Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Health Promotion in Cedro Galan

It is hard to believe it is June already and there are only two months left of my volunteer service! The relationships I have made with the community have been life changing and ones that I will hold onto closely beyond my time here. I am already planning trips back! Fortunately, I have some exciting projects coming up.

An MPH student from Vanderbilt, Jessica, just arrived and I will be working with her the next two months to set up a health promotion program in our community of Cedro Galan. First, Jessica and I will be performing a community health assessment while community mapping (i.e. scouting out different stores, green spaces etc). This will give us a good idea of what we need to focus on for our health promotion program and the true community health needs.

So far, I have been working on health education materials in our clinic, such as brochures, pamphlets, posters, etc. However, this health promotion program will be taken a step further. After our assessments we will construct a health training curriculum in which we can train 5 community members who will become our health promoters. This is a great way to involve community members in their health needs and in preventing a lot of diseases. Partnering with the community is key! The 5 health promoters will go house to house and teach community members what they learned during our trainings in hopes to improve the health on a large scale.

Jessica and I are hoping to focus our program on preventable diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, which are major issues in our community. While we have seen this as a major health implication, it is still necessary to gather the appropriate data to back our hypothesis. 

Overall, we are hoping to decrease the consumption of salt and sugar, increase green space, and educate our community members on the easy ways to prevent diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. I am so excited for this project and know it will be a great way to end my time with Manna Project International. 

By Natalie Ball

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Nicaragua Summer Interns

Our summer session 1 interns have acclimated quickly and are already fitting right in to our house, community, and programs! We are excited to have new faces and energies helping us out for the next few weeks and we know they are going to have a positive impact on MPI Nicaragua. The interns will be here until June 6th, then we have summer session 2 interns arrive. We are so looking forward to these next two months and the impact we can make as a team! 

By Blair McGee and Natalie Ball

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Surfing Sam

May is here already! Can you believe it? The past two weeks have been filled with lots of work and fun. The Austin Samaritans, a volunteer group out of Texas, came to visit our clinic in Villa Guadalupe. Program Directors Erica, Elena, and myself worked alongside the volunteers fitting community members with prescription reading glasses. We ended up handing out over 85 pairs of glasses to community members over the age of 40. It was a very successful day. Our monthly Milk Day was also a success. In addition to handing out vitamins and milk we did hemoglobin testing to test for anemia. If a child had low hemoglobin levels we would instruct their mothers on the correct dosages of iron to supplement their diets in order for them to improve their health. I had the opportunity to work along side Program Director Natalie, also a fantastic nurse, assisting her with administrating the tests to the kids. There is a lot going on at the VG clinic, so it has been a great opportunity to work alongside all the organizations and volunteers. Despite all the work, I was able to escape to the beach for one of the best swells to hit Nicaragua in the past decade... Gotta love Nicaragua!!!! 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Tres Mariposas By Katy Clements & Dana Hanley

For most of us growing up, being able to do arts and crafts or having safe spaces to play games with friends was a given. But here in Nicaragua there are few places where kids can just go and be kids. Camp JAM aims to address this by providing a safe space and creative outlet for the children living in Cedro Galan. It has definitely become one of my favorite programs during my time here, and I have so much fun working with these kids every week. They are always lined up at the door when we arrive and can't wait to see what we have planned for the day! It's great to see how excited they get and how much of an impact something seemingly so small can make on their lives. 

This week we got extra messy with some face painting! The kids absolutely loved it and insisted that we do it again soon. 

By Dana Hanley

One of the best days of Camp JAM this year was when we did face-painting. We had some new recruits that day, and we think the face-painting sealed the deal for their future commitment to the program-especially when they showed up to the next class asking for a new design!

By Katy Clements 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Nurses Do Good!

Hola todos! 

Excited to be updating you all. A lot has happened these past few months, but I want to highlight one of my favorites weeks.

In March, we hosted spring break groups from universities all over the country. Seven students from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing (my alma mater!) spent spring break in our community in Nicaragua working with my non-profit, Manna Project International, a non-profit that uses the passion and energy of young people to empower developing international communities through hands-on learning and service.

It was such a great opportunity for the freshmen nurses to enhance their skills in taking vital signs and in getting a head start on the importance of physical assessment and pain assessment.

From 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day we worked at two community clinics, shadowing a doctor and nurse, educating patients, collaborating with medical and pre-med students and performing community home visits/assessments.

Our main project was de-parasiting our community, which was done for the first time ever in our communities, Manna Project International has never implemented a health project on such a large scale before...
We ended up de-parasiting 1,004 community members - far over our goal!, and we were able to incorporate nursing education by focusing on the importance of hygiene and hand washing to prevent parasites. Below are graphs that depict the populations that received the de-parasiting medications. You’ll notice a slight spike in the age graph for 11 year olds, which is because of the 6th Grade health classes we specifically gave out to (as we are their teachers). Also, there were 48 people who did not record their age on the sheet, and they all are probably older. But, you can see that we generally helped out a good sample of Nicaragua, which is a very young population compared to the United States. And a hefty sample at that.  

