Current Events and News

Comunidad Connect Stakeholder Meeting in San Juan del Sur

November 5th, 2018

October 23, 2018

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua.

Comunidad Connect facilitated a gathering of stakeholders in San Juan del Sur Tuesday evening to discuss the impact of its Youth Connections program. Representatives from local schools, municipal government, and league athletes and coaches attended the discussion led by CC’s Director of Community Development, Yarisleidy Cortez and Director of Youth Development, Alejandro Noguera. The meeting began with an overview of Comunidad Connect. Most Sanjuaneños know CC for the parque deportivo and its youth sports leagues, yet the organization has made impact throughout the country during the last 10 years, particularly in Jinotega where CC programs focus on preventative and primary health care.

Attendees were encouraged to share how CC’s sports program has impacted their lives and their community. Physical education teacher Bryan Cruz reflected on working with Comunidad Connect saying “it has been very special for me and I am grateful as the organization is always active and Alejandro never tells me no; whether it is borrowing equipment, using the parque deportivo, or helping me share sports with my students”.

Over the past ten years, the sports program has expanded significantly to reach over 1,000 young athletes annually through soccer, basketball, volleyball, and baseball leagues. CC honored longtime collaborators with certificates of appreciation, including referees, athletes, teachers, and coaches. These dedicated men and women devote their time, talents, and resources everyday to their community through youth sports.

Before closing the meeting, Yarisleidy invited attendees to share ideas about strengthening the program.  Some of most notable suggestions were to provide training to referees, coaches, and scoring officials, incentivize academic excellence for athletes, incorporate lessons regarding preventative health, social work, and community service, and linking current leagues with first division and university teams and clubs.

Pieces of the Puzzle

August 28th, 2018

When strong connections are made between people and communities, the resulting ripple effects extend far and wide. It is nice to be reminded of what happens when uncommon people come together for a common cause.  Below are recent examples of how people like you are affecting the world in the most interesting, and inspirational ways.

First is a heartwarming story of selfless generosity from Newport, Oregon.  After a playing an impromptu show at the Oregon Coast Farmer’s market with her friends, Louisiane Potvin (10yrs old, above right) decided to donate a portion of the proceeds to Comunidad Connect.

Although she has never traveled to Nicaragua, her father is a good friend and bandmate with Comunidad Connect board member, Mat Mendonca. Louisiane’s family has supported CC over the years and Louisiane was excited to join the effort. Her funds will provide medicine and a doctor’s home visit for a special needs patient in Los Robles, Nicaragua.  Thank you very much, Louisiane! …and keep playing that fiddle!!

Carey Smith-Marchi first came to Nicaragua as a student volunteer with Emory University and now currently serves as board president of Comunidad Connect. She visited Nicaragua with her fiance Jake in April 2018 and together they decided to offer their friends and family the option of donating to CC as an alternative wedding present.  They created a fundraising page, and sure enough, their friends and family followed their lead! Funds raised by Carey and Jake will provide home improvements for vulnerable families in Nicaragua, like the stove they built with friends in the above photo.

Armando Castro, a resident of Los Robles,  recently passed away after struggling with severe health issues for many years. He was a humble man, talented singer, and patient of the Juntos Para Salud program. When Dr. Ben Thrower, founder of the program, learned the news of Don Armando’s passing, he started a Facebook fundraiser in his memory which quickly garnered support from CC volunteers and others that knew and respected Don Armando. He was popular in Los Robles among both locals and foreigners who enjoyed meeting him during home visits and listening to his songs and stories. Thank you, Dr. Thrower and all donors for your support of Don Armando! Click here for the fundraising link. 

After a wonderful trip with Kennesaw State’s Health Promotions and Education trip to the Dominican Republic in May 2018, Christen Robinson was inspired to create a birthday fundraiser to help raise awareness and funds for Comunidad Connect.

“I’ve chosen this nonprofit because their mission means a lot to me, and I hope you’ll consider contributing as a way to celebrate with me. Every little bit will help me reach my goal. Comunidad Connect is the organization that KSU’s Public Health and Nursing program worked within the Dominican Republic and are the people who made it all happen!”

