Bridges to Community Maternity House Exceeds Expectations

September 11th, 2015

Casa materna_2015_Bluesky“I think what stood out to me the most was the participation of the community members in the construction. People traveled for an entire day by foot to help. We realized then the real importance of the maternity house–how much these communities needed it.” -Apolinar Centeno, Project Coordinator, Siuna

The idea for the Siuna Maternity House came unexpectedly during a community meeting in Hormiguero to discuss a proposed health center. “As we were talking about the health center, the focus shifted to a maternity house, and in the diagnostic study that we conducted, it was mentioned by almost everyone in the community.” The nearest hospital to Hormiguero is a 15 to 16 hour walk away, making it very difficult for pregnant women to receive the care they need during and after childbirth.

CasaMaterna_BedsFor that reason, community members prioritized the construction of a maternity house.  A maternity house is a place where women can go and stay a little before their due date, that has access to vehicles to transport women to a nearby hospital when they go into labor.

DC-IT_2014_CasaMaterna_LeslieBridges to Community volunteers began construction on the maternity house in March of 2014 with the DC-IT Professionals Group. Hugo Gonzalez, International Volunteer Coordinator in Siuna at the time, remembers that group well: “There were only four people in the group, but you could just feel the excitement. That first day, we began the foundation–digging, mixing cement–it was very difficult, but we saw that it was possible. At that moment, the passion that would continue for the rest of the project was born.”

Even on that first day of construction, community members were out in strides helping with the construction. Men, women, and children all came. “The children were helping to pass out water to everyone working.  No one asked them to do it. They just did it,” remembers Apolinar. And they came from all over, not just Hormiguero. “We realized then that the project was going to benefit more than just the community members of Hormiguero, and it has.”

CasaMaterna_JadiraFrancisca_Nurse_SiunaSince its opening in August of 2014,  120 women have stayed at the maternity house. What came as a surprise, however, was that more than just pregnant women close to their due dates have been receiving care. Women have been coming in after giving birth to receive care before returning to their faraway homes; non-pregnant women have been coming to get their check ups done; and now, even children have been coming in with their mothers to see the doctor. Apolinar believes that this is because the closest health center can get very overcrowded and is rather small, while the maternity house has extra rooms for consultations. Plus, there is a doctor at the maternity house every day, thanks to Nicaragua’s Health Department ensuring that the maternity house be fully staffed.

Another great unexpected outcome of the project has been that community midwives are now accompanying pregnant women from their communities to the maternity house.  Since the women trust these midwives and know them well, they can help to communicate better with the doctors and ensure that the women feel comfortable and safe. One midwife from Hormiguero, Francisca, has been attending to childbirths for over 30 years. She now visits the maternity house frequently as a volunteer, and her daughter, Yadira, is now studying to become a nurse and also volunteers at the maternity house.  Both of them have received valuable trainings over the years from the medical brigades that come down with Bridges to Community, and this has been very helpful at the maternity house.

CasaMaterna_Newborn_SiunaOverall, the Maternity House has exceeded all expectations, and continues to grow as a center for women’s health. Today, the soon to be mothers in Hormiguero will never have to experience a two day walk to get to a hospital when there are complications in their pregnancies and childbirths. They now have a place to go where they will be cared for and treated well.  All of that is thanks to the incredible supporters, volunteers, and donors of Bridges to Community and this Siuna Maternity House project.



Bridges Scholarship Highlight: Mariela Martinez!

May 29th, 2015

Mariela at her graduation

Mariela at her graduation

“My inspiration to study nursing is my mother. She has always helped our community as a health leader and midwife. I was inspired of what she was capable of doing without ever having received a formal education, but was still able to have a profound impact on my community.”

Mariela Martinez, a nursing school graduate from the community of Santa Rosa, Siuna, worked hard to get where she is. Mariela was Bridges to Community’s very first scholarship student from Siuna in 2003, when her family struggled to cover the expenses for her to attend high school. Upon graduating, Mariela was driven to continue studying and enrolled in college, but due to personal financial difficulties, she was unable to continue and had to drop out. “I always wanted to prepare myself with an education to be able to support my family. I come from a family of 8, and a good education paid by my family just wasn’t an option.”

Luckily, Bridges had grown our scholarship program to include University students, and Mariela once again applied to Bridges to complete a nursing degree. “My inspiration to study nursing is my mother. She has always helped our community as a health leader and midwife. I was inspired of what she was capable of doing without ever having received a formal education, but was still able to have a profound impact on my community.”

1460290_664821870228961_1844438818_nThroughout her nursing studies, Mariela has also been a great support to Bridges to Community in return; when she had vacation from class, Mariela donates her time and skills to assist in the clinics hosted by Bridges and visiting medical students and doctors, such as Tufts Medical School, Dartmouth Medical School and Lawrence Family Medicine, among others.

