Monday, March 24, 2014

UNC Spring Break Volunteers Host First Ever Health Fair at Public School in Chiquilistagua

Health was the main focus of our spring break project in Nicaragua. It consisted of everything from attending forwardHEALTH generation classes, helping at the new Cedro Galán clinic, visiting children at the Villa Guadalupe Child Sponsorship program, and spreading the word about our community health fair held at the end of the week. We got to see and do a wide variety of things throughout our time in the country.  The forwardHEALTH generation class was a huge eye-opener for us. It was amazing to see the motivation and determination that these children had to learn about health. We could not even imagine high school children in the US giving up a Sunday night to learn about health. Seeing the drive these kids had helped us refocus our life goals and aspirations.

In addition, we assisted the Program Directors at the Cedro Galán clinic. It was both a rewarding and empowering experience. Seeing the members of the community appreciate the excellent service of the clinic at a very low cost was promising in the clinic's development. From the patients who visited the clinic, we were able to notice that the easy access to healthcare has positively influenced the community.  Although many of the things provided in the clinic are services that we often take for granted in America, it means a great deal to the community to have access to affordable, quality health care.

The health fair we put together was an amazing way for us as students to promote healthcare and reach out to the community on a more personal level. Interacting with the children and their parents was such a rewarding experience--we essentially set up ten stations with basic health facts and lifestyle skills, where each had a game to go along with it for the children. We promoted hand-washing, vaccinations, exercise, and healthy eating while playing games that creatively related to each of these areas of health and more. The health fair was a success mainly because we were able to reach the children in the community who can retain this information and live by it. In this way, early education to the children can ultimately better the community.  The health fair was also a success because the community had never had anything like this before and there was a great turnout.  The community often has trouble getting people to attend these sort of things and through advertising in the community we were able to get people to attend. Their face lite up with joy, and everyone really enjoyed the fair.  Seeing the smiles on their faces and knowing that we provided them with positive health information was really rewarding.  Overall our trip to Nicaragua was unforgettable.  Through connecting with the lives of the community members, improving our Spanish skills, and making bonds with other volunteers, we were able to truly make an impact with Manna.

A special note to our wonderful PDs: We couldn't have asked for any better when it came to our PDs Nicole and Erica! They made us feel right at home upon our arrival. Joking with us about how the PDs came up with designated shirt days for the week, getting competitive with some catch-phrase, and hanging out at the Laguna were fun times that we won't forget! We also can't forget the immense passion in both of them, it was quite contagious and they have many of us already planning on our next trip and even considering summer vol and PD options. Without them our trip would not have been as fun or successful, thanks so much guys! You will both be amazing doctors one day :)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Vandy's Top 11

Last week, we joined the Manna Project International Nicaragua team at their site in Managua. The eleven of us arrived after two rejuvenating nights in the Backpacker's Inn hostel in Managua, where we acclimated to the food and climate and got pumped for our week with Manna. We developed a system for taking a quick attendance of our group by counting off numbers one through eleven. This number system ensured we left no man or woman behind.  We thought it would be appropriate to section this blog post into our eleven favorite aspects of the week, in no particular order. 

1. Lacrosse the Nations (LtN) @ Club Hope: This was a great opportunity to play sports with the kids of Villa Guadalupe. Lacrosse dodgeball was bomb. Just imagine a game of dodge-ball with 30+ teenagers hurling tennis balls at each other with lacrosse sticks... 

2. English classes: We had the chance to visit English classes levels one, two, three and four of Manna's five English programs. Level one consistently had more than sixty students, and it was great to see the massive reach of Manna's language training. The upper level classes offered more opportunities for us to work one-on-one with students and to practice conversation with them. The dynamic lessons included everything from skits to singing "Wake Me Up."

3. Camp J.A.M.: Twice a week, dozens of kids flock to the community center, El Farito. Kids ages 3-teen came to hang out on Tuesdays and ThursdaysOn Tuesday, we read "The Rainbow Fish," and made our own rainbow fish (complete with aluminum foil scales). On Thursday, we did science experiments! 

4. Women's Exercise and Nutrition: This was our main project. We developed two healthy recipes to share with the women: a Nica salad and chilli. We discussed health benefits of limiting fat intake, boiling water, and eating a balanced diet. The exercise portion was limited to women only and included zumba, ab workouts, and weights. Around 15 women joined us for these.

5. Milk Day: In Villa Guadalupe, where the community members were living in the Managua municipal landfill just over a year ago, Manna operates the only clinic. We helped hand out supplies and check up on the young children registered with the clinic.

6. Roadside quesadillas: enough said.

7. Community Dinners: On Wednesday night, we split up into groups and dined with community members. This opportunity allowed us to get a glimpse of the long-lasting relationships Manna has developed with community members. In Lorena's house, she recalled stories about multiple Program Directors from the past ten years. 

8. Laguna de Apoyo: During our free Saturday before going to the Manna house, we visited Laguna de Apoyo, a volcanic lake near Granada. We heard about it from a friend we made at the hostel, and decided to give it a shot. We ate some great food and kayaked in the mineral blue water. This was a great introduction to Nicaragua. 

9. Lacrosse The Nations (LtN) @ Chiquilistagua: We woke up early to join the students in Chiquilistagua for LtN. One of the Program Directors, Javier, has been especially plugged into LtN so Manna has a close relationship with the organization. They teach life lessons and discipline through lacrosse drills and matches.

10. León: After our week in Managua, we headed to León to visit museums and hit the beach. We were really looking forward to relaxing after an exhausting week (seriously, we're not sure how the PD's do this stuff every day for weeks on end) and to debrief /reflect on our week.

11. Danny and Juliene: Our fearless leaders. These program directors (PD) made our trip possible. They flawlessly orchestrated our complicated schedule. We were never late for a program, and always had everything we needed with their help (except when we ran out of peanut butter on Friday... we forgive you). Danny's energy is contagious, and his experience working at camps has set him up well for handling the kids in English class. Juliene is super enthusiastic, she came to Nicaragua a few months ago prepared to dive deeply into the culture and improve her Spanish. She totally channels her former basketball captain into her enthusiasm in class, engaging students and maintaining their attention. They are both extremely outgoing and talkative, regaling us with their tales from their PD experiences. 

Overall, our week with Manna Nicaragua gave us a great idea of what the daily life of a Program Director is like, and we had ample opportunity to get personally plugged into the weekly programming activities.

- MPI-Vanderbilt