volunteer

Clean Cookstoves, Healthy Homes

May 30th, 2018

Some of the most prevalent yet preventable illnesses in rural Nicaragua are respiratory diseases. To address this challenge, Comunidad Connect’s improved technology clean cookstoves can greatly improve household health.

These projects, earned by accumulating volunteer hours in the community, are built  by beneficiary families, volunteers, and local masons. Not only do these stoves use less wood and save a family money, but they also have the following health benefits:

  • Decrease indoor air pollution from smoke using chimneys
  • Prevent chronic illnesses such as respiratory disease, pneumonia, and low birth weight
  • Increase satisfaction with housing and quality of life

Take a look below to see how these stoves are built step-by-step!

Meet Don Tingo, a mason who lives in Los Robles and helps makes building these stoves possible. Before any construction can begin, Don Tingo pre-fabricates the “burners” with rebar and concrete. One of the burners must have a hole for the chimney, as you can see in the image.

When the time comes to begin construction, the mortar mixture (used to hold the stove bricks together) must be prepared. The simple recipe consists of combing dirt and cow manure with water that has been soaked in dragon fruit leaves. The dragon fruit is sticky and acts as a natural binder. And don’t worry, the cow manure doesn’t smell at all.

While the mortar mixture is being prepared, Don Tingo will lay the first layer of bricks, as these measurements are the most important to the structural integrity of the stove. Once completed, volunteers and the beneficiary family can take over laying bricks, stacking several layers high.

After Don Tingo’s approval of the group’s work, he will lay the burners into place. In the picture above, you will notice one side is higher than the other. This is to create an uneven distribution of heat, allowing one burner to heat up and cook food quickly and the other to function as a warmer. 

With the burners set in place, Don Tingo climbs to the roof of the house to install the chimney. Most of the time he has to cut a hole in the zinc roof or rearrange some shingles.

From the inside, the stove is really starting to come together. With a little bit of concrete to seal the chimney in place, it will be ready to dry. Taking only about a day to set, the beneficiary family can begin cooking very quickly after receiving a project.

And there you have it! In only 2 to 3 hours, volunteers have an amazing experience, make some new friends and significantly impact a family’s health for years to come.

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Atlanta to Los Robles: How Nursing Expands Beyond Borders

April 6th, 2018

Written by Bianca Lombay, nursing volunteer 

Bianca taking Juan Carlos’ blood pressure during his monthly health evaluation.

My name is Bianca and I am a Registered Nurse from Atlanta, GA. My passion in healthcare has always been in community public health since nursing school when I was exposed to the health needs in communities as opposed to the acute ailments found in hospitals. My mom works with Dr. Thrower and one day he mentioned to her that he travels to Nicaragua twice a year to provide medical care to a small community. She shared with him that that is a passion of mine and he quickly reached out to me with an invitation to join the next group. I was thrilled!

While in Los Robles, I helped Drs. Ben and Karen Thrower interpret medical care and assess patients both in the health clinic and in their homes. I also helped paint the inside of a home and donated supplies. One of my favorite experiences was witnessing such a united community. It was a beautiful thing to see the community doing everything it could for the people who live there. I was amazed by the work of Comunidad Connect, the local medical team, and the Brigadistas.

This was a very rewarding experience for me because I feel like we really made a difference and we were so warmly welcomed. I met some amazing people and plan on continuing those friendships. I definitely want to return to get to know more about the Brigadistas and work alongside the community nurse on home visits and in the health clinic. I am thankful for this experience; it has impacted my life.

Bianca loved meeting patients in Los Robles and hopes to return to work more with the health clinic in the future.

 

 

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Coming Home: The Power of a Community

March 12th, 2018

Don Ernesto has lived in Los Robles for over 40 years. 78 years old, he has lived alone in a small, simple home made of tambo (open-air wood structure) without any family nearby. A few people in the community stop by his home to bring food and visit every once in a while, aware of his situation. Due to his age and years of working in the fields, Don Ernesto now suffers from many health issues, unable to work on home improvement projects to enhance his living conditions.

After getting to know Don Ernesto and seeing his circumstances, a family in Los Robles decided to take action. They began working to repair his home, motivated to help Don Ernesto because he had served so many others in the community as well in his youth. Don Ernesto graciously accepted their support, which expanded to over 45 people in the community working together with a private company to improve his home. The family of community member Javier Lopez Gonzalez led the effort to complete this project. Each of these community members – neighbors, friends and acquaintances – donated materials (wood, zinc, paint, nails, etc.) and hands-on work in their free time to create a space of dignity for Don Ernesto, little by little.

This beautiful act of community members coming together reflects the power of community development from within. The individuals who saw Don Ernesto’s needs and decided to take action and are determined to continue supporting him to provide a comfortable and happy home where he can spend his days.

