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!
The Cultural Connections team started 2017 with a bang. In January alone, we’ve received over 30 volunteers (shout out to Emory @ Goizueta, NYU Alternative Breaks, and Georgia State University Physical Therapy)! And we’re just getting started.
As we move full force into our busy season, we’re preparing to host more volunteers, enhance our model of sustainable tourism, all while still visiting some of our favorite spots: Los Robles, San Esteban, Granada, and Leon, among other gems throughout Nicaragua.
In this coming week the Cultural Connections team will host a group of 12 volunteers who will work alongside beneficiary families to whitewash walls with mosquito repellant paint, construct smoke reducing ovens and grey water collection basins, visit chronic neurological patients with a team of specialists, and offer pediatric consultations to over 50 children… all in a span of just 4 days.
Our volunteers don’t end the trip by counting the service hours they gained for school credit or how many cement bags they lifted. They leave remembering the new friendships they made despite the language barrier, the humbleness and generosity of the beneficiary families they worked with and the dedication of the community leaders to sustainably develop their community.
Since beginning my role with Comunidad Connect almost a year ago I have met countless numbers of North American and Nicaraguan volunteers working together towards a mutual goal. Now more than ever, my favorite quote by Margaret Mead’s rings true: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
We recently had a chance to catch up with Rosa Diaz of Los Robles, where the Nicaragua Community Health Connection program has operated since 2013. The impact of this program on this community has been drastic and we are happy to share Rosa’s thoughts in this post.
First of all, our water filter has been a great benefit to my family. Before, my sons, especially the youngest, would get very sick from diarrhea. Now they do not. My youngest is healthy and he loves filtered water. He even asks for it! Before my family drank water directly from the tap and we stored large quantities in barrels. It tasted bad and the water in the barrels would come contaminated. Now our water tastes much better and my sons have learned why it is so important to have clean drinking water.
Next, our floor. We are still waiting to see the long-term health benefits, because during rainy season our kitchen floods with rain water. I hope that the new floor will allow the water to flow through and make it easier to clean when it pools. If that happens, my sons will be able to come into the kitchen and help me cook without getting wet. But for now we have seen a large change in our family since the installation of the concrete floor. Now my sons can play on the ground in the kitchen without getting dirt on their hands, clothes and shoes. It is much cleaner and healthier for them to play in our kitchen.
Finally, our oven. We’ve been very blessed in receiving this project. Since we got it, I have baked bread five times for my family. Now I don’t have to buy bread from the store. I save money this way, and I also save firewood because of the improved design. My extended family comes over to bake too. It’s be a benefit for the whole family.
Rosa Diaz with her family and Theresa Bailey of Comunidad Connect
Written by: Roman Yavich, Comunidad Connect Co-Founder
I’m really lucky to have been born where I was and have the chance to get good healthcare, a good education, and an opportunity to do what I want to do in life. Many people don’t have that type of luck. They are born in places where meeting basic human needs is a daily challenge. For me working in Nicaragua is a way to make the best use of the opportunity that I have had in life.
I came to Nicaragua in 2006 to study the impact that tourism growth was having in this country and understand what would make tourism more sustainable. What came out of that project is Comunidad Connect.
From left to right, back row: Blog author, Roman Yavich. Alejandro Noguera, Theresa Bailey, Jon Thompson, Dariel Potoy. Left to right, front row: Yarisleidy Mayorquin, Anielka Galan, Grace Galloway, Ronald Zeledon, Samuel Munguia
One of our first volunteers Mat Mendonca was so inspired by his experience that he donated all of his summer earnings from fighting forest fires to start our water filter project, Nica Agua, that this day has allowed more than 6000 people across Nicaragua to drink clean water. I recently had the chance to translate for a group of doctors and nurses as they visited residents in the rural Los Robles community, where much of our work has taken place. What an amazing feeling to be able to facilitate these connections!
Our vision in Nicaragua is ambitious but attainable. We want to create a network of communities across Nicaragua, driven by their own strengths, knowledge, and leadership, with support from international partners, donors, and volunteers. Income through tourism and small business entrepreneurship can support health and education-focused programming envisioned, driven, and managed locally by the community. Comunidad Connect would be like a phone operator of the past, plugging resources into development projects. We’re building a large puzzle with thousands of pieces. When you put all the pieces together a beautiful picture emerges.
I invite you to help us complete this puzzle. Come to Nicaragua, learn about what makes it such a special place, and experience sustainable community development first-hand.
