The Lacrosse the Nations Cup

This year was the fourth annual LtN Cup and our most successful one to date. Not only did every team get fully sponsored by the day of the event, in total we raised over $40,000. This was $10,000 over our original goal, and over $35,000 more than LtN raised in their first Cup just three years ago. As LtN’s programs in Nicaragua continue to develop, the LtN Cup will only grow to include more players, coaches, and LtN scholars. Through this event, our LtN student-athletes are able to become agents of change for their communities and strong competitors in the lacrosse world. $4,500 of the total raised will go toward MPI's health clinics in Nicaragua.

As a Lacrosse the Nations Program Director, the LtN Cup was something I heard about before even arriving in Nicaragua. Whether I was speaking with my boss Javier, Senior Program Director Dan, or players who have participated in LtN programs in the past, everyone around me regularly expressed their excitement for this day. Having an athletic background, I could recognize and share in this excitement for competition; however, prior to experiencing the LtN Cup for myself, I can honestly say I had no idea just how special this day is.

The Cup is one of LtN’s biggest fundraisers. On the day of the event, teams that we coach from the Chiquilistagua Public School compete against the teams we coach at Club Esperanza Private school in Villa Guadalupe in a championship style format. The goal of the Cup is to get each team sponsored in order to play. Through their team’s sponsorship, LtN student athletes are able to play an active role in giving back to their communities.

On a weekly basis, we hold practices for various ages, from 4th grade all the way up to the high school level. One thing I immediately noticed upon arriving at practices was the players’ unarguable passion for lacrosse, across all age groups. Whether it was answering questions during our life skills discussions before practice, mastering a new concept, or scoring a “tuani” goal on the field, the kids show a constant love for the game. When it came to their preparation for the Cup, their motivation alone triggered my own excitement.

The day of the Cup is like no other. Players from each school arrive together on a bus geared up and ready to go. Normally, these kids practice on a gravel-dirt mixture or a concrete basketball court. On the day of the Cup, they are greeted by the site of three turf fields with painted lines and music playing. The players are divided into their respective teams and enter the fields single file. This moment alone gave me goosebumps, reminding me of when I would suit up for games. The only difference was, this is a special occasion that only comes around once a year for these kids, and they are playing for so much more.

I had the honor of coaching team Managua this year, a group of players from Chiqui. While we did not have the age or size of some other groups, I saw performances from these players that I had never seen before. Millie is high school aged girl who is able to come to practice just once a week. During the Cup she was our star defender - chasing down fast breaks and stealing the ball from boys twice her size. Fourth grader, Jose, who was by far the smallest player on the field, scored a hatrick in our last regulation game which took us to the semifinals for Chiquilistagua. Every accomplishment on the field was celebrated by team Managua that day (my personal favorite being the seated rowboat with their sticks). I could not have been more proud of my team, not for their physical performance, but for the mere energy they brought and encouragement they provided each other.

Whether players were from Chiquilistagua or Club Esperanza, being able to represent where they were from created a sense of belonging in their game. Each player's pride for their respective school and community was apparent in their demeanor. The desire to perform well and compete for their program really shown through. As a coach, there was nothing more gratifying than being able to witness all that their hard work amounted to.

 

 

Cedro Clinic Celebrates Third Anniversary

Health Fair at the Cedro Clinic

The Cedro Galán Clinic celebrated its third anniversary with a community health fair on Saturday, October 22nd. The health fair included 5 main themes:

  • sexual health
  • social health with a focus on preventing drug and alcohol abuse
  • nutrition and a balanced diet
  • diabetes education and prevention
  • mosquito-borne illnesses awareness and prevention

Each theme was comprised of an instructional component and a hands-on activity to reinforce the lesson. Students from our Generation (Youth Medical Career Education) program created posters, co-taught themes, and led games with Program Directors throughout the fair.

Further, our Girls' Health students expressed interest in educating their community on machismo culture. We loved this cross-bridging of MPI programs, as it allowed our students to be leaders and contribute to the sustainability of our initiatives. We also had child-friendly activities such as a dental hygiene station with toothbrush give-a-ways and face painting! 

Community members Gabby and Flor presented
their research on mosquito-borne illnesses:

Generation student Laura presented her
research on social health:

Children learned about the importance of dental hygiene
and practiced with new toothbrushes:

Martha and Irma had fun at the
face painting station:

USF Health Nicaragua’s 4th Capacity-Building Trip

Our time in Nicaragua always tends to feel too short. And the same can be said for our 4th annual capacity-building trip two weeks ago. However, our time there was packed full of activities, from clinical care to education to fun, and we’re thrilled with the results.

