February 13th, 2017
Léelo en español
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!
Tagged: Atlanta, community, Community Development, Cultural Connections, desarrollo comunitario, Health, Los Robles, Nicaragua, physical therapy, Salud, Sostenible, Sustainable Development, terapia físcia, voluntario, volunteer
February 4th, 2017
Léelo en Español
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.”
Tagged: Community Development, Cultural Connections, Kelly Vlaskamp, Sustainable Development, volunteer
February 1st, 2017
Come to Nicaragua this April!
Join fellow donors, supporters, and volunteers on a week-long Volunteer Adventure April 22-30, 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
June 7th, 2016
Written by Sarah Heppler, University of Oregon student, Pictures by Diana Avila.
On March 19th, 2016, 16 University of Oregon students boarded an 11:55pm flight to begin the journey to Los Robles, Nicaragua, for a Holden Center Alternative Break project with Comunidad Connect’s Cultural Connections program. We left our home of the Pacific Northwest to expand our global knowledge and dive into a week of service learning.
The communities of Los Robles and San Esteban opened their homes to us so that, with the leadership of brigadistas and Comunidad Connect, we could participate in surveying families about their access to water and assist with home health projects. Connecting directly with community members motivated us to learn more about their culture and more deeply understand the community. The brigadistas (a good number of whom were younger than us!) taught us a lot as they showed us the steps they are taking in their own communities to improve their system of public health.
Tagged: Baking, Brigadistas, Cocinar, Cultural Connections, Ducks, Hornear, Los Robles, NCHC, Nicaragua, Oregon Ducks, University of Oregon, volunteer
April 7th, 2016
Written by: Grace Galloway, Comunidad Connect, Princeton in Latin America Fellow
Sontule is a 600-resident town nestled in the Miraflor Nature Reserve of Northern Nicaragua. Peace and tranquility characterize the community today, but in the 1970s and 80s it was a site of revolution and war: brothers and sisters killing brothers and sisters, mothers hiding in caves with their children as their husbands and sons defended their homes.
Volunteers watch the sunset from Sontule, blog author Grace Galloway sits on the far right.
Three cooperatives, two co-ed and focused primarily on coffee and one exclusively female and focused on both eco-tourism and coffee, held the town together during the Sandinista revolution of the 1970s and the Contra war of the 1980s. I spent a week there leading a Comunidad Connect volunteer group. My host dad, Marvin, explained to me that he lost both his brother and sister in the war, each fighting on different sides. Mefalia, his wife and my host mother, quietly shared with me the impact the women’s cooperative made on her life. “The machismo used to be horrific. There has been a lot of education for both men and women, they are teaching the children about it in the schools. We still have a long way to go, but the men are learning to share the household chores and we are becoming more independent.”
Coffee – the main form of income in Sontule
On my last night in Sontule, I sat around the dinner table with our bus driver Ronald (31) and two of Mefalia’s sons, Wilder (22) and Jason (16). As the conversation waned I decided to ask a what I thought would be a fun get-to-know-each-other question. I asked my new friends, “Si tuvieron que ser de otro país, de donde serían?” “If you had to be from a different country, where would be from?” I was met with looks of hurt, as they struggled to answer my question. They brainstormed about the beautiful women they would meet in Brazil, the delicious food they could eat in France, the American dream. After a few minutes Wilder spoke up, “Yo no cambiaría mi Nicaragua para nada.” “I wouldn’t trade my Nicaragua for anything.”
Mefalia and Marvin’s host family farm.
Leaving Sontule the next morning brought tears to my eyes. Seeing families who less than 30 years ago were in the midst of a nightmarish war now pursuing peace and sustainability inspires me to do the same. I have been working in community development in Central America for three years and have learned so much about internal and external peace through the simplicity of rural life. I encourage all of us to find a way to learn about and through service whether it’s through Comunidad Connect and Sontule, or a different sustainable development opportunity.
Tagged: Cafe, Coffee, Comunidad Connect, Conexiones Culturales, Cultural Connections, Esteli, Miraflor Nature Reserve, Nicaragua, Sontule, Sostenible, Sustainability, volunteer
March 31st, 2016
Written by: Taylor McNair, Comunidad Connect Volunteer, Emory MBA Candidate,
I was certainly skeptical. I heard so much hype about this trip to Nicaragua, I was curious as to whether the experience would truly live up to all it was made up to be. Beyond this, I could not stop thinking about my high school service learning trip, Builders Beyond Borders. Every winter, hoards of students poured out of their overly privileged lifestyles and brought their J. Crew button downs and Rayban sunglasses to “save” an underdeveloped nation, most recently Nicaragua. It is the fundamental development-support model that many NGOs pride themselves on. Fortunately, my expectations were far surpassed. Not only did the trip and our activities prove to be more than I imagined, but our team of students combined with Wes and Carey’s obvious and unending passion for this work, made the trip a truly enlightening experience. More than anything, this trip to Nicaragua detailed a sustainable development that I had never been exposed to be before, leaving me both fascinated and inspired.
I enjoyed almost every aspect of the trip, and certainly have a few critiques, but above all, I was most impressed with our first half. Living on the coffee farm, and having the opportunity to spend the day with Byron, an experience coffee farmer from Northern Nicaragua, was an awesome experience. For one, it justifies much of what I’ve read about sustainable agriculture. Clearly, these farmers have learned to deal with climate change impacts, and have the ability to produce effectively in an organic and sustainable manner. Byron proved to be just as inspiring and enlightening as the last time he spoke, and doubled down on his sustainability and interconnected ecosystem mantra. While the end of the trip was much less hands on and intimate, it still exposed us to a number of exciting opportunities, particularly the geothermal plant and social enterprises. The lake tour and monkey visit were definitely weird!