Mariela graduated with a nursing degree with a specialty in maternity care from UNAN University in Leon in December 2014. She is now looking for steady employment in the Siuna area, and continues to support Bridges medical brigades. She also hopes to learn English to better support Bridges’ projects and volunteers in Siuna.

11035708_372445436289635_191701442562589412_oWhen asked where she thinks she would be if she had not been able to receive a scholarship from Bridges, Mariela laughs and says “On the farm surely, taking care of the cows and chickens! I think the best thing Bridges can implement is the scholarship program, education is first. With just a little financial help the investment in our education has exponential results. I am so grateful to Bridges and its donors because thanks to them, I’ve set my life goals high…I hope to one day speak English to be able to personally say…. Gracias Bridges to Community.”

Furnishings to be Donated to Maternity Center!

July 8th, 2014

The maternity center in Hormiguero, Nicaragua, nears completion.

The maternity center in Hormiguero, Nicaragua, nears completion.

Masaya – Bridges Nicaragua Country Director Kenia Ramirez has announced a wonderful donation from the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health that will help us stock and furnish our Maternity House in Siuna! “Bridges will complete construction of the Maternity Clinic by July 10th and is excited to see its great impact on the people of Siuna. Thanks to the Ministry of Health, the clinic’s effect will be amplified and accelerated,” stated Director Kenia Ramirez

In partnership with the community, City Hall (alcaldía), and the Nicaragua Ministry of Health, Bridges chose to build the Maternity House in El Hormiguero, a rural community with limited access to health treatment. The concept of the Maternity House is a key strategy in global health planning to ensure pregnant women in isolated rural areas can receive proper treatment throughout their pregnancy.

This lack of treatment and medical attention for pregnant women is a big problem in this region of Nicaragua, where more than 18,780 people live in a very remote and diffuse set of 28 communities. Most pregnant women either give birth at home or must travel very far to reach a hospital, both of which can be extremely dangerous. We are building the Maternity House to offset this issue by providing mothers a facility with sufficient resources. Its purpose is to have a place for women to go in their last months of pregnancy where they can have access to a doctor and nurse prior to giving birth. The Maternity House will allow more consultations, faster emergency care, and greater access to medicine. Additionally, workshops will be held at the clinic to inform people of safe practices during pregnancy and birth. The before and after treatment offered is to reduce the chances of death due to things like complicated births and infections in both mother and infant.

As we neared completion of the facility, the Ministry of Health was eager to contribute to the project. They will donate 15 beds, mosquito netting, bedding, towels, chairs, a large stove, kitchenware, and a water tank. Executive Director John Hannan thanks the Ministry of Health “for providing these necessary items that will help to increase maternal and infant health.”

University of Nevada’s Upcoming Medical Brigade in Tadazna, Nicaragua

June 12th, 2014

Nine medical students and doctors will establish and run a clinic

Nine medical students and doctors will establish and run a clinic

We are extremely excited about the University of Nevada, School of Medicine’s (UNSOM) fast-approaching trip to Tadazna, Nicaragua. The medical school has been sending students to Nicaragua for five years and continues to do so because of the positive feedback it receives from the volunteers. One alumnus described the experience as “a really wonderful opportunity to give people in need medical attention, improve global health, gain applicable medical experience, learn about different health care systems, and discover other cultures.”

Nine medical students and doctors from the university will volunteer a week of their time to provide medical care to a community that would otherwise have very limited access to health treatment. There is a health post in Tadazna that is organized by the National Health Ministry of Nicaragua, but it is often understaffed. As such, many people are not able to see a doctor and do not receive the care they deserve.  The UNSOM delegation will help alleviate this problem during their stay.

To give more people in Tadazna and the surrounding region medical attention, the delegation will establish and run a clinic for five days from 8am to 5pm. The medical students, under the supervision of UNSOM and Nicaraguan doctors, will see between 60 and 100 patients each day. They will also hold workshops to teach safe practices and minimize health risks, decreasing the need for medical attention in Tadazna.

In their free time, the medical students will work on constructing a safe, sanitary, and environmentally friendly stove and latrine. These projects will reduce the contraction of debilitating diseases, again lowering the number of patients seeking medical assistance. The Tadazna community is “thankful to the University of Nevada students for improving the standard of health and health care through a variety of measures.”

Great Progress on Siuna Maternity Clinic Achieved Throughout April

May 22nd, 2014

Construction on Maternity House in El Hormiguero continues at a fast pace

Construction on Maternity House in El Hormiguero continues at a fast pace

Bridges to Community Siuna Site Coordinator Bryan Kirkup is proud to report that our major project in his area, the Maternity Clinic in El Hormiguero, is fast moving to completion.