This was one of the largest groups we’ve had participate in our capacity-building trips and proved to be one of the best teams we’ve had yet. Our volunteers were motivated, passionate, and consistently willing to step in and lend a hand wherever needed.  There were 13 students and residents led by attending Dr. Elimarys Perez-Colon, Dr. Candice Mateja, and Dr. Bob Melosh. And of course, we couldn’t do what we do without our partner NGO, Manna Project International. Our clinical program director, Shanelle D’Alessio, assisted in leading the team throughout the week.

During the trip, we offered expertise in the specialties of internal medicine, pediatrics, and for the first time, surgery. We saw approximately 170 patients during the week. These included acute care visits and well child checks, and also wellness exams for all of our patients enrolled in our Chronic Patient Program. 

Our Chronic Patient Program is comprised of community members with diabetes mellitus and/or hypertension, and these individuals are closely monitored. USF Health Nicaragua has created evidence-based, community-specific guidelines for the management of these patients, and we’ve seen significant improvement in their blood pressures and A1Cs since instituting these guidelines. It has been wonderful to work with Dra. Wendy in developing and applying these guidelines, and Dra. Wendy continues to follow these guidelines when our team is at home in Florida. Our patients receive monthly supplies of their life-saving medications from the clinic, and they have extensive appointments with our specialists during our capacity-building trip. They all receive lab work at least twice annually, and more often if needed. The visits during our capacity-building trips include review of lab work, discussion on medication adherence and tolerance, and extensive education on lifestyle modifications and long-term management of disease. We were thrilled this trip to see that the majority of our chronic patients continue to be well-controlled. And spotlight on Yolanda (pictured second from the left below), whose Hemoglobin A1C continues to decline, dropping from 7.8 in our spring trip to 6.3 this trip!

Home visits are a huge part of what we do, and we know that they can have a large impact on the health of the community. We are grateful that we can work with our Community Advisory Board to identify needy or at-risk patients who may benefit from a home visit. And we’re happy to say we saw more home visits than ever this trip! Our team visited 13 patients in their homes, and were able to provide interventions to decrease morbidity and mortality associated with a variety of conditions. Given the sustainability of our program, we will be able to monitor these individuals for improvement and look forward to visiting them again personally on our next visit.

As always, we strive to make education a focus during our trips. This time, Dr. Elimarys Perez-Colon led a community discussion on the Zika virus, which included a focus on methods for prevention. This topic was requested by the community, and was very well received, with over 40 members in attendance. Furthermore, thanks to generous donations from the Tampa General Hospital, USF, and City of Lakeland communities, we were able to hand out bug spray to pregnant women in the Cedro Galan area, helping reduce the risk of serious birth defects associated with the Zika virus.

We are thrilled with the outcomes of our trip, and miss our friends in MPI and the Cedro Galan community already! Can’t wait to return in the spring!  

Meet Program Director Brooke Wilson

#HumansOfManna: Meet Brooke Wilson

Happy Friday! Inspired by the moving work of HumansOfNewYork, We are hereby launching our weekly #HumansOfManna posts as spotlights on our incredible volunteers. Without further ado, meet Program Director Brooke Wilson!

Brooke, walk me through the busiest day of your week: 

6:30 am

Tuesdays are my busiest day! I start with a rich cup of coffee. I then begin a mile-long walk to the Chiquilistagua public school for Lacrosse the Nations (LtN) practice at 7:30am.

9:00 am

After practice, I hop into the Manna micro (bus) to go to the Club in Villa Guadalupe for more lacrosse fun. I then meet with Coach Maycol for a half hour to discuss training plans, then segue into LtN practice #2 for an hour and a half.

12:00 pm

The public transport bus ride takes me approximately an hour to get home, just in time for a quick lunch before I have to leave again for Camp JAM in El Farito - our arts, music, and games class for the children of Cedro Galán.

2:45 pm

At around 2:45 pm, I return home to catch up on emails and finish preparing lesson plans for my hour-long Level 4 English class.

6:00 pm

English class begins at 6:00 pm, and I teach our level 4 students, who are improving by the day!

7:30 pm

My day of program responsibilities ends at around 7:30pm, upon my return from English.

What is your favorite thing about living in Nicaragua?

The energetic, smiling children in LtN who are always enthusiastic to learn, despite early morning practices every week. They are undoubtedly a wonderful start to my long days. (Shout out to Team Managua, my team competing in this year’s LtN Cup on November 19th! Please consider supporting this cause here.

Favorite place to “treat yo’ self”?

It’s a toss-up between Tip-Top’s popcorn chicken and PriceSmart’s supreme pizza!

What has been your biggest struggle while living in Nicaragua?

Being so far away from family!

