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.
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.
Most volunteer groups and partners who have come down to Nicaragua have met or heard of the network of Brigadistas that make up an integral part of Los Robles. These Brigadistas are community health volunteers: a majority female group of individuals from the community that selflessly give their time and energy to promote health initiatives among the 10 sectors of Los Robles.
One of Comunidad Connect’s driving tenants is to support sustainable community development through working with local partners. This grassroots approach enables community members to identify their most pressing needs and collaborate with other organizations and institutions to achieve their goals. Within the past 7 months, a new network of dedicated, inspired Brigadistas has formed in Los Robles, working in partnership with MINSA (Nicaraguan Ministry of Health) and Comunidad Connect.
Currently there are 17 new and veteran Brigadistas active in Los Robles from each of the 10 sectors. These community health volunteers take on a variety of roles: they frequently check in with families in their neighborhood to identify health needs, coordinate with MINSA staff at the local health clinic to make referrals, receive training on basic health care like First Aid, have monthly meetings to plan future activities, and help outside organizations and volunteers get to know the local community. The Brigadistas have also assisted Comunidad Connect in coordinating our family health and hygiene projects, enabling families to earn clean cook ovens, stoves, concrete floors, and natural insecticide treated painting. Moreover, these strong women and men serve as an invaluable resource to their community.
Having served Los Robles for over 20 years as a Brigadista – as well as volunteering her home as the community health outpost when needed – , Doña Petrona is one of the longest serving Brigadistas in the community. Doña Petrona (sector Rondana), along with Doña Virginia (sector Bodega) and Doña Daisy (sector Zelaya), are the oldest Brigadistas out of the network of 17. They are always grateful for visiting volunteer groups that come to support projects in the community and they look forward to expanding their relationships this upcoming year.
Doña Petrona Díaz, sector Rondana.
Doña Virginia del Carmen Chavarría, sector Bodega.
Stay updated for future interviews and spotlights on the Brigadistas of Los Robles in the next few weeks on Facebook and Instagram. Thank you to all of the groups who have supported the Brigadistas and Comunidad Connect’s health initiatives over the years.
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 email@example.com.
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.
Last week we had a successful first aid workshop with the Brigadistas (community health workers) of Los Robles, Datanlí, Pueblo Nuevo and San Estéban. The Brigadistas received training and first aid kits to ensure immediate health response in their communities. Comunidad Connect partnered with MINSA, the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health, to administer this workshop.
Nurse Francis Aguilar, who works with Comunidad Connect and MINSA, comments, “This training was important because the Brigadistas live in areas that are hard to reach, increasing high health risks due to a lack of resources. Emergencies can happen at any hour, so the Brigadistas will be the first to respond immediately to those injured.”
Over 15 women participated in this first aid workshop and are excited to share their new knowledge with their respective communities. “The health workers learned lots of skills during the training, like what to do in an emergency, how to treat wounds, and immobilize patients,” notes Francis.
Thank you to all the participants and staff for making this event possible!
You can help us double our impact over the next two years by helping us buy a truck for our second location. We will use this new truck in rural communities near Jinotega, Nicaragua to deliver:
* Health supplies to our rural health clinic which sees more than 200 patients each month
* Water filters to more than 200 additional families in our new major partner community, San Esteban
* Sports equipment to our recently launched rural sports academy supporting dozens of girls and boys developing athletic and life skills.
Best of all, you can come down to Nicaragua for a tour of our projects in the truck you, your friends, and your family helped make a reality!
The Los Robles health clinic doubles as a health education center.
Millions of people around the world and tens of thousands in Nicaragua do not have access to clean drinking water, healthcare, or safe recreational activities for their children. Since 2007 Comunidad Connect has developed successful initiatives to provide clean water access, healthcare, youth development, and cultural exchange, with the help of 450 small and large donors. Each year we grow bigger with more patients, more filters, more athletes, and more students on service learning trips. Now we need your help to expand our efforts and reach more communities.
In 2016 we are expanding the water filter project to a new community called San Esteban, expanding the recently launched sports program in Los Robles, adding on to the preventative healthcare at our clinic, and looking to support all of these community development efforts with a new education and community center.
So what does it take to double our organizational impact? It takes double the donors, double the programs, and double the tools! With your donation today, you can be a part of all three of these actions.
Beyond our talented staff, our most important tool is our vehicle. But with two locations and only one truck, we spend tons of money on car rentals and gasoline to drive between the two locations. Our first truck has gone more than 100,000 Km in more than 5 years. It has been the foundation of our success. Now we want to double that success. We need a second vehicle.
Former CC PiLA Fellow, Brian Reilly, ready to deliver water filters in our awesome but only truck.
What You Can Do To Help
Help us raise $15,000 for the down payment on a second truck.
Join our work in Nicaragua and bring your friends and family along.
Share our mission to bring together local and global resources to address the most pressing development priorities with your network, and help us grow our donor base from 400 to 800 by the end of 2016.
Sports and youth development programs for girls and boys have been hugely popular our San Juan del Sur location. Now we are expanding them to Los Robles.
What You Get
We want to recognize your contribution, after all trucks drive on two-way roads (unless it’s a river crossing or a jungle road or a tight squeeze through a heard of cows…you’ll see.)
The biggest perk is that your donation is tax-deductible if you make it before the end of the year! Here are some more amazing perks at each giving level. Perks are optional.
5 day Nicaragua adventure with private guide for you and up to three friends. Visit stunning coffee country and colonial Leon. Ride horses, active volcanoes, and of course, your new truck. Your bi-lingual guide will take care of everything. (Food, lodging, and transportation not included, but the guide is!)
When you visit you’ll see rainbows over coffee country (if you come in the rainy season.) We can’t promise unicorns, but you can ride horses.
Everything at the $500 level and a guide for a 3 day rural Nicaragua experience with a homestay, including a ride in the back of the truck through coffee country. Taste freshly roasted and brewed coffee with farmers that grew the beans and picked them. (Food, lodging, and transportation not included, but the guide is!)
Everything below and a 2 day adventure tourism experience in colonial Leon with, you guessed it, your own bi-lingual guide! Take the truck to a volcano you can surf. (Food, lodging, and transportation not included, but the guide is!)
Everything below and 5 pounds of better than fair trade, freshly harvested coffee right from the farmer to your door. You can share it with your friends or keep it till next December’s harvest! Support the farmers and their new health clinic with one click.
Everything below and 1 pound of better than fair trade coffee right from the farmer to your door.
Everything below and a hot new CC T-shirt or tank top with the softest fabric this side of American Apparel.
Eye exam in the Los Robles Clinic
Everything below and a personal post card from one of our staff sent all the way from Nicaragua.
Everything below and a hot new CC sticker. Show your friends that you are part of the puzzle!
Everything below and be a guest blogger on our site. Tell the world why you support community development in Nicaragua.
Our model is built on investment. not handouts. To receive a water filter each family has to volunteer for 16 hours on a community improvement project.
Spotify playlist of the best Nicaraguan music made by entire CC staff, and Facebook post.
Facebook post on your wall recognizing your global citizenship with a photo of you photo-shopped into Nicaragua. Next year we can take a real photo.