Comunidad Connect was excited to join their efforts to support Don Ernesto improve his living conditions. A group from Smoke Rise Baptist Church met Don Ernesto during a home prayer visit in February,  learning about Don Ernesto’s past challenges and seeing how happy he is to be in his new home. Volunteers that came down with Doctors Ben and Karen Thrower also worked on home improvement projects to lay down a concrete floor and build a ventilated stove in his home since he cooks for himself. Don Ernesto was extremely grateful for the support.

We invite you to come to Los Robles and get to know inspiring members of the community. If you stop by Don Ernesto’s new place, be prepared to listen to lots of stories and spend a good time with him.

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Rural Communities Grateful for Physical Therapy Visits

February 9th, 2018

Doña Gabina, a stroke patient, gets her blood pressure checked by a GSU physical therapy student.

Two physical therapy (PT) student groups visited Los Robles and San Esteban 2 this January to gain a better understanding of health needs in rural Nicaragua and provide PT home consultations.

A group of 9 PT students from Upstate Medical University joined us from late December through early January, followed by 19 PT students from Georgia State University. Due to their rural location and lack of medical and economic resources, Los Robles and San Esteban 2 lack access to specialized medical attention, such as physical therapy. However, many residents have health needs requiring therapy and rehabilitation education.

During their time in the communities, Upstate and GSU conducted a total of 15 home visits to residents with physical impairments. Each individual was very grateful for the one-on-one attention and PT exercise recommendations specific to their unique challenges. One patient, Don Armando, was extremely grateful for the adjustments GSU students made to his wheelchair, which improved pain in his hips and legs, allowing him to move around the house more comfortably.

Meg Prentice, part of the PT program at GSU, commented on the work she did in the community: “We were able to go into people’s homes that had all kinds of things going on with them. I went with a group to assess how someone was able to get around their home and provide ideas of how they could do that better, and how to problem solve to make the care of their family member easier on the rest of the family.”

Don Armando (front center) and wife Reyna were very happy to receive a home visit from GSU PT students. Don Armando is now able to use his wheelchair more and with less pain and discomfort.

In addition, the two groups constructed 12 family health and hygiene projects (i.e. clean cookstoves, ovens, concrete floors) and gave educational health talks. GSU ended their trip with a morning providing PT attention to patients in the hospital in Jinotega, followed by a meeting with hospital staff and directors to exchange knowledge and learn about each other’s health care system.

Students from Upstate Medical University hard at work putting in a concrete floor in a family’s home. Concrete floors help reduce parasites, improve families’ hygiene, and enhance child development.

A special thank you to Upstate Medical University and Georgia State University for your support in providing much needed physical therapy attention in the communities we serve. If your school or professional team would like to partner with Comunidad Connect in addressing health needs in rural Nicaragua, please contact us at info@comunidadconnect.org.

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Kick-Off to Chicas Fuertes Sports Initiative

February 9th, 2018

Jump, set, spike! Girls in San Juan del Sur practicing their volleyball skills at the Chicas Fuertes camp last summer.

Comunidad Connect is excited to expand our girls sports program with the start of the Chicas Fuertes (Strong Girls) initiative in San Juan del Sur. This initiative builds off the three-week girls empowerment volleyball camp, also named Chicas Fuertes, hosted by volunteer Mitzi Kincaid last year. Mitzi, a Sports Psychology MA candidate at John F. Kennedy University, led over 150 girls between the ages of 7-17 in San Juan del Sur. Girls learned how to put important mental skills into practice, like deep breathing and positive self-talk, on and off the volleyball court.

We are also proud to partner with Brooke Rundle, a long-time advocate for women’s sports and empowerment through volleyball. She brings NCAA volleyball teams to Nicaragua for exhibition matches with the Nicaraguan national team, while engaging the players in service learning while in country. Chicas Fuertes will benefit from the interaction and role models associated with Brooke’s program.

Chicas Fuertes will provide a safe and structured environment for Nicaraguan youth to participate in sports-related activities to promote healthy lifestyles in rural communities. Through soccer, baseball, and volleyball leagues and clinics, young women will develop positive leadership and team-building skills.

 

With your support, we can all do our part to love and care for this wonderful community and the amazing girls who desire to play sports. Volunteers can support these projects by leading clinics in Nicaragua and donating supplies, such as uniforms and equipment while engaging in intercultural exchange. Chicas Fuertes will also partner with local businesses, municipal leaders, other NGO’s and the Nicaragua National Volleyball Team in organizing sports leagues, exhibition matches, and enrichment activities.

Learn how you can support Chicas Fuertes by contacting us at info@comunidadconnect.org. Whether you want to join as an individual, bring a group of friends or family to Nicaragua, or partner with your sports team or organization, we look forward to working with you this upcoming year!

Girls at the primary and secondary schools are always excited to share a week or more with visiting volunteers, developing athletic and leadership skills.

