The 2011 Class consisted of two teams: the Health Team and the Community Development team. The following information was drawn from the final reports developed by members of both teams.
The Health Team
The Health Team was responsible for two different components of in-country work: clinic attention and health education. Prior to the trip, the group met to discuss their possible strengths, interests, and the needs of the Nicaraguan communities they would be serving, as identified by Dr. Keren Brown Wilson from the Jessie F. Richardson Foundation.
The health clinics were bolstered by the addition of an eyeglass distribution project that provided over 300 prescriptions glasses and 200 reading glasses to people in Nicaragua who previously did not have access to this type of service. The people helped were extremely grateful, yet the team members felt that they themselves received the greatest reward.
Before departing to Nicaragua, the Community Health Team created a lengthy list of supplies that could be used at the different hogares (homes for elders), clinics, and rural hospitals; items included but were not limited to the following: over the counter pain relievers, oral hygiene items, skin and body care, hand and foot care, hair and scalp care, ear and eye care, internal medicines, first aid and hygiene, clinical equipment, and more. They were very grateful to receive donations from different suppliers that included Providence Health, Oral B, and Goodwill.
Three health clinics were held in Boaco and Juigalpa, and were organized and divided into three different areas: triage, clinic, and pharmacy. The first clinic was held at the “El Comedor” or meal site for elders in Boaco city that serves around 30-40 people every day during lunchtime. The second clinic was held in a rural community in Boaco called Santa Elisa. The third clinic was held in Cuapa, a small town near Juigalpa, where nearly twice the number of patients attended.
Health education presentations were prepared for diabetes, first aid, aging, and sensitivity training. Members from the diabetes team were able to lend their skills to health clinics that were administered by Dr. Milton Lopez, the program’s Nicaraguan partner. During the clinics, nearly 500 older Nicaraguans had blood glucose tests. The diabetes team gave many presentations and distributed handouts on the basics of diabetes, emphasizing the importance of exercise and diet in order to control Type 2 diabetes.
The team provided first aid presentations, using kits that were donated by Goodwill, to different groups. The team held the very first First Aid training for the Nicaraguan National Police force in this program’s history. Other groups included the Red Cross, hogar caretakers, a youth group, and interested community members. Each participant was individually called to the front of the group and presented with a certificate, followed by a handshake and a pose for the camera.
The sensory kit presentation was tailored specifically to the Nicaraguan culture and customs. During the trip, six presentations were delivered including three in Boaco and three in Juigalpa. The audience varied from kindergarten youth to the Board of Directors of Juigalpa’s Hogar. The presentations consisted of an introduction to gerontology, a brief explanation of aging process and sensory changes, sensory kit exercises and interactive discussion with the audience. All participants enjoyed the presentations and developed a better understanding of sensory changes and the aging process.
The Community Development Team
The goals of the community development (CD) team consisted primarily of two parts: to improve the built environment for older adults in selected cities of Nicaragua and to meet with community leaders in order to complete an asset mapping of different organizations in the area. The intended outcome of asset mapping was to identify groups that could participate in creating an intergenerational program for youth and older adults. The CD team was also responsible for engaging in activities with the older adults of the communities they were serving while the health team completed clinics and educational workshops.
The CD team compiled a number of intergenerational activities consisting of music and dance, arts and crafts, exercise, and games, all of which could serve as a template for future use by organizations interested in cultivating such relationships in their communities. Project planning for built projects in the community proved to be a challenge for the team as details required for the implementation of these projects were often in the process of being finalized. The team compiled a list of supplies for the proposed projects that included a potential roof for the previously-built “bottle house”, a water catchment project, and a handrail installation project. Upon arriving in the country the team immediately began a dialogue with local construction workers and welders to create a project budget and refine the list of supplies necessary to complete the project. Other team members scheduled meetings with community stakeholders and organizations to initiate the community asset mapping.
In order to implement the installation of handrails, Dr. Milton Lopez of the JFR Foundation worked in partnership with the Ministry of Health in Boaco as well as the Damas Vicentinas to identify areas with the highest need. He helped prepare necessary information such as physical maps and materials lists, and JFR identified a local welder to help install the handrails. It was imperative to find a local welder to assist in this project and this was also coordinated by JFR.
Some members of the group were able to tap into local resources in Portland to find out the kinds of tools necessary for the work and the amount of time if might take to complete.
The first worksite was in front of the Casa Betania, run by Sor Mercedes, at which there was a need for hand rails here because of the many elderly residents of Boaco visiting the health clinic. The second site was across the street from the central plaza in front of the Ministry of Health. The finished products should prove to be a great improvement for the community, and both Sor Mercedes and the director for the Ministry of Health were pleased with the end results. The team was fortunate to witness the rails being used immediately upon completion. Another unexpected benefit of building the rails for Sor Mercedes was creating stronger relationships among community members and opening up the discussion of having more intergenerational programs between the students at her school and older adults.
