While Drs Ben and Karen Thrower were unable to visit Nicaragua for 12 months, the patients of our Together for Health (“Juntos Para Salud”) program continued to receive timely home visits and medicine by our resident nurse Enma Gutierrez. Generous donor support covers her salary and costs associated with caring for over 30 special needs patients in Los Robles and San Esteban. Patients were thrilled to be visited by Drs Thrower and their team of volunteers in February. Below are updates on several of them.
Meyling Gutierrez, defying the odds
Meyling was born with VATER Syndrome – a syndrome affecting her vertebrae, trachea, and esophagus development – which caused several congenital birth defects. At two years old, she has persevered through two previous surgeries. On February 11, 2019, Meyling traveled to Managua again for esophageal replacement surgery and was hospitalized for 11 days. She has since returned to Los Robles and is recovering well. Meyling will return to the hospital on April 2nd to remove the feeding tube she currently uses.
Jerson Olivas, finding calm and his passion
Jerson was very rambunctious and distracted before meeting with Drs. Ben and Karen Thrower. Soon after, he was diagnosed with ADHD and connected to a Nicaraguan psychologist to receive the appropriate medications. He is now improving, going to classes and has quite the collection of animals.
During the Thrower’s visit in February 2019, Jerson showed the group his three guinea pigs and two birds. He is taking very good care of them and hopes to have more soon (if his grandmother approves).
Leyla Zelaya, feeling happier
Many know Silvia from Finca El Peten, yet few have met her sister Leyla. She suffers from depression and before the Together for Health program, was very shy and experienced sudden mood swings.
After being treated with the appropriate medicine, she is now is feeling much better, enjoys going for walks, cleaning, watching novelas and can relate better with people.
Priscilla Granados, growing up in good spirits
Priscilla is 9 years old and has Downs Syndrome. She and her family are always very excited to be visited by the Throwers. Despite her condition, Priscilla is in good health and enjoys reading. Through the generous support of donors to Comunidad Connect, she has been able to get appropriate medical screening and see a geneticist in Managua.
Comunidad Connect inaugurated the San Juan del Sur Sports Park in 2007, thus beginning a new chapter for youth sports in the coastal fishing town of Southwest Nicaragua. CC introduced futsal and basketball leagues and hosted exhibition volleyball games, tournaments, and after-school activities. 11 years later, CC runs the municipal little league baseball program and has 500 young athletes in its youth development program, playing over 500 games a year. One family in particular who has become an integral piece of the puzzle in their community, and with Comunidad Connect.
Noelia Alvarez Sandino
“It’s more than just a sports park; its a secure place for kids”, says 28 year old Nohelia Sandino. She calls the “cancha” a “San Juan del Sur custom now”, spending most of her evenings strolling down to the Sports Park to join other families for a calm evening in the company of youth. She loves that parents come to watch their kids, and has seen the community grow closer and more engaged over the years. Having played in the soccer leagues herself, Nohelia feels the programs and presence of CC is an integral part of the city and to other communities where they work as well.
“A super happy space full of value that has a great history and future,” is how Guadalupe Sandino describes the San Juan del Sur Sports Park. As the matriarch of a very active family, she gives thanks to CC for how the program has helped strengthen her husband and children. The moments they have spent together in different activities have created lasting memories and tightened family bonds. Attending matches daily has become so much a part of her life, such that “it is very disappointing when it rains and we can’t go the sports park!”
After a donation is received, our accountant Maria Perez (left) works with Director of Community Development, Yarisleidy Cortez, to create a project budget for the month. In these slides, we follow Yarisleidy and her team as they complete a Family Impact Project in Los Robles, Nicaragua.
With the budget complete and list in hand, Yarisleidy purchase tools and materials.
Driver Alan and intern Katherine load materials into our truck for delivery to Los Robles.
In rural communities such as Los Robles, keeping the home and family dry during the rainy season is crucial to decreasing upper respiratory illnesses like asthma and the flu, parasites, and mosquito-borne illnesses such as dengue fever and malaria.
For this project, Comunidad Connect will partner with Amelia Rodriguez and her family to replace the roof in her kitchen. To become eligible to receive this project, Amelia's family completed community service hours in Los Robles.
An all too common sight in rural Nicaragua: Water leaking through the decaying, smoke-stained roof. With a proper roof, Comunidad Connect can help install a clean-cook stove, which further improves respiratory health of the family.
Before the project begins, Yarisleidy gives an orientation to the family, explaining the process and answering any question they may have.
Typical Nicaraguan hospitality requires a pre-project snack :o)
Neighbors and Comunidad Connect masons begin construction of the roof, first placing the foundation posts.
Yarisleidy supervises construction, providing instructions as needed.
Muddy rain boots...an essential piece of footwear in Northern Nicaragua.
As the roof begins to take shape, workers take great caution to avoid measurement errors.
With the final piece of zinc nailed and in place, the project is complete!
Amelia and her son, pose with Yarisleidy and the finished roof seen to the right.
