights.

Donations to this month’s health education campaign will support our workshops, providing the necessary dental equipment as well as purchasing the supplies necessary to teach the community health workers about these topics and empowering them to spread their knowledge to others in their community. Donations will also help us to invite experts in the field to work with the men and women in rural communities.

Community health workers are all smiles, ready for their oral hygiene workshop.

 

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