Parasites and preventable diseases are a large problem in rural Nicaraguan communities due to poor hygiene, lack of hand washing and contaminated water and food. As part of the de-parasiting treatment, the freshmen nursing students gave out medication free of charge, staffed an education table for teaching the patients the importance of hand washing and proper sanitation and distributed free soaps and toothbrushes. We had to be sure patients understood all the instructions because so many of the people cannot read or write, let alone understand the complexity of health literacy.

It was such important practice for the nursing students to learn to be culturally sensitive and to work on their Spanish skills and to be fully exposed to global health issues. While working on pediatric, adult and geriatric cases, we focused on the importance of holistic care, understanding where the patients live, what they eat, their financial restrictions and their cultural barriers. 

One patient we cared for was a woman who had two toes amputated due to an infection. The nursing students had the opportunity to not only learn about wound care but also about issues the woman faced regarding limited transportation to the hospital and lack of cleanliness in rural conditions during the dry season where dust and dirt can easily permeate an open wound. 

Overall, we had such an amazing week and made a major impact in our community. De-parasiting 1,004 community members, wow! I was so incredibly proud of my nursing students who dedicated a week to Manna Project International and the communities in which I work. With Penn Nursing’s motto, Care to Change the World, I can most definitely say they changed the lives of many - into healthier, more lively ones. I can’t thank them enough.

By Natalie Ball

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Live, Love, Lax

Of all places to learn how to play lacrosse, I never dreamed it would be here in Nicaragua! I started working with the Lacrosse the Nations program in February at Club Hope. Each day my skills improve with the help of these kids. It is a very positive environment. We are always cheering each other on and help each other learn new skills. Last week we scrimmaged, and I scored one goal. (I’ve come a long way.) After the class one of the kids said his favorite moment of the day was watching me score a goal. I am just so glad I joined this program and have the opportunity to spend time with these kids.
By Juliene Joyner

Monday, April 20, 2015


April is the Month of Microfinance! 2015 is Manna Project's second year partnering with Month of Microfinance, a grassroots movement of student and professional organizations with a passion for microfinance and an intense commitment to learning.

Over at Monthofmicrofinance.org, you will find daily blog contributions from a range of organizations. Not sure what Microfinance is? Check out this 2 minute overview:

Find Month of Microfinance on Facebook
Find Month of Microfinance on Twitter
Find Month of Microfinance events in your area
Find out what people are saying and join the conversation - search #MoMF15!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

An Update from Rob (Beards and Home-stays!)

A few Saturdays ago, after 257 days of growing my first beard, I once again saw my clean-shaven face in the mirror.  Though I recognized the reflection staring back at me, I knew that many of my fellow Program Directors (PDs) and the community members, that I had come to know in the past six weeks, had only met a masked version of me.   Some of the first community members I met were the Salazars, whom I joined for dinner on my third night in Nicaragua along with Gretchen, Alexa, and Blair.  As we exchanged names, they decided that a nickname was in order for the bearded man in front of them, a rarity here in Nicaragua.  After some discussion about the possibilities with my middle name, Paul (or ¿Paulo?) and the lack of white in my beard to warrant “Santa Claus,” they finally settled on “Barbara” (‘barba’ = beard in Spanish).  However, on the Thursday before I unsheathed my razor, I asked the Salazars to host me for a five-night homestay the next week.  They agreed, and I told them that they would have to start calling me “’Ra,’ sin ‘barba,’”
With only that terrible Spanglish riddle as forewarning, I walked up to their front door with Antony (their youngest at age 5 and a regular at our Camp JAM program) on my shoulders covering my face with his hands.  The matriarch, Elena, and Christián, her teenaged daughter, were surprised, to say the least, when Antony revealed my hairless chin.   For the next five days, I was Paulo: an estranged uncle or laggardly older son, who worked most of the day (on MPI programs), spoke with a strange accent and not even a kindergarten-level vocabulary, and ate enormous portions at breakfast, lunch and dinner down to the last grain of rice.   A note on the latter, I weighed myself before and after this five-day binge on Nicaraguan food without much exercise, and I had gained four pounds.
Between mouthfuls, during television programs, and while chores and homework were being done, Elena and Christián patiently practiced Spanish with me.  I tried to use my Spanish-to-English dictionary sparingly, but I still surmised that they are both certain that my mother is disappointed in my failure to provide her grandchildren as my three siblings have.  The patriarch, Eduardo, was far more interested about my time in Afghanistan, which we talked about at length in his brief periods home from work.  Eduardo Jr., their teenaged son often called ‘Eduardito,’ and the other boys from their cul-de-sac played baseball during nearly every sunlit minute that they were home from school.  I joined in, throwing out my arm by sunset everyday as our eyes squinted to see the ball jump off the bat in the dusty, dusk air of the dry season. 
Homestays are an invigorating phenomenon.  I think most of the PDs would agree that you get to know a family in the community more intimately and honestly.  Furthermore, these 120-hour snapshots of their daily lives give us a better perspective on their worldview and how our programs affect their rhythm and outlook.  Also, by forcing beginning Spanish speakers like myself to immerse ourselves, we can make a significant leap in our Spanish knowledge.  For me, a victory came when I said my first sentence in Spanish without translating it from English in my head beforehand.  Beyond just cultural exchange, though, the homestays develop a desire to continue building these relationships and new ones, which fortify the Community Focus organizational pillar of MPI.  Fundamentally, that is to know the people you are serving beyond just their names (nickname or given) and their faces (bearded or clean-shaven).
Kind Regards,