Throughout the month of April great progress was made on site, Bryan tells us.  Walls went up, holes for septic tanks were dug, doorways were constructed, and an electricity pylon was installed.  El Hormiguero residents, Bridges employees, and a Fox Lane High School delegation will finish construction and painting of the clinic with the ribbon cutting ceremony slated for early July.

When completed, the clinic will not only offer medical opportunities, but also educational ones. Workshops for midwives, doctors, and pregnant women will be held by Nicaraguan health officials as well as Bridges volunteers to inform people on safe and healthy practices during pregnancy and birth.

Since we started planning this project, community members and Nicaraguan health ministry staff have told us how important they think this project is for the whole Siuna area population.  Most pregnant women living in this rural, highly dispersed region give birth at home under dangerous conditions or travel great distances to the Siuna city hospital. According to local community members, mothers who go to Siuna “are uncomfortable, miss the support of friends and family, and have limited access to water.”

The Bridges to Community maternity house will benefit the local communities and the region by providing a closer birthing facility that offers sufficient resources, the comfort of home, and the comfort of loved ones. Additionally, it will provide the area access to more doctors, more consultations, faster emergency care, and greater access to medicines. These factors will lead to lower maternal deaths in the region.

Upon viewing the outpouring of support from Bridges volunteers and the integrated planning process Bridges uses, the nearby community of El Torno approached Bridges with the concept of building a school.  This need will be investigated as Bridges staff complete their new five year assessments and planning process this summer.  “The community’s outreach displays Bridges’ success in Nicaragua,” stated Executive Director John Hannan. “We are excited that new communities are continually approaching Bridges with projects. We hope to incorporate many of these new initiatives as we roll out our updated strategic plan in the fall, expanding on our commitment to improving the quality of life in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.”

Carnegie Mellon Students’ Upcoming Trip to Rosa Grande

May 16th, 2014

Common, unimproved latrine verse newly constructed latrine

Common, unimproved latrine verse newly constructed latrine

On May 19 six volunteers from Carnegie Mellon University will travel to the geographically remote, rural community of Rosa Grande, Nicaragua. Throughout their seven-day journey the students will work together, along with local community members, to improve health conditions, teach computer and art skills, create a mural, and discover the similarities and wonderful cultural differences that exist in the world and amongst themselves.

In Rosa Grande they will target two major causes of health issues: cooking equipment and sanitation. Many families in the community cook meals using a wood-burning stove that sits in a corner of their small one-room home. These stoves produce immense amounts of smoke, which leads to debilitating respiratory problems for humans and deforestation of the surrounding environment. The stoves the volunteers will install are more efficient and have better ventilation, leading to decreased wood consumption and fewer respiratory infections.

The other main health target of this trip is the sanitation facilities. Most latrines in existence offer no privacy, result in environment and water contamination, and are shared among up to four families. But this situation is not even available to many- 57% of the population does not even have a latrine. Due to a lack of running water, Bridges must build pit latrines. While not like a modern indoor toilet, these far surpass the common sanitation facilities in Rosa Grande. Carnegie Mellon students will construct latrines that have a hole between 10 and 15 feet deep and provide privacy with 8-foot walls and a door. While we often ignore these seemingly simple things, if proper necessities are not met, people’s basic health needs cannot be reached.

After long mornings of construction, the students will spend afternoons exploring their more creative side. Along with community participants, the volunteers will paint a lively mural on the local chocolate factory wall. They will also delve into concepts of community and culture with elementary school kids through art classes. In order to give Rosa Grande citizens better occupational opportunities, students will hold computer classes to advance technological skills. The Carnegie Mellon students will help Rosa Grande in many facets ranging from bathroom facilities to artwork, leaving their mark on the community and forever changing themselves.

Check the Bridges to Community Facebook page to see the great work and success from the Carnegie Mellon delegation!

Bridges Breaks Ground on the Casa Materna!

March 26th, 2014

Volunteers and Community Members at the site of the new Casa Materna in Hormiguero Near Siuna, Nicaragua.Construction of the Casa Materna in the community of Hormiguero near Siuna, Nicaragua began on February 17th, 2014. That same day a portion of the construction site was cleared with the support of four community members from the Paragua neighborhood. The 20th of February we began leveling the ground with the support of our engineer who directed members of the communities of Agua Sucia, El Caraus, and Waspuko Central.

It is important to emphasize the participation of the communities in the work of preparing the ground for construction. Additionally, women from the Community of Santa Rosa participated in the work of cutting iron and putting together columns of iron. All of this participation increases the motivation of other families in other communities in the zone of Hormiguero.