Intergenerational Projects and Community Asset Mapping
These projects were implemented in both Boaco and Juiglapa. Intergenerational programming involves creating informal interactions between youth and senior adults. Community stakeholders in Nicaragua have expressed that they are experiencing weakened connections between one generation to the next, so members of the CD team met with a group of youth in Boaco known as ACJ during their first week in country who had chosen older adults as their community focus. ACJ expressed an interest in expanding existing intergenerational projects they already had developed and were advised by the CD team to look into connecting with the older adults that lived closer in the community such as adults that the health team held a clinic for at a meal site in Boaco.
The CD team also performed asset mapping with the leaders of ACJ. This involved making a list of potential partner organizations which exposed some of the communication barriers that often exist among organizations. Leaders of the ACJ also expressed interest in participating in educational trainings led by the CD team and the Health team, so the teams provided CPR/First Responder training as well as Diabetes education to willing participants of the ACJ youth group. This facilitated a group discussion about the aging population, its impending growth, and how the youth felt about the older adults in their community.
Another group of students in Boaco belonged to an organization called Juventudes Marianas Vicentinas (JMV), and the CD team was able to open up a discussion about future intergenerational projects by meeting with JMV and completing trainings that included CPR/First Responder, Diabetes, and sensitivity kits. The JMV then performed a “danza de los viejitos” for the CD team, a dance that celebrates older adults through music and comedy.
Upon arrival in Juigalpa the CD group immediately began setting dates for meetings in order to complete community asset mapping. The first day in the new city members of the CD team visited the Hogar with the Health team and met with community stakeholders that had an interest in the Hogar and its residents. The CD team took notes as owner Doña Dijana described the Hogar and its conditions and helped the team compile a list of community partners with whom they subsequently met to discuss their experiences at the Hogar and future project ideas.
The CD team used exercise posters from previous years to deliver presentations at the Boaco senior center and the Juigalpa health center. Despite some language complications, the presentations were a success for participants of all ages who enjoyed the stimulating and interactive exercises.
La Danza de los Viejitos
The CD team also arranged a Hogar party for which the team planned a variety of moves for dancing to the music of “danza de los viejitos.” The team researched the song in order to perform in a way that would honor the elders, including wearing proper costumes and accessories. Eight paper maché masks were constructed, dried, and painted with bright colors. The team met over Memorial Day weekend to learn the dance and upon arriving at the senior club in Managua, Nicaragua, was given the opportunity to witness an authentic Nicaraguan viejitos dance performed by a man and a woman. The experience confirmed an earlier suspicion that Nicaraguan viejitos dances are different than those in other Latin American areas; hence, the CD team altered the dance and performed at the Hogar in Boaco using many of the same elements but only two of the team’s members, one dressed as a man and the other as a woman.
Arts and Crafts
Artistic expression in Central America carries great significance and pride with every generation, and the individual expression through art is a method of healing and therapy at every age, in every country. The CD team used acrylic paints and glitter, lots of construction paper/white paper, and extra plastic cups from the fiestas to implement art projects in the Hogares. They assembled resources including makeshift paint trays created with construction paper. Finger painting proved to be a successful project with much interest among the elders who participated. The team also used string, beads, and delicately-cut poster-board to create name tags for the residents. The members felt that the art projects were hugely successful because the minds and bodies of the residents were working together, and each resident who participated was able to create not only a piece of artwork, but a memory; their creations were paired with printed photos of themselves that day to hang in their rooms and enjoy until next time.
Another successful art project occurred not with the elderly, but with people in an isolated area deep in the hills outside of Boaco. Several members of the CD team traveled with the Health Team who were serving in a rural clinic, and after hiking for an hour through tropical wilderness, the team reached an isolated community of families. While Dr. Milton and the Health Team administered care to children and pregnant women in the area, the students entertained 13 adolescents with games, crafts, and enthusiasm. The actual art project involved the making God’s Eyes (Los Ojos de Dios). This, and also a project of Origami was very popular among the children, adults, and even the medics, who skillfully made boats, hats and flowers without formal instruction.
The Community Development members were instrumental in much of the behind-the-scene formulation and preparation of projects within the Health Team agenda with informational posters, gathering and combining necessities for sensitivity training, and filling out certificates for the locals receiving training. The many projects of the Health and Community Development Teams greatly relied on the combined efforts of all members, in unique ways.