What is the zika virus and how does it affect the HOLA Foundation?

As many of you know, the Zika virus has been a hot topic in the news lately because of reports that it is spreading not only through Central and South America, but also because cases have been reported in the United States. Most people associate the disease with the infants born with microcephaly. While that is a large factor, that is not the only side effect of the virus.

The Zika virus itself is spread through mosquitos. A mosquito becomes infected when it bites a person already infected by the virus and then the mosquito goes on to infect other people when it bites them. The major concern associated with the virus is that pregnant mothers can spread the virus to their fetus during their pregnancy or around the time of birth. Also, there is not yet a vaccine so in countries such as Nicaragua where contraception is not commonly used; the Zika virus is a major concern.

Luckily for the members of HOLA, unless a woman is pregnant during the trip to Nicaragua, if the virus is contracted the symptoms are usually mild and last anywhere from a couple days to a week. These symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes) and begin anywhere from two to seven days after being bitten.

Overall, unless there is possibility of pregnancy, the Zika virus does not pose a threat to the members of the HOLA foundation. 

Interview with HOLA's Operations Director: Phillip Vega

             PhilLip Vega - Director of operations

             PhilLip Vega - Director of operations

Phillip graduated from the University of Colorado, Denver, with a BA in Economics and is now the Vice President/Manager for Del Nature/Natura HV Inc., which is a company that produces and sells health and beauty products.  Phillip joined HOLA merely three years ago but this is his second year as Director of Operations.  

How long have you been in HOLA? 

“I have been with HOLA for three years, but I’ve been observant of HOLA for at least five, so I’ve watched it grow before I was even in it.”

Why did you join HOLA?

"The first time I seriously considered joining HOLA, I had already been familiar with HOLA for 2 years through friends in the organization. They brought me to their fundraisers and social events and I became enticed by the idea of doing volunteer work on the side, having the opportunity to learn new skills and maybe even travel. Ultimately it was the communities and people that we serve abroad that really brought me in. Their generosity, trust, and willingness to face tremendous challenges is a testament to the strength of the human spirit.  I was proud to serve them, proud of what we had and could accomplish together. I knew then, that HOLA is where I had to be."

What do you do as Director of Operations while in Nicaragua?

“My job is to guide the logistics of the mission and keep up with the broad picture of what we do in our operations.  The other important part of my job is to be sort of an intermediary between a lot of our Nicaraguan counterparts. “

Can you give me a short summary about what exactly HOLA does in Nicaragua?

“I would say what we do is help facilitate good health care.  We also are working towards getting more of a collaboration between health groups in Nicaragua and health groups in the U.S., specifically Colorado.”

What changes are we making from last year?

“We have committees now among our general members, which is a big change from what we had before.  We are getting our general members more involved in all aspects of HOLA. 
There has also been a large expansion of public health in HOLA.  For example, A KAP Survey-which measures the Knowledge, Attitude and Practices of a community- can serve as an educational diagnosis. An HOLA KAP Survey, like the one proposed by our excellent public health team this year, can show us the effects of various public health education programs on a given community and by extension give us the feedback we need in order to adapt and ensure we are providing the best possible services.
Basically, we’re identifying all of the right programs and solutions, and acting on them.  The little changes are just as important as the big changes.
We’re also returning to many communities that we haven’t been to in awhile, keeping those relationships alive and keeping continuity to the care we’re providing.”

What are you most excited about for this trip?

“I’m excited about working in new communities. Particularly Chichigalpa, where we will be starting the KAP survey.  I’m very excited because this can have very long-term effects. I think the work we are doing is starting to become part of a much larger picture; our program is much more stand-alone.
In terms of personal things, this is the first time I will be staying for a little over three weeks.  Whenever I get to stay longer, I am happy.”

The Human Cost of Sugar Harvesting

     The small community of Chichigalpa, Nicaragua has been faced with a heartbreaking epidemic.  Prevalent studies have shown that about 68% of men (nearly all of them sugar mill workers) have stage one to five chronic kidney diseases.  The life expectancy in this population is only 46 years, as many people have died from this disease.
     The workers at the San Antonio Sugar Mill in Nicaragua presume that the causes are likely chemicals, extended workdays and the suffocating heat; however, studies haven’t been able to link any causes to pesticides.  What seems to be a likely cause is recurrent, daily dehydration.
     The irony seems evident.  In order to work and feed their families, many men in Chichigalpa must work as sugarcane harvesters. Unfortunately, not long after working in these sugar mills, many develop chronic kidney disease, and can no longer work at the mill, or any other job for that matter.  The alarming rates at which the workers are being afflicted are devastating for both those suffering from the disease and for their families.

To learn more, watch “The Human Cost of Sugar Harvesting”: 

Interview with Vice Chairman, David Baulesh



David Baulesh helped co-found the HOLA Foundation in 2008. He is originally from Conifer, CO, and is currently in his 4th year of medical school at Rocky Vista University. Prior to  taking on his current role as Vice Chairman, he also served as Executive Director. According to Baulesh, “HOLA takes a unique multi tiered approached to global health, addressing many different factors that affect the overall health of the members within the communities we serve.” Baulesh was chosen as the Blog's first interviewee because of his dedication and commitment to our foundation. 



Why did you join HOLA?

"After coming back from the first trip, it was such an eye opening and life changing experience.  What really sticks with me is how little these people have compared to what we have, yet how happy and welcoming they are.  They are so appreciative of the little things in life. If they have good health and access to the simple things they need, they are happy.  Every time we work with someone, they always invite us into their home and are very hospitable people.  Before this experience, I didn’t have a lot of interest in global health; but after, I wanted to dedicate a significant part of my career to it."

Where are you now? What do you do?

"I am wrapping up med school in my fourth year.  I am currently applying to residency in emergency medicine."  

Do you think HOLA influenced your career path at all? 

"I have been a part of global health in medical school.  I want to use this knowledge to help improve the work in Nicaragua. I want to travel the world, volunteer and help out where I can."

What is your favorite memory during your experience with HOLA?

"One thing that stands out to me was during my first trip to Agua Fria.  We had just heard about this town and talked to the doctor there who said he would bring us up there.  The town is at the base of a volcano, and the first year we drove in a rental truck.  It was a crazy experience, the truck almost rolled over several times.  Once we arrived, we got out of the truck and looked out on a field. All of the people from the town were playing baseball and having such a great time.  We ended up sitting and watching them play for awhile, and then went and talked to them. They were so happy that we were there. That memory and image really stands out to me."


Do you have any advice for the current members in HOLA? 

"In regards to the trip itself, the members get to be involved in it all. HOLA is very unique because there are so many things going on (clinic, vet, etc.) and I would encourage members to take the time to experience all there is to experience with HOLA.  And moving forward, stay involved.  We give the members lots of freedom and resources to help change things. Take advantage of all HOLA has to offer."