Thursday, February 12, 2015

From Summer Intern to Program Director

My first month back in Nicaragua as a Program Director is going by much faster than the month I spent here this summer as an intern. It seems that there is always something to do and the responsibilities of Program Directors are much greater than an intern. While working as a PD is a lot more work, it is also a lot more rewarding. We are able to build stronger relationships in the community, set goals and see them carried out, and I have been able to truly settle in and call the Manna house “home." One of the many things that make this work so rewarding - the smiles on these little girls' faces! I am so excited to see what the next seven months have in store!!

By Alexa Rothenberg

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Back in Nicaragua

After almost a year I’m finally back in Nicaragua! I am so excited to be in one of my favorite places working for an organization as wonderful as MPI. These first two weeks have been a bit overwhelming for myself and the other new 7-month volunteers. With Spanish classes four hours a day, multiple meetings, and settling into our new home and lives we’ve been quite busy!

Lex, Rob, and I have certainly learned many new things in a very short time. We’ve improved our Spanish, visited Cedro Galán, shadowed programs, and much more. Some of my favorite things we’ve done so far have been our community dinners and day trips. The community dinners allowed us the opportunity to share a meal with two families in Cedro Galán on two separate occasions. We were warmly welcomed into the homes of two great families our first week. They happily made us delicious meals and took the time to get to know us. They were also very patient with our rather limited Spanish vocabularies, too! These meals allowed us to be gently introduced into the community we will soon be working in, and it allowed us to makes connections in the hopes of forging friendships. As for the day trips, we recently traveled to Los Cardones, Laguna de Apoyo, and Granada. I’m eager to see what the rest of our time here has in store for us!

 By Blair McGee

Monday, January 26, 2015

Worcester State University Visit

We were happy to welcome our first visiting group, occupational therapy students from Worcester State University, this January. The students volunteered at a nearby occupational therapy organization, Tesoros de Dios. Program Directors were able to actively participate in the WSU visit by acting as translators at Tesoros de Dios. For a lot of health focused Program Directors, this was a great exposure to developmental, physical, and occupational therapy issues (such as cerebral palsy, autism, Down syndrome and spina bifida) within our communities here in Managua. After a great week of volunteering, the WSU group was able to explore the nearby cities of Laguna de Apoyo and Granada. Overall, we had an exciting week and look forward to hosting them again next year!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Happy, Healthy 2015.

Happy, Healthy 2015. 
Well. The first half of our time as Program Directors is complete - happy 2015 everyone! 
Weird to think how fast it has gone by, but let me tell ya - we have been busy!! While holistic community development is dynamic and diverse, it definitely adds a lot of “to dos” to my list. However, addressing the triple bottom line (people, planet, profit - social profit that is), is our top priority. Having the opportunity to immerse myself into such special communities has been inspiring, challenging, ridiculously fun, and a true blessing. I’ve had so many opportunities to grow as a nurse, an individual, a Spanish speaker, a volunteer, a global citizen. While I came here to give my services and support, I have been given so much more - happiness, acceptance, realizations, friendship, and love. To give is to receive. And to receive is to inspire. 
I have been determined to make a change - at least starting here in the communities in which I work. To partner and listen closely to the needs and assessments of the community- to collaborate and make change. People often forget that it’s the community that knows what change they need, want and can address. Change must start coming from the bottom up- with that it is essential to target community leaders that are excited, passionate, and driven to make a difference. One must look to…women! In a machismo culture ran by men, women are often overlooked and given less opportunity. Inspiring them and educating them on just how powerful they are is critical. And the key to true, ongoing change.
The woman - mom, wife, daughter, sister… Change Agent. To give health and education to a woman is to give her opportunity. And to give her opportunity givers her power. With power comes conflict and with conflict comes change. Being able to protect pregnant woman from illness and provide a healthy pregnancy increases maternal health and decreases child mortality (two of the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals goals… three if you include women’s empowerment). This leads to the opportunities of life… offering universal education to all - GIRLS and boys, which opens various, critical doors. 
As you can see, empower the women = empower the family. With a healthy family comes future and hope. I can rant about this forever but I think you get my point - we need to find leaders, namely women, who are passionate and care to change the world. 


Safe to say there is a lot to be done but now that I have established a trustworthy, real, sincere relationship with the community I believe together we can catalyze change. My hope? A field, trash collection system program, health promotion program and an overall healthy Cedro Galán and Villa Guadalupe, the two communities I work in, live in, and now feel I truly belong in. 
Happy, HEALTHY 2015 you all - Feliz Año Nuevo… let’s start making change! 
p.s. - - My New Years' resolution is to blog more! So stay tuned.