Thank you for your kind words and compassionate actions Christen!

Other Facebook birthday fundraisers include our own Kelly Vlaskamp, Adam Rosendale, and board member Dan Zambrano! If you would like to create a fundraiser on Facebook, simply look in the left-hand column under the section “create”.  Search for Comunidad Connect, set a goal and you’ll be well on your way to creating impact. Be sure to let us know so we can also spread the word and help you help others!

 

MINSA & Community Update

August 16th, 2018

MINSA & Community Update:

Since mid-April 2018, the socio-economic crisis gripping Nicaragua has put increased strain on public institutions. During the first 100 days of public unrest, we saw several iterations of protests each carrying their respective and often tragic consequences. Recently, the nationwide network of roadblocks which had restricted movement of goods and services have been taken down. Water and power continue without interruption, and garbage pickup has resumed.  And while this has allowed for some sense of “normalcy” to return to the country, public institutions responsible for health and education struggle to staff and stock local clinics, and the cost of medicine in pharmacies have doubled in price.

Comunidad Connect’s sustained presence in Los Robles and San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua is more important than ever. Residents know we are there to help and to partner with them as new priorities emerge from the circumstances stemming from the country’s political instability. We are committed to providing essential health care and supporting local health promoters in their efforts to prevent illness from happening in the first place. Emna Gutierrez (CC Nurse), Reeder Lanzas (CC Dentist), and Yarisleidy Cortez (CC Community Development Director) have remained dedicated to their work through these difficult times and have inspired us all.

In Los Robles, the most pertinent issues are high unemployment and rising prices of goods and services. Recently, a meeting was held by the Brigadistas and other community leaders in which 100 families were identified as having extreme needs within the community, the most severe being food security. These families are unemployed without any direct family support, senior citizens, or have permanent disabilities.  

In early August, Comunidad Connect sent resources to Nicaragua to fund projects that will improve the living conditions and quality of life of these families.  Yarisleidy, Reeder, and Enma are assessing each family’s priorities and developing work plans for each. We know that there is not a single fix-all solution to the myriad of issues facing families in rural Nicaragua, so we are being intentional with our limited resources to ensure the most vulnerable families know they are not alone and that our network of support is doing everything possible to help during these lean months before the coffee harvest returns in December.  

Sadness in the Smiles

July 5th, 2018

San Juan del Sur; beautiful port with its beaches and views.

The crisis in the country has not affected {San Juan del Sur} with armed violence or blockades. This small town where everyone knows each other has taken a position of tolerance against ideological differences, especially verbal attacks. Logically, you can feel a great difference in the air. There is a sense of fear and uncertainty about what our nearby cities are going through. There is also a lot of helplessness, but at the same time, calm and hope that the town continues to respect the peaceful struggle. I do not know how long we will continue like this but I hope that all this pain has not been in vain.

I know that this struggle has its consequences for the working population, and each city feels it in different ways. I think that the geographical position and population of San Juan del Sur helps a lot regarding the political crisis that is taking place here, in terms of violence and available resources. Riot police and regular officers are few in number. This has its advantages and disadvantages as everyone has to take care of each other.

Certainly, we do not have capacity to access everything as we did before the conflict started, but at least we have basics products and services. WE CAN NOT COMPLAIN, nor ignore that our brothers in other cities are being killed and persecuted for thinking differently; for dreaming differently.

As in the whole country, unemployment is overwhelming. Tourism is the main economic source in San Juan del Sur and many people have lost their jobs. Some have migrated to Costa Rica and others have even taken up fishing to provide for their families.  Most hotels and restaurants have had to close or reduce staff while others have lowered the prices of all their services to stay open. There are not many people on the streets or beaches. Some tourists come from Costa Rica by plane and are helping to maintain the local economy.

This has been San Juan del Sur until July … A mixture of calm, uncertainty, lonely beaches, rain, sun and a lot of sadness in the smiles.

