International Academic Collaboration Compliments Grassroots Community Development in Nicaragua

Joint effort of Comunidad Connect and Social Enterprise @ Goizueta attracts new partners

Los Robles, Jinotega, Nicaragua- May 6, 2015

Representatives from several universities, local health workers and volunteers, and Comunidad Connect staff and members of the board of directors convened in Los Robles, Nicaragua on April 25th for a three day summit to discuss collaboration in research, solutions in rural healthcare, and service learning. The summit was part of the Nicaragua Community Health Connection, an effort led by the Nicaragua-based nonprofit, Comunidad Connect and Social Enterprise @ Goizueta at Emory University.


Faculty from Emory were joined by colleagues from Kennesaw State University (KSU), University of Calgary, Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC), and the Nicaraguan UNAN-Matagalpa to discuss research on topics ranging from surveys on diabetes and the cultural context of health intervention to the application of “telehealth” technology in

rural settings.


The group was informed about local priorities by Dr. Alfredo Alanis, the general practitioner at the health clinic recently constructed by Comunidad Connect in Los Robles, and Dr. Lazaro Gamez, Assistant Director of the primary health center in the departmental capital Jinotega. Local health volunteers, responsible for the coordination of health programs and emergency assistance, joined the group at an open house of the health clinic. These volunteers, known as “brigadistas,” will assist in data collection efforts by partnering with researchers for household visits.


The academic research on rates of diabetes and cultural context of healthcare will be supported by ongoing student service learning trips and internships. Comunidad Connect has been hosting university student groups in Los Robles since 2008. Over 20 groups will visit Nicaragua in 2015 to understand local health priorities and gain firsthand experience with projects on clean water access, rural healthcare, and community development.


"The Los Robles clinic is an important component of our Nicaragua Community Health Connection program, providing a center of gravity for health outreach and education for the local community,” states Comunidad Connect founder and summit organizer, Jon Thompson. "The summit provided an opportunity for a growing network of community

members and external supporters to come together and discuss important health- related issues. We hope this will be the first in many more summits to come," states Dr. Wesley Longhofer of Social Enterprise @ Guizueta who will accompany the next service learning student group from the Guizueta Business School at Emory University to Los Robles in May.


Dr. Barbara Blake and Mr. Johnathan Steppe, nursing faculty from KSU, agree, "It was inspiring to see such a diverse group of academics, local health providers, and community leaders come together to discuss how we can work together to improve the health and well-being of the people in Los Robles. We look forward to our continued collaboration as we build a community-based participatory research agenda that will provide the foundation for future health initiatives in Los Robles."


Highlighting the success of the meeting, Dr. Warren Wilson of the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology of the University of Calgary notes, “My colleagues at Emory and I figured out how to merge our projects to provide a more comprehensive consideration of health outcomes and predictors in the region. The presentations by colleagues from KSU and ABAC provided insight into other research and intervention plans, and the input from Comunidad Connect staff, UNAN-Matagalpa and the Nicaraguan Health Ministry greatly enhanced my understanding of other variables which may influence the well-being of the citizens of Los Robles.”


Speaking about the benefits of an internet-based teleconference technology proposed for the new health clinic, the Dean of the School of Nursing and Health Sciences at ABAC, Troy Spicer, notes, “The installation of telehealth in a remote mountain clinic will allow our nursing students and rural studies students to participate in virtual study abroad programs as they observe clinic operations and interact with their colleagues in Nicaragua.”


The summit resulted in agreements to conduct research collaboratively, share findings and data when appropriate, and to raise resources jointly when possible. To formalize their collaboration, the academic institutions will aim to develop memoranda of understanding with the Ministry of Health in partnership with the Nicaraguan National University and Comunidad Connect. Dr. Wilson is currently designing surveys in collaboration with Dr. Sonya Haw of Emory University School of Medicine and the local brigadistas. Dr. Wesley Longhofer will arrive to Los Robles with the next group of students from the Goizuieta Business School of Emory University on May 9th.



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:


Nicaragua Community Health Connection is a joint effort between Comunidad Connect and Emory University Center for Social Enterprise that cultivates resources to counteract poverty and provide healthcare in isolated communities by investing in social capital and local leadership. To learn more visit:

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