After the design, leveling and measuring of the land were completed, columns for the seismic beams were tied together and put up. In addition to community members, Bridges volunteers arrived to help.  Our Engineer identified a few issues that had not been outlined in the project design plan. One of the difficulties was the site location grading was more than anticipated with a total difference of 2 meters between lowest part and highest part. We requested help from the Mayor’s Office but the needed equipment was already being used to improve the highway.

Community members ready steel beams for use in the Casa MaternaIn a meeting with the contractor Miguel Perez and the engineer it was decided to lower the highest part half way and use the soil to raise the lower part. This work was done with the support of the communities who are always willing to work so that the project succeeds.

Achievements Obtained in the first 10 days of work:
1. Setting up of the construction site by the contractor;
2. Storage of all the construction materials in the security shed;
3. Visit by Engineer Julio Munoz to the construction site and participation in the final design and leveling of the construction site;
4. Participation by 8 communities in the Hormiguero zone; 33 men and 2 women participated for a total of 35 community members;
5. Request in ENEL Siuna for the installation of 45 meters of 3×4 wire for 220 and installation of a post for lighting installation;
6. Leaders of the community of Hormiguero were made aware of the construction process in order to lead advancements by community members;
7. Needed tools such as shovels, picks, wheelbarrows, and bars for digging are all available for digging and leveling;
8. Purchase of materials for local construction.

1. The unexpected magnitude of difference in slope of the land;
2. The final part of the regional elections decreased participation of community members in this phase of the construction of the maternity house;
3. Adjustments to the budget to include needed higher qualified workers;
4. Request to the Mayor’s Office for their machines to help level the land was not achieved because the machines were not available.
This report documents our first ten days of work. Despite the difficulties we have achieved a lot this initial phase of the project and continue working very hard in all aspects of the project so that we can achieve a very successful finished product with the help of all.

We want to thank everyone involved for the incredible support of this project, without your dedication to our aspirations none of this would be possible. Our deepest thanks to the Houston Family and the Sarita Kenedy East Foundations for their support of this project.  On behalf of the more than 20,000 family members who live in the communities that will directly benefit from this facility Bridges to Community thanks you for making this dream a reality. We also want to recognize our in-country Director, Kenia Ramirez, and the Siuna region Community Project Coordinator, Margarito Peralta, for their constant involvement and problem solving throughout this process. We will continue to update you and hope you will be able to be with us for the ribbon cutting in some near future date.

2014 DC-Area IT Professionals #2, March 8th – March 16th

January 21st, 2014

2012_8_5th Annual DC FundraiserThis trip is organized by leaders in the Information Technology industry working in the Washington, DC area.  This will be their TENTH trip since 2006!  This group has built dozens of houses, multiple schools and have raised thousands of dollars in the past eight years in  Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.  What an amazing group!  This trip is open to anyone interested in helping make the world a better place!

2014 St Paul’s School, Concord, NH March 2 – March 9

August 6th, 2013

St. Paul's School_2012St. Paul’s School is a fully residential, co-ed, 9th-12th grade boarding school located on 2000+ acres near Concord, New Hampshire.  Founded in the Episcopal tradition, St. Paul’s School models and teaches a respect for self and others; for one’s spiritual, physical, and emotional well-being; for the natural environment; and for service to a greater good.  We offer several service-learning based trips each year over spring break and encourage all of our students to participate in at least one trip during their career at SPS – the one pictured here is our group with Bridges to Community in Nicaragua.  Our students learn valuable lessons about adapting to a new location/environment, working with each other and people they’ve just met, solving real-world problems, and, most importantly, creating connections with communities around the world.

2013 Carnegie Mellon University May 21 – May 30

August 6th, 2013

Carnegie Mellon UniversityJuntos, formally known as Students in Free Enterprise: Nicaragua, was founded in August 2007 when ten students from Carnegie Mellon University came together as a part of a Latin American initiative. Over the next two years, they traveled to a Nicaraguan community outside Leon to teach entrepreneurship and financial literacy workshops and work on community development projects.

Starting in the fall of 2009, our group changed its direction and initiated a new partnership with Bridges to Community, an international non-profit that works year-round on human rights projects in Nicaragua. With an emphasis on long-term sustainability, we seek to raise the quality of life and empower the people of Rosa Grande, a rural community in north-central Nicaragua. Last year, much of our work in Rosa Grande was attempting to understand and improve the situation of the community in targeted ways, which helped us to define and build on our vision for the future. Our mission is to develop our initiatives of education, health and wellness, and environmental protection and foster dialogue between Rosa Grande and Pittsburgh that will affect change on the lives of all parties involved.

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