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Year in Review: Highlights from 2017

January 5th, 2018

As 2017 came to a close, we took a look back to some of the best highlights from the past year. Thank you to all of the donors, trip participants, and partners who helped Comunidad Connect extend our reach and impact in communities throughout rural Nicaragua. Take a look at some of our favorite photos below from 2017. We look forward to making even more great memories with you all in the year to come!

  • We were excited to close out 2017 with a visit from our Board of Directors. Leslie Stewart, Carey Smith-Marchi, Mat Mendonca, and Michelle and Austin Drill meet with a family in Los Robles.

Thank you to all of our partners!

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Nursing Student Gains Greater Insight into Rural Poverty

November 6th, 2017

Written by Brandon Spratt, Doctor of Nursing Practice Candidate at the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing

Brandon came to Nicaragua in December 2016 with a group of nursing students from Emory University.

As my first true experience outside of the US, Comunidad Connect’s opportunity to volunteer in southern Nicaragua was an escapade I’ll never forget. Then a second-degree student in nursing at Emory University, Comunidad Connect reached out to the School of Nursing to offer students a one-week trip to Nicaragua to invest in opportunities of service within the healthcare systems that aim to increase civic engagement in certain areas. Following my several years of in-country cross-cultural service during my first undergraduate degree, I was ready for such an experience on different soil.

My arrival to Rivas, a southern city of ~40,000 not far from the border to Costa Rica, started with a tour of a local hospital that let me see first-hand the striking difference between the healthcare system here and the one I was used to back in the States. Obviously a lower-resource facility, I was struck at the resilience and versatility that was demanded of the healthcare staff as the nurses were often tasked to 25 patients per nurse. In asking one of the nurses how one could possibly keep up with this demand, she simply smiled and said, “you have to be an octopus to do our job!”.

Our next stop took us to Tola, a smaller community near Rivas that housed a health post for local members to receive basic curative services. It was here that we learned about Nicaragua’s MOSAF healthcare model that capitalizes on community health workers to have an intimate knowledge of the health history of each household in their community to gain insight of the current trends of disease and predict related risk factors. I was impressed at the level of detail that each worker was required to memorize for each household and found this model to be quite intriguing.

While these experiences were quite fascinating and interesting, the most impactful memory I had came from a small, rural community called El Tambo, not far from Tola. It was in this place that I really understood what poverty really is. It is not some tangible idea that can be gleaned from watching videos or reading books, but rather a felt sensation that one only understands when one is in its midst. Dirt floors, tin roofs, and a barren yard were all that many of these villagers owned and while paralyzing at first, I began to see the internal beauty and richness that these people had to offer.

At their request, we gave several presentations about how to understand and address some of the chronic health problems many of their members face. Following this, the villagers did something I will never forget: a great feast. Although our baseline luxuries in America would easily surmount this offering as mediocre in the States, it was obvious that this was no ordinary gala. Out oftheir poverty and of what little they had, their presentation was immaculate. Toiling for days, their cooked chicken, gallo pinto, and juice was displayed before us in banquet-like fashion. Yes, indeed, the food was delicious, but that was not the overarching message that was clear that day. Instead, what was seared into my mind is a life-long lesson that that I will never forget: when poverty-stricken communities come together collectively and harmoniously, it breeds a spirit of generosity.

 

El Tambo’s generosity is a lesson I will take with me wherever I go and for that I am grateful to have learned such a valuable nugget of truth in the larger arc of life. I hope that others may be able to encounter similar experiences in their lives. I’d like to thank Comunidad Connect for making this possible and hope that they continue the great work they are doing in those communities.

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Member Monday: Meet Kelly Vlaskamp, Director of Cultural Connections!

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! 

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Congratulations Justin Winter, September Donor of the Month!

September 27th, 2017

Thank you Justin Winter for your continued support of Comunidad Connect! Justin became a Comunidad Connect donor in January of 2014, and donates $10/month. His long-term contributions have greatly helped improve health and community development in Nicaragua.

Justin first got involved with CC by taking a trip with Emory’s Business School in January 2014. In his work at the time Justin was involved in a coffee project, so he was very eager to learn about the production and coffee farmer life. Through volunteering with Comunidad Connect, Justin was able to learn more about this trade. The work to fund a local medical clinic in Los Robles and personal conversations with farmers about their employees, crops, and communities opened his eyes to the opportunities to do business better by integrating economic and community development. Since then he has followed and supported Comunidad Connect as able and is happy to be able to do a small part.

Thank you for your great work and support, Justin! Stay tuned for our next Donor of the Month in October!

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Volunteer Spotlight: KSU Nursing Student Lindsey Harbison, pt. 2

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.

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San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua-Frente a Farmacia Comunitaria/ Jinotega, Nicaragua-Bancentro Lafise Central, cuadra y media al oeste, Barrio Omar García

Tel:011-(505) 2782-2434

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