“I thank God and then you. I needed the zinc [roof] because our home became wet inside when it rained. This is an achievement and benefit for us and we will continue to engage the community. On behalf of my family, we are grateful and are at your service to support other projects and families in the community.” - Amelia Rodriguez
CC was founded in 2007 on the belief that by connecting those that care to those in need, powerful, lifelong changes can occur in both communities. Language, governments, culture, fear, pride can all be potential barriers to these connections, but we when we find ourselves at the intersections of these relationships, between vulnerable and resource-rich communities, we have more than an opportunity to make a difference…we have a responsibility.
In our partner communities in Nicaragua, our commitments persevere as they are founded on 10+ years of collaboration, trust, and faith. During this critical time of political instability in Nicaragua, our health programs there endure with the support of donors and other stakeholders who have formed resilient relationships over the years. Meanwhile, students and faculty from universities stateside teem with interest to experience service learning abroad with Comunidad Connect. This prompted us to explore opportunities to do so in the Dominican Republic earlier this year, and what we found is inspiring.
Montellano is a municipality on the northern coast of the DR, once known for its sugar cane factory that employed tens of thousands annually. The industry drove economic growth, and the need for cheap labor. Haitian immigrants came in droves and moved into shabby barracks provided by the sugar cane factory. Five years ago, the factory closed yet the Haitians stayed and find themselves today virtually stateless without clear rights to government-funded support programs.
In collaboration with Health Horizons International, we have begun building relationships with rural and semi-urban communities in Montellano since April. We have coordinated two groups of students and faculty from Kennesaw State (Nursing and Health Promotion & Education) and most recently, GA State’s Physical Therapy program. These incredible teams have trained community health promoters, exchanged experiences with fellow colleagues in local universities, conducted health fairs, seen patients in their homes and in community settings, and worked on household projects that have already directly impacted the lives of hundreds of people. Most importantly, these inaugural groups afford us the opportunity to return on multiple occasions, each time learning more and better understanding our roles as advocate and partner.
It is difficult to not compare the DR with Nicaragua, given our tenure in communities like Los Robles, San Esteban, and San Juan del Sur. Indeed our short time in the DR has reconfirmed how special Nicaragua is to us as people and as an organization. The good news is that engagement with the DR and Nicaragua is not mutually exclusive…in fact, we believe it is synergetic.
If you would like to learn more about our expansion to communities in the DR and our ongoing programming in Nicaragua, please contact us today. Otherwise, stay tuned via social media and future bulletins for stories of how together we are making a difference.
Representatives from Georgia State University, Kennesaw State University, and the University of North Georgia gathered in Jinotega, Nicaragua to attend Comunidad Connect’s Third Annual Health Summit. From April 19th – April 21st, invitees learned about Comunidad Connect’s model for sustainable development, grew in their understanding of health care delivery systems, and made connections with representatives from the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health, the Local System of Integral Health Care, Ohio State University, the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua – Matagalpa, the Red Cross, and other community development institutions working in the region. This summit promoted interdisciplinary research and advocated for volunteer trips to the region that will complement national programs and initiatives impacting the health of thousands of Nicaraguans living in rural communities with limited resources.
Comunidad Connect Co-Founder, Jon Thompson
During the first day, Comunidad Connect co-founder Jon Thompson presented on behalf of Dr. Warren Wilson of the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology of the University of Calgary. Other presenters speaking on current research taking place in the community of Los Robles included Maryanne Tranter, MS, CPNP of Ohio State University College of Nursing and Johnathan Steppe, MSN of Kennesaw State University School of Nursing. Topics included, respectively: “The Health of Mothers and Children in Los Robles,” “Adolescent Pregnancy in Nicaragua,” and preliminary findings from a “Health Education Needs Assessment for Los Robles, Nicaragua.” After listening to the first day’s presentations, Brian Culp, PhD of Kennesaw State University said he was “learning better ways to promote health and human services to underserved communities, particularity women” through these presentations.
Jonathan Steppe and Barbara Blake from Kennesaw State University
Attendees also visited the newest community in which Comunidad Connect is expanding its services, San Esteban II. Maryanne Tranter was excited to see that “the community of San Esteban is very engaged with CC in such a short period of time.” The second day of presentations and visits to health centers was met with similar enthusiasm; Kandice Porter of Kennesaw State University remarked that she was delighted by “community participation with the solutions, rather than just coming in with [an] artificial, external approach.” National and international attendees enjoyed presentations about the Nicaraguan Model for Community Health and ways in which universities can prioritize social justice and community development.
Vanessa Jones of the University of North Georgia felt that “this experience has renewed [her] desire to really see where [she]…can continue working with Comunidad Connect, to see where the biggest impact [in these communities] will be.” Comunidad Connect is excited to continue facilitating partnerships between both nationals and internationals and hopes future summits will help others be part of the solution to improved community health in Nicaragua.
