During the 1980s, Nicaraguan communities were populated by women, children, and the elderly while able-bodied males were off fighting a civil war. It was not uncommon for some particularly dedicated women to form groups of Brigadistas to care for the vulnerable people in their community during this difficult time. The Ministry of Health relied on these health promoters to carry out awareness and vaccine campaigns. These dedicated volunteers were lifelines between communities and critical health services, and Brigadista networks still exist today throughout Nicaragua.
In 2007, when co-founder Jon Thompson first met with the Brigadistas of Los Robles, it was because he was looking for a map of the community. Deisy Gonzalez is an original Brigadista and she produced a hand-drawn map on a crumpled up piece of paper. It was the beginning of a working relationship that still thrives today.
Comunidad Connect supports this dynamic group of community health promoters in a variety of ways, including construction of space for their frequent meetings, supplies and equipment, and monthly workshops. Brigadistas sometimes directly benefit from Comunidad Connect programs that address access to clean water, food security, adequate housing, and small business development. Comunidad Connect also employs Brigadistas to prepare and deliver meals every month.
Jon Thompson and Mat Mendonca with Los Robles residents
The impact facilitated by Comunidad Connect in Nicaragua would not be possible without the steadfast support of the Brigadistas in the community of Los Robles (pop. 2,100). They provide timely information about health priorities in their community and they connect us with families and neighborhoods that have significant challenges, so that Comunidad Connect can assist. Their governance is characterized by transparency and consensus, which helps control for preference and subjectivity. As advocates, they fulfill perhaps their most important role as resident leaders.
Nurse Enma and Brigadistas of Los Robles
In 2011, the brigadistas identified diarrhea and water-borne illness as a top concern in Los Robles. In response, Comunidad Connect designed and launched the Nica Agua water filter projects. This project provided local residents with water filters designed to eliminate bacteria in drinking water in exchange for investing time in projects to improve public spaces or infrastructure. One of these projects was the construction of the rural health clinic in the center of Los Robles. Like other projects, the health clinic construction was organized by Comunidad Connect with help from international donors and volunteers that joined forces with Los Robles residents in the construction. The opening of the health clinic in January 2015 gave more than 3,000 people access to medical services. Today the clinic continues to operate in cooperation with the Ministry of Health, conducting more than 3,000 consultations a year.
Together For Health Program
Ben and Karen Thrower
Drs. Ben and Karen Thrower first visited Nicaragua in the Summer of 2015. They originally planned to work on community infrastructure projects but quickly realized their expertise could be of great support to residents. Ben is a neurologist and Medical Director of the Andrew C. Carlos MS Institute at Shepherd Center Atlanta and Karen is an experienced pediatrician. With Comunidad Connect, they formed a specialized medical unit able to diagnose, create individual care plans, and monitor patients with special needs in Los Robles. Thus, the Together For Health program was born to serve special medical cases that the local clinic could not adequately address.
Together For Health Patients
The greatest obstacles patients and their families expressed were expensive medicine, inadequate access to specialists, food insecurity and dire housing. To address all of these priorities at once would be an overwhelming task for a small organization like Comunidad Connect. However, a stateside network activated by the Thrower Family not only jumpstarted Together For Health, but has sustained it ever since. The program has provided a year-round continuum of care for 20+ families with loved ones living with special medical needs, including monthly home visits, medicine, transportation to specialists, and medical exams.
The Together For Health origin story