NGO continues community fairs on health, safety

InnerCHANGE WORKS, a U.S. non-profit NGO, is returning to Nicaragua this month to host health fairs—“Community Celebrations of Health and Safety”—at the El Quetzal and Selva Negra coffee farms in Matagalpa on Oct. 22-23 and at the California School in Villa El Carmen, near Managua, on Oct. 29. 

These health fairs are part of a longer-term sustainable development project by InnerCHANGE WORKS that seeks to empower community members through health-improvement councils that promote health and safety education.

InnerCHANGE WORKS launched this project in October 2009 with its first health fair at Selva Negra.  In May 2010, InnerCHANGE WORKS held another fair at Hospital Central Managua, and, in October 2010, returned to Matagalpa to host health fairs at El Quetzal and Selva Negra.   In January 2011, InnerCHANGE WORKS partnered with the Roberto Clemente Health Clinic in Tola, near Rivas, in a health fair featuring a visit by Roberto Clemente, Jr.

These one-day health fairs are free and open to the whole community.  Typically, they each attract 200-300 local community members, but this year’s fair at the Roberto Clemente Health Clinic drew over 1,000 people from Tola.

In preparation for these health fairs, InnerCHANGE WORKS has created and trained Community Health Improvement Councils made up of local teachers, parents, and high school students who work with local nurses and other Ministry of Health professionals.  Members of these health councils are trained to provide a wide range of basic health and safety education, such as dental and physical hygiene, breast and testicular self-examinations, safe lifting of heavy objects, first response to burns and fire safety, and the importance of clean water. 

These Councils work with community members to fill out computer-based health assessment questionnaires, which are then used by InnerCHANGE WORKS to create a community health profile.

At these health fairs, faculty and students from Universidad Americana (UAM) Nicaragua and Robert Morris University School of Nursing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, offer health consultation services, such as blood pressure checks and health education workshops.

In addition to the coffee farms at El Quetzal and Selva Negra, InnerCHANGE WORKS’ partners in this effort are the ALMORI Foundation, the Nicaragua-based Hope and Development Foundation, the Selva Negra Coffee Estate, Prison Fellowship International in Nicaragua, and Catalyst for Change, a U.S. partner NGO, who are hosting and supporting these health fairs through their donations.

The highlight of these “community celebrations of health and safety” is the active participation of children, who are the real focus of this project.  Each health fair features visits by the InnerCHANGE WORKS mascots—the “Super-Safety-Dog,” the “Happy-Healthy-Duck,” and the “Learn-to-Lead-Lion.”  Before each fair, school children make up stories and write songs for the mascots to sing during the fairs. 

Often, local high school students play the role of the mascots and help organize the events of the health fair. 

While community members visit with health practitioners in the clinic and attend workshops, the fairgrounds are energetic with music, games, and arts and crafts.  The mascots help organize games for kids of all ages, such as rope-pulling contests, sack races, human wheelbarrow races, and treasure hunts. 

All children receive prizes, ranging from donated school supplies to baseball caps, tee shirts, sports equipment, and backpacks.  Community members also go home with basic hygiene items, such as toothbrushes and toothpaste.  Each fair day is made complete with food, dancing, and the most important component of health—laughter! 

To capture all of the activity, fun, and community involvement, student and graduate photographers from UAM will be at each of the health fairs.  Their images will be posted on the InnerCHANGE WORKS website (www.innerchangeworks.org) so readers can follow the children, the mascots, and the community members at our health fair locations. 

Besides the fun of these health fairs, their real value is in creating opportunities for local communities to be involved and take ownership in their own health and education. 

The mascots teach important values not only of health and safety, but also good civic behavior.  The Community Health Improvement Councils are becoming year-round vehicles in which parents, teachers, and health professionals connect and collaborate in providing a safer and healthier environment for everyone.  While InnerCHANGE WORKS personnel will continue to work with these Councils, this is a grassroots “train-the-trainer” model.  In time the Councils will be prepared to produce their own health fairs in their own communities.

The people of InnerCHANGE WORKS are no strangers to working in Nicaragua.  Its President, Janet Foerster, designed and directed the CHESS (Children’s Health, Education and Supporting Services) project in Villa El Carmen in 2006-2009, which focused on promoting primary school health and education in 12 schools and three health clinics (see www.chessnicaragua.com). 

Since then, InnerCHANGE WORKS has partnered with several Nicaraguan organizations to ensure that several hundred refurbished computers were placed in schools, health clinics, libraries, and prisons.   InnerCHANGE WORKS also provided for training, maintenance support, and environmentally responsible disposal of this equipment.

For more information on InnerCHANGE WORKS’ activities in Nicaragua and to follow the fun at the fairs, please see www.innerchangeworks.org.