HOI volunteers share health and hygiene education, and of course fun, with the children of Los Robles.
You can help us double our impact over the next two years by helping us buy a truck for our second location. We will use this new truck in rural communities near Jinotega, Nicaragua to deliver:
* Health supplies to our rural health clinic which sees more than 200 patients each month
* Water filters to more than 200 additional families in our new major partner community, San Esteban
* Sports equipment to our recently launched rural sports academy supporting dozens of girls and boys developing athletic and life skills.
Best of all, you can come down to Nicaragua for a tour of our projects in the truck you, your friends, and your family helped make a reality!
The Los Robles health clinic doubles as a health education center.
Millions of people around the world and tens of thousands in Nicaragua do not have access to clean drinking water, healthcare, or safe recreational activities for their children. Since 2007 Comunidad Connect has developed successful initiatives to provide clean water access, healthcare, youth development, and cultural exchange, with the help of 450 small and large donors. Each year we grow bigger with more patients, more filters, more athletes, and more students on service learning trips. Now we need your help to expand our efforts and reach more communities.
In 2016 we are expanding the water filter project to a new community called San Esteban, expanding the recently launched sports program in Los Robles, adding on to the preventative healthcare at our clinic, and looking to support all of these community development efforts with a new education and community center.
So what does it take to double our organizational impact? It takes double the donors, double the programs, and double the tools! With your donation today, you can be a part of all three of these actions.
Beyond our talented staff, our most important tool is our vehicle. But with two locations and only one truck, we spend tons of money on car rentals and gasoline to drive between the two locations. Our first truck has gone more than 100,000 Km in more than 5 years. It has been the foundation of our success. Now we want to double that success. We need a second vehicle.
Former CC PiLA Fellow, Brian Reilly, ready to deliver water filters in our awesome but only truck.
What You Can Do To Help
Help us raise $15,000 for the down payment on a second truck.
Join our work in Nicaragua and bring your friends and family along.
Share our mission to bring together local and global resources to address the most pressing development priorities with your network, and help us grow our donor base from 400 to 800 by the end of 2016.
Sports and youth development programs for girls and boys have been hugely popular our San Juan del Sur location. Now we are expanding them to Los Robles.
What You Get
We want to recognize your contribution, after all trucks drive on two-way roads (unless it’s a river crossing or a jungle road or a tight squeeze through a heard of cows…you’ll see.)
The biggest perk is that your donation is tax-deductible if you make it before the end of the year! Here are some more amazing perks at each giving level. Perks are optional.
5 day Nicaragua adventure with private guide for you and up to three friends. Visit stunning coffee country and colonial Leon. Ride horses, active volcanoes, and of course, your new truck. Your bi-lingual guide will take care of everything. (Food, lodging, and transportation not included, but the guide is!)
When you visit you’ll see rainbows over coffee country (if you come in the rainy season.) We can’t promise unicorns, but you can ride horses.
Everything at the $500 level and a guide for a 3 day rural Nicaragua experience with a homestay, including a ride in the back of the truck through coffee country. Taste freshly roasted and brewed coffee with farmers that grew the beans and picked them. (Food, lodging, and transportation not included, but the guide is!)
Everything below and a 2 day adventure tourism experience in colonial Leon with, you guessed it, your own bi-lingual guide! Take the truck to a volcano you can surf. (Food, lodging, and transportation not included, but the guide is!)
Everything below and 5 pounds of better than fair trade, freshly harvested coffee right from the farmer to your door. You can share it with your friends or keep it till next December’s harvest! Support the farmers and their new health clinic with one click.
Everything below and 1 pound of better than fair trade coffee right from the farmer to your door.
Everything below and a hot new CC T-shirt or tank top with the softest fabric this side of American Apparel.
Eye exam in the Los Robles Clinic
Everything below and a personal post card from one of our staff sent all the way from Nicaragua.
Everything below and a hot new CC sticker. Show your friends that you are part of the puzzle!
Everything below and be a guest blogger on our site. Tell the world why you support community development in Nicaragua.
Our model is built on investment. not handouts. To receive a water filter each family has to volunteer for 16 hours on a community improvement project.
Spotify playlist of the best Nicaraguan music made by entire CC staff, and Facebook post.
Facebook post on your wall recognizing your global citizenship with a photo of you photo-shopped into Nicaragua. Next year we can take a real photo.