Why did you commit to spending a year of your life here?

After graduating from college, I knew I had so many diverse interests and was uncertain about what to pursue in the future. Working with Manna Project International exposes me to a majority of these interests on a daily basis, ranging from healthcare and education to coaching lacrosse; I am confident this multi-faceted role will allow me to gain new experiences and further develop my passions.

On another note, while I rarely had the opportunity to travel during college while juggling school and DI women’s lacrosse commitments, my job as a Program Director in Nicaragua lends itself to so much travel!

Thank you, Brooke!

Click here to learn more about Brooke's work with MPI's partner organization Lacrosse the Nations.


Stephanie's Cedro Galán Homestay

Spending a week in the community gave me a new perspective on how community members live.

It’s hard to believe I have been living in Nicaragua for almost three months now!  I have finally adjusted to my new home (although still adjusting to the blazing heat), new community, and new family.  I finally feel confident using the public transportation system, further increasing my street smarts.  I even learned to drive a huge stick shift micro and can maneuver through the crazy drivers of Managua.  Every day is a new adventure living in a foreign country, and I have come to embrace every single moment. My thirteen-month contract seemed like an incredibly long commitment at first, but now, it does not seem long enough.

Manna Project International provides Program Directors with the opportunity to foster stronger relationships and engage in complete cultural immersion through week-long homestays with members from the community.  This past week, I stayed with one of my English students, María, and grew close to her family. They welcomed me with open arms, and I felt completely at home.  I had such a wonderful experience and promised to return to visit soon.

Here are some highlights from my homestay week:

Tuesday

After my programs are finished for the day, I catch a ride into the community with the  micro and walk to María’s house with some of my students.  She welcomes me into her home and shows me my new room for the next five nights.  Her six-year-old daughter, Nicole, is letting me sleep in her room while she shares a bed with María and her husband.  There are seven people living in a three-bedroom house, so I am very lucky to have my own room. 

Today is the day before my birthday, and I am excited to share it with my new Nica family.  When I arrive, some of my students are at Maria’s house getting dressed up and cooking a huge dinner.  We hop in the back of the truck en route to another community member’s house. It turns out that María, one of my other students, and my fellow Program Directors have organized a surprise birthday party for me!  I was completely taken by surprise and am so thankful they remembered!  We ate homemade fried chicken, gallo pinto, pico de gallo, and cooked yucca (a very typical Nicaraguan dish).  It's probably the best meal I have eaten yet in my time here.  I spent the rest of the night listening to the guitar (mostly listening since none of us sing very well) and dancing with the niños.  I am thankful to live and work in such a tight-knit community.

Wednesday  

I wake up to the smell of fried eggs, (more) gallo pinto, and fresh fruit served with avena con leche - a drink made with oatmeal and cinnamon.  María introduces me to all the animals living around her house, including talking parrots, pigs, birds, dogs, cats, and roosters.  She also grows many different kinds of spices in her garden to use for cooking.  We play the card game, UNO, with Nicole.  I already understand how to play and don’t have to go through trying to understand the Spanish translation for the rules of the game.  Later, we walk to English class together to prepare for the upcoming exam next week.

Saturday

Nicole and I share my favorite Nicaraguan dish for breakfast – NACATAMALES!  Nacatamales are a dish consisting of chicken, pork, rice, and vegetables wrapped in banana leaves.  Mariá serves us homemade fresh calala (passion fruit) juice.  Perfect start to the day.  While Nicole is getting ready for dance class, I chat with Maria’s father in law about Nicaraguan culture, politics, and economics.  He speaks fast, so I have to constantly remind him to speak slower so I can understand.  I promise to practice my vocabulary for when I return next time. 

We catch two different buses to get to Nicole’s dance studio in Managua in the afternoon.  During the middle of the day, the chicken buses tend to be overly crowded and cramped to the point where you cannot move. 

After about an hour, Nicole finished dance class and we meet up with Maria’s friend Lupe and Program Director, Sanjana, who is also doing a homestay.  We take another bus to Salvador Allende, a nearby boardwalk with a stunning view of Lake Managua.  I order a batido from my favorite smoothie shack and eat too many pupusas (another common Nicaraguan dish made with corn, beans, and meat).  After taking many pictures and selfies, we head home.  Nicole, María, and I watch the movie Me Before You with English subtitles, and I have to hold in my tears because this is the saddest movie I have ever watched.

Sunday

I have to go back to the Manna house today, but I do not want to leave my new family.  I have grown so close to María and Nicole over the past week.  Spending a week in the community gave me a new perspective on how community members live.  I am overwhelmingly thankful to be part of this community.  These are the little things that make me feel like I am at home.

Until next time,

Stephanie