 

-A personal perspective from a citizen of Nicaragua, and resident of San Juan del Sur.

 

Tranques

June 26th, 2018

Daily life in Jinotega, like much of Nicaragua, has become paralyzed by tranques. Literally, tranques mean “dams” or “obstacles” but they more closely resemble barricades and roadblocks these days in Nicaragua. Made of road pavers, metal signs, and anything else that prevent passage to pedestrians and vehicles, the tranques have brought ground transportation and local commerce to a standstill. Products and services cannot reach their markets, and many businesses, schools, and public institutions are shuttered. Tranques have also been the focal points for conflicts between pro-government groups and civilians.

Comunidad Connect staff in Jinotega explained to me that it is difficult to know who is responsible for each tranque, but there are two primary groups at odds with eachother: pro-government individuals brought in from outside the city and the opposing “April 19th Movement” comprised of local residents. These makeshift roadblocks are on practically every corner and some are inspecting pedestrians who attempt to pass. The tranques are one of the only means locals are using to pressure the government to bring justice, peace, and democracy back to Nicaragua. While the cause in noble, the effect throughout the community is troubling.

Improvised shelters adjacent to tranques house those who are not residents of Jinotega and hygiene and sanitation have become critical issues. Trash service stopped weeks ago and many residents have resigned to leaving their garbage in the street. There are no taxis available and residents prefer to buy staple goods at the local pulperia than risk the trip to a larger supermarket.

There are no tranques in Los Robles, but their impact is certainly tangible. Farm work has dried up and without money, food and medicine can be hard to come by. Families that depend on jobs in Jinotega can no longer count on that income either. To address these challenges, we have begun fundraising to finance local projects in homes of the elderly, single mothers, and families with special medical needs patients that not only improve their quality of life, but also create jobs for local masons and assistants. Our in-country team can navigate the tranques, but we need your help to reach the 100+ families eligible for projects.

Join us in this important work by making a donation and sharing this update with others. If you would like to learn more, please contact me at jon@comunidadconnect.org or 404-444-9147

-Jon ThompsonImage result for donate

* The next installment to our series “Nicaragua Now” will spotlight how San Juan del Sur is managing the national crisis.  We would love to know your perspective and invite you to contribute to the Nicaragua Now series by contacting me via email.

Updates from Nicaragua, Letter from CEO Jon Thompson

June 12th, 2018

Ten years ago, Comunidad Connect began with a mission to alleviate poverty in Nicaragua by connecting isolated communities with appropriate resources and opportunities for growth. Relationships grew and impact deepened as more and more people connected across cultures through our projects and programs. The resulting bonds inspired financial and in-kind support, academic research, and significant social impact in Nicaragua. Everything was trending upward. As our network of support increased their engagement, so expanded our capacity to impact the communities of Nicaragua.

All that began to change on April 19th, when student-led protests reacting to drastic changes to the social security system were violently repressed. This incited more demonstrations and violence. As of today, over 100 people have been killed and over thousand wounded. National transportation strikes are making food, fuel, and other critical resources scarce, and our partner communities are struggling to find and afford the items that they need the most.

As a result, the Peace Corps has pulled its volunteers and the US State Department’s travel advisory now urges all travelers to reconsider plans to visit Nicaragua. Many organizations like ours are closing throughout Nicaragua and the tourism industry has already lost 100,000 jobs. All service-learning and mission trips scheduled to travel to Nicaragua with Comunidad Connect this year have been canceled. This has caused us to make some difficult decisions and our staff is much smaller than it was even six weeks ago. Yet our commitment is firm, and our hope is that Nicaragua will emerge stronger than ever…and we will be there to experience it.

Our network of support has the potential to make an incredible difference now in Nicaragua. All of our past and present volunteers, donors, staff, board, friends, and family can all advocate for peace, make a donation, and share our work with others. Together, we can continue to assist communities meet their basic needs through health and wellness programming. Together, we can seek creative solutions to the daily challenges resulting from the current events in Nicaragua. And only together, are we truly Comunidad Connect.