Overall, an awesome trip, and I’m glad I got to experience it with fellow Emory MBA candidates. I’m looking forward to continuing to support these development projects.
Tagged: Emory MBA, Emory University, Jinotega, MBA, Nicaragua, voluntario, volunteer
March 9th, 2016
Written by Guest Blogger: Dr. Ben Thrower, Neurologist & Comunidad Connect Volunteer, February 2016
A child’s curious eyes peeking out from a doorway. Bright greetings of “Hola!” calling out in the cool morning breeze. The power of human dignity and the pride of accomplishment in spite of the challenge of living in a country with low resources. These are a few of the wonderful memories that my wife and I bring home from our trips to Los Robles through Comunidad Connect.
Dr. Thrower follows up with patients in Los Robles.
Serendipity brought us to Nicaragua and Comunidad Connect. I like to say that Nicaragua chose us, rather than us choosing it. Karen and I are both physicians, she’s a pediatrician and I’m a neurologist. Many years ago we did a medical mission to Haiti and always knew we would like to do something like that again. As fate would have it, our 18 year old son, Nathan, was dating a young lady whose church was going to Nicaragua in July 2015. We went with this group of people and found ourselves in Los Robles.
Agriculture and cattle-raising are main forms of income in Los Robles
It was love at first sight. Let’s start with the Comunidad Connect staff. Jon, Roman, Alisson, Alicia, Theresa, Brian, Ronald and Rosa will all make sure your experience is rewarding to both you and the community. Nerys is a whirling dervish of energy and commitment. Sylvia and Pedro at La Finca Java will make sure you are never hungry. Groups I have gone with are usually sad when the trip comes to an end and anxious to return. The rhythm of life at the farm and in Los Robles seems so much more natural than the hustle and bustle of life at home. From the roosters, sheep and cows announcing the rising sun each morning to the smell of real coffee in the dining area, your senses will seem so much more alive.
One thing that Karen and I found so amazing in Los Robles was the brigadista system. These women and men serve as community health volunteers and truly are vital to the sustained improvement of life in the village. Each sector of the village has a brigadista who keeps a finger on the health of their neighbors.
The brigadistas educate, problem solve and sometimes cajole the people of Los Robles as the community works in unison towards shared goals. I would strongly encourage you to consider a trip through Comunidad Connect. No matter what your training or background, there is something for everyone. You may find that the experience and people touch your hearts as they have ours.
View from Finca El Peten
Tagged: Comunidad, doctor, farm life, Los Robles, Service, vida campestre, voluntario, volunteer
February 26th, 2016
Written by: Dick Olsson, Volunteer & Donor, Comunidad Connect, February 2016
I consider myself well traveled and I had been to Nicaragua before…or at least I thought I had been there. This past November, I got to see the real Nicaragua. I was fortunate to get a tour of some of the projects Comunidad Connect is doing. I am usually skeptical of programs that are established to help people in “third-world” countries. It was exciting to see how CC involves the locals in the projects and to see that they “earn” what they get. They take personal pride in what they receive. They understand that they have power to improve the environment for their families. The community service that people do not only improves their environment; it builds a sense of civic pride that is contagious. The people are not only grateful for the help they receive but are proud for the role they play.
I am so impressed with the impact that clean water, vented stoves and solid floors has on the health of the population. The people are so warm and welcoming that you want nothing but the best for them. The clinic and the human resources CC provide are so valuable yet done at a cost that would embarrass any American facility. It feels really good to see smart young people with the right priorities being successful at something that matters.
The time I spent in a homestay was remarkable. I gained a perspective of history possible no where else. My family told me of hiding out in the mountains during the revolution and how the people were impacted by decisions in the United States. I listened to the dreams of a family with no running water or electricity. They are planning for a better life and I have no doubt they will have it.
This was an inspirational trip I will always remember.
Tagged: civic pride, Clean Water, Ecotourism, History, Nicaragua, public health, Sontule, volunteer
February 1st, 2016
Written by guest blogger: Anisha Patel, volunteer, GSU School of Physical Therapy
Tucked in the lush green mountain region of northern Nicaragua lies the rural community of Los Robles. The community, built by the hands of its coffee farmers, is not only alive with the sounds of creatures living under the brush of its landscape, but also the joy that surrounds its people. It is here that our student physical therapy group experienced one of the most memorable adventures of our lives.
The most impactful experience for me was having the chance to play with the children of the community. All day, I was terrified. Never having worked with a large group of children before, the millions of ways it could all go wrong was constantly in my mind as we approached the home that would serve as our base. The children were already standing at the porch – silent, waiting. I marveled at their stillness, their patience.
Learning to play duck, duck, goose
We were greeted with a kind shyness. As we began to play, the children began to open up and laugh, accepting us without a second thought. Even though I speak little Spanish, it was easy to connect with each of them. We spoke in a language beyond words — one that was filled with gestures, laughter, and a lot of love.
What struck me the most is how much joy these children exuded. They each thoroughly enjoyed even the most simple games. When they fell, they got up and kept running. In the span of two hours, not one of them shed a tear, yelled an insult, or displayed any displeasure. They each rose to every challenge with the grace of the wise old and the unparalleled joy of those who have learned to appreciate everything. From them, in such a short span, I learned the true meaning of gratitude.
Tagged: children, GSU, learning, Los Robles, physical therapy, play, volunteer