NCHC Academic Partners and Comunidad Connect Staff at the 3rd Annual Health Summit in Nicaragua
About Comunidad Connect
Comunidad Connect is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization working in Nicaragua to promote sustainable community development, cultural exchange, and civic engagement through programs in rural healthcare, water access, youth development, and service learning. To learn more visit: http://comunidadconnect.org
NCHC Academic Partners and Comunidad Connect Staff at the 3rd Annual Health Summit in Nicaragua
The 3rd Annual Nicaragua Community Health Summit was a tremendous success, and could not have been possible without the participation of our partners from the USA, Canada, and Nicaragua. We joined the staff of Comunidad Connect and local community partners to hear presentations, discuss, and see firsthand the health priorities facing rural Nicaragua. Presentations included:
Maternal and Child Health in Los Robles – University of Calgary
Adolescent Pregnancy in Nicaragua – Ohio State University
Women, Children & Adolescent National Health Strategy – Ministry of Health
Oral Health in Rural Nicaragua – Comunidad Connect
Health Education Needs Assessment in Los Robles – Kennesaw State
Community Organizing & Health – Autonomous University of Nicaragua
Civic Engagement & Clean Water – Comunidad Connect
Health & Tourism Based Community Development – Comunidad Connect
Vanessa Jones from the University of North Georgia, with Francis Aguilar Rizo – the nurse we sponsor at the new public clinic health clinic in Los Robles.
The cross-pollination of ideas and openness to collaborate across universities were apparent throughout the summit. We look forward to our future work together.
Doug Gardenhire is the chair of Respiratory Therapy at Georgia State University and attending the 2017 Health Summit was his first experience in Nicaragua. Smoke was pouring out of the kitchen of our first home visit, and he turned to me to say “we can definitely do something here”. After visiting the health outpost of La Fundadora and seeing the only nebulizer being used improperly, he turned to me again to say “we have got to do something here”. And after visiting the Hospital of Jinotega, I spoke first “So Doug, what are we going to do?”
The fact is that respiratory illness is the leading cause of clinic visits in Nicaragua, yet can be easily mitigated with education and appropriate technology in the home. We will soon engage the expertise of Doug’s team at GSU to address respiratory health in not only our partner communities, but also in all of Jinotega with the Ministry of Health. This work will expand on our 2016 GHIP project, and is open for collaboration. For more information, contact me (Jon Thompson) at firstname.lastname@example.org / 404-444- 9147
Calling All Advocates!
Yarisleidy with recent recipient of improved stove in San Esteban
You may already know that a little goes a very long way in Nicaragua. However, you might not know that as little as $20 a month provides a special medical needs patient with monthly home visits by a qualified doctor, medicine, and special exams. NCHC relies on the support of Advocates like you to ensure our good friends in Los Robles and San Esteban have access to critical health services like primary care at the local clinic, oral health education and care in area schools, ongoing research, and appropriate technology projects like improved stoves that improve respiratory health. Everyone who believes health is an essential human right can be an Advocate. All you have to do is something. Spread the word, introduce someone to our work in Nicaragua, make a donation. Remember, our capacity to make a difference increases as our network of support expands. Click here to become an Advocate today.
Nathan Korn, CEO of IMAIM CAPITAL in Miami, presenting Roman Yavich, co-founder of Comunidad Connect, with IMAIM’s latest contribution supporting the 2016 holiday campaign.
Last year I moved from New York City to Miami to be closer to Nicaragua. Miami also has the largest population of Nicaraguan immigrants of any city in the US. This city’s warmth, literal and figurative, has been a welcome change from the winters of New York.
I’m starting to build a team of support for Comunidad Connect here, and one of the most enthusiastic and active members on this team has been Nathan Korn of IMAIM CAPITAL, a Miami-based investment firm. Nathan is a friend from college with whom I shared the formative experience of studying abroad in Chile and Argentina 13 years ago. We have been great friends since, and I was particularly excited about him joining the CC board of directors in 2014. He brought knowledge of financial and organizational management that has helped us become a stronger organization, primed for long-term growth. Nathan has helped us raise nearly $10,000 since joining the board, getting his professional network, his friends, and his family involved in community development in Nicaragua.
As our vision and impact in Nicaragua grows, we are thankful and excited to have the support of Nathan Korn, IMAIM CAPITAL and the Miami community. If you find yourself in Miami, be sure to let us know. Nathan and I will be happy to share a cafecito with you.
Theresa, at Lake Nicaragua, in front of the beautiful Concepcion Volcano on Ometepe Island.
¿A dónde vas, Esteli? ¡Hay nancite, hay naranja, hay limones! ¡Acércate a boutique 5 Estrellas hoy y aprovecha de la gran liquidación! These are just a few of the many phrases and sounds that fill the space around me here in Nicaragua.
After living in this beautiful country for over a year I’ve learned an important fact: Nicaragua is loud. However, the most relevant skill that accompanies this fact is the ability to be still, slow down and listen to the quiet sounds that flit beneath the overpowering din. When I am still I hear the laughter of my co-workers as we work together on our daily tasks. When I am slow my host sister soothes my stress and builds me up with words I need to hear. When I listen I hear the sincerity and vulnerability that accompanies the ideas we hope will transform our communities.
Working in the field of community development means accepting an inescapable vulnerability. My co-workers, our academic partners, the community members themselves, we are all architects, constructing new environments and structures that we hope will translate into better quality of life and increased opportunities throughout Nicaragua. And like architects, the results of our innovations will only be tangible years after the first thought dared to slip through our lips, uncertain of its reception.