I would welcome the opportunity to talk with you in person about what is unfolding in Nicaragua and how we can make a difference together during these difficult times. You may reach me at 404.444.9147 or jon@comunidadconnect.org. Thank you for your time, prayers and thoughtful consideration.

Jon Thompson

Co-Founder/CEO
Comunidad Connect

Communities Pushing Through Current Unrest

June 12th, 2018

The current social unrest in Nicaragua has affected communities throughout the country over the past 7 weeks, including the areas where Comunidad Connect works. However, our efforts in San Juan del Sur and the communities outside of Jinotega continue to operate, and our team members in the field are actively identifying community priorities and challenges as the situation evolves.

Our in-country staff report that San Juan del Sur has remained calm without instances of violence to date.  Although with a tourism-based economy, the lack of travelers has caused many businesses to close temporarily and lay off hundreds of local workers.  National transportation strikes have caused shortages of food, fuel, and cash, and access to health services is very limited.

Until recently, our Northern office in Jinotega kept normal operating hours and our health programming in rural communities outside the city continued unimpeded.  However, violence rocked the region June 7th, and roadblocks have kept our staff from working in the office. Residents in Los Robles and San Esteban cannot travel to Jinotega to work or sell produce in the market. Consequently, this lack of employment means little to no income to purchase food and critical supplies like medicine.  

Over 2,000 residents in the community of Los Robles have been affected by recent unrest, concentrated in cities throughout Nicaragua.

Jesús Rodriguez, a community leader from Los Robles, shared his thoughts on the pressing situation facing the country:

“Tortillas for sale” at a home in Los Robles.

“With respect to the situation we are living in in Nicaragua, it is difficult because one way or another it is destroying the economic standing of families, here in our community and in other communities in the Department of Jinotega and throughout the country. If there are roadblocks or a national strike, there is no transportation to be able to travel in order to buy the items that we most need.”

Jesús explained that in Los Robles families can buy a few items in the community – like cream, cheese, and toilet paper – but people need to travel to Jinotega to purchase their main necessities – like rice, oil, meat, and detergent.

 

Jesús Rodríguez, community member from San Esteban, shares concerns about access to vital resources due to unrest.

Kohl Dothage, graduate student from the University of Alabama currently conducting research in Los Robles, also commented on the situation in Los Robles.

“Los Robles has been very calm. However, that does not mean the situation is not impacting families. Many people have loved-ones who work in Managua, who travel back and forth, and are unable to do so now. So of course this is going to have an impact on the community on some level even if it appears calm.”   

Despite these challenges and lack of access to resources, our staff continues to work with community members to address local needs. Three times a week, Comunidad Connect nurse Enma Gutiérrez travels to the Los Robles health clinic to provide primary care attention to residents. Additionally, Enma follows up with patients and delivers medication to special needs patients as part of our Together For Health program during monthly appointments. And as always, she supports the Brigadistas (community health volunteers) of Los Robles with training based on identified local priorities.

 

In this time of national change and new challenges, Comunidad Connect is dedicated to strengthening partnerships with community leaders, like Jesús, who will play a vital role in sustaining families and communities going forward.

Fourth Annual Health Summit 2018

May 7th, 2018

 

Academics and health care professionals reunited once again in Jinotega, Nicaragua for Comunidad Connect’s Fourth Annual Health Summit. Comunidad Connect was pleased to host both veteran and new attendees, continuing to augment local and international relationships in the health field.

Professors and students attended from Georgia State University, University of North Georgia, Kennesaw State University, and Ohio State University. The summit began with a day of home visits in the community of Los Robles, an orientation to the organization, and updates of the past year. Highlights from the day included meeting beneficiaries of Comundidad Connect’s healthy home projects of concrete floors, stoves, and ovens, speaking with homeowners about their improved health, and meeting with the network of Brigadistas (community health volunteers) for a Q&A session.

The second day of the health summit began in the city of Jinotega with presentations from the SILAIS (local system of integral health attention), the Health Center Guillermo Matute, the University of Martin Luther, and UNAN FAREM-Matagalpa about community health strategies, achievements through community strategies, and breast cancer, respectively.

Second year health summit attendee and local nonprofit ‘Together for Tomorrow’ founder, Tommy Brown, was happy to participate as it provides the opportunity to connect not only government agencies like the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health (MINSA), but also with academics from the United States. “We were here last year and it is great to hear what the government is currently doing or has plans to do so that we may work together if the opportunity presents itself.”

The afternoon session included presentations of research results from the University of Calgary, Ohio State University, Kennesaw State University, and the University of North Georgia. MINSA representatives and international academic partners saw opportunities to collaborate and look for ways to share research findings with local communities. Presenters covered a variety of topics, ranging from maternal mental health, childhood digestive health, cervical cancer, and a community health needs assessment study.

After presenting her team’s findings regarding cervical cancer screenings in the department of Leon, Professor Vanessa Jones commented, “It’s exciting to see how relationships and collaborations have developed as a result of the Health Summit. We all have the same goal–improving the health of Nicaraguans in rural communities. Sharing our work provides opportunities to work together to achieve this goal. During this year’s Summit, I was introduced to nursing faculty in Nicaragua who were interested in the same research, which could result in future research collaboration.”

For Kennesaw State’s University Dean of Health and Human Services, Mark Tillman, “The health summit was a great opportunity for teamwork and to share our knowledge of health issues. It gives me a stronger appreciation for the country, the people and the concerns that they face. And it also makes me motivated to provide more opportunities for the faculty and students of Kennesaw State to come here.”

If you would like to learn more about Comunidad Connect, the research presented, or how you can can become involved, please send us an email us a info@comunidadconnect.org or call 404-444-9147.

Check out more photos from the Health Summit below!

Welcome Abigail Hunt: Summer Intern

May 7th, 2018

Comunidad Connect is excited to welcome back intern Abigail Hunt from Savannah, GA for her second summer internship with the organization. She first came to Nicaragua with a volunteer group in 2016 and returned last summer working as a bilingual facilitator for groups and living in Los Robles during the month of June. This year she will be working out of Jinotega with local development projects and communications.

Abigail is a senior at the University of Georgia studying Speech Pathology and hopes to use the skills she is learning while in Nicaragua to provide bilingual speech therapy to children in multicultural communities after graduation. She adds, “Nicaragua holds a special place in my heart. I can’t keep myself from coming back here every year. Who knows, maybe one day I can use my degree to benefit the people of Los Robles.”

Thank You Donors: New Mobile Dental Clinic in Action!

April 25th, 2018

We are excited to announce that our Mobile Dental Clinic is up and running! Thanks to your generous donations and support, our resident dentist Dr. Reeder Lanzas is expanding our Preventive Oral Health program to provide dental attention to residents in rural communities. Dr. Reeder also continues to give educational preventive health talks in primary and secondary schools, provide fluoride treatment, and supply students with basic dental kits while supplies last.

Dr. Reeder is extremely excited to put the new mobile dental clinic to work. “With this new clinic, we are going to do tooth fillings, cleanings, as well as extractions. However, our first priorities are cleanings and fillings. Currently we are working in a community on prevention (about 700 students – 400 primary, 300 secondary), and with the new clinic we are able to provide full dental primary care.”

This April Comunidad Connect welcomed Tufts University Dental students in our first dental brigade to the community of Los Robles. During the week the dental students consulted 105 patients and performed 91 tooth extractions, in addition to delivering toothbrushes and toothpaste to numerous others. Comunidad Connect is excited to expand our reach and health impact in the community with this clinic and looks forward to working with more dentists, hygienists, and university dental programs in the future.

Because of your invested support, Comunidad Connect’s mobile dental clinic is bringing smiles to thousands of students and residents in Nicaragua! The new mobile dental clinic marks an important first step toward addressing oral health in remote areas. However, this is just the beginning. You can expand this impact across rural Nicaragua by contacting us today at info@comunidadconnect.org.

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