Friday, January 30, 2009

Movin' on up to the east side!

(Today's guest blog is from Seth Harlan, who's currently team Ecuador's country director, as Mark has once again left the country for some important leadership summit...we all know he just wants to hang out with Chris Taylor.)

"There could be nothing more gratifying than signing the lease and pickup the freshly made keys to our brand new 2009 Manna Office. On second thought, if the keys had belonged to a brand new 2009 Manna Mobile it may have been a little more exciting, but none the less this has been a highly anticipated development for us!

In hopes of establishing a stronger presence in the community, we have decided to rent a program space accessible to all of the communities we work with. Fully equipped with an Ecuadorian washer and dryer (aka a large outdoor sink and clothes line), his and hers bathrooms, hardwood floors, ample storage space, and a balcony with a full view of the surrounding mountains, this elegant one-floor studio has certain Manna PDs considering moving in permanently (Eliah, cough cough). As you may already know we have huge plans for this new space.

In March we hope to officially open it up to the public as our new office, the first public library in the valley, and a center for youth leadership development. We are working closely with our friends at the cooperative Esperanza y Progreso del Valle, the community board for educational development, and several other community leaders to get this project off the ground- a realty that makes this project much more exciting as we see this as not just Manna Project International, but a collective effort from the community as a whole. Currently we are in the process of furnishing the space, organizations book drives, and planning a free concert to announce our official grand opening in March. Mark even convinced a decorator to volunteer this past Sunday and give us suggestions for setting up the office and dividing up the space… Mrs. Hand, you should be proud!

On behalf of all of us, I would like to thank the following individuals and organizations for their contributions to this specific project:

Campus Chapters at Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill, and Vanderbilt
Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas
MoneyGram International
The Robertson Program at Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill
Claudia Diaz
The Geller Family
The Hand Family
Jens Haerter
Linda Roby
Linda Smith
The Ward Family
Jordan Wolf
Alejandra Gomez

We are off to a great start to 2009 and thrilled about the potential for this next year. If you would like to support this project, organize a book drive, or give Mark suggestions for building books shelves please contact Seth at or visit our wish list at

Best Wishes,

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Drawing Neruda

As I mentioned at the start of the week, Tuesday was our first day of the new Children's Art class. This class has been one of my dreams ever since I applied to Manna Project, which was about this time last year if I think about it. It's wild to think back on that time of life when Ecuador was still a far-away day dream.

After finishing up the last of their homework problems (and trying to fit a few pieces into the new puzzle Jocelyn's mom sent back with her), Dana, Eliah and I convinced them to help us push 4 big tables together into the middle of the Casa Barrial, maneuver the heavy benches around the edges, plug in my ipod and speakers, and find a seat.

As I see it, the main objectives of the Children's Art class is twofold: in the short term, I hope to provide the students with a creative outlet and to expand their artistic experiences from those of markers, stickers, and construction paper to collages, portraits, painter studies, poetry, splatter painting, and public art instillations. In the long term, I can only hope that the experiences they have in our 45 minutes together will inspire a shift in their way of thinking and approaching problems (be it homework or life related) that encourages independent thinking and a creative outlook, as opposed to the overwhelming status quo of copying and memorizing any and everything.

To that end, for our first lesson Seth loaned me his comprehensive anthology of poetry by Pablo Neruda. As we passed the two poems I had chosen (Ode to Criticism and IV from 100 Love Sonnets) around the table, everyone took a turn reading a stanza aloud. After brainstorming a list of images we found in each poem, we took the next 30 minutes to translate the words of the poem into our own crayon, colored-pencil and marker-rich images. And while there was a good deal of overlap (read: copying), there were also a few creative surprises Neruda himself would have been proud of.


(first class's finished products: see if you can find 1. Eliah's, 2. two that are exactly the same, 3. the snow bird)

Monday, January 26, 2009

How do you say...fork?

It's late, I have Christian's in the early morning (6am wake up call is coming all too soon), and the creative writing juices have all but dried out for today...but, that said, I couldn't NOT post a little something to shout out to our darling newbie (she'll always be our newbie, even 5 months in) Dana, for successfully kicking-off our 4th program of 2009: Children's English!

With 14 little students (none of whom could remember the word "fork" in today's placement's a tricky one), she has her work cut out for her, and yet we all know the class couldn't be in more capable hands. They have all already bonded to her and Jos in the first 45 minutes class...they're going to have quite the following of English speaking 10 year olds come March :)

And coming tomorrow: Children's Art!


(Carlos Eduardo and Cynthia take turns reading Harry Potter while listening to the High School Musical soundtracks in the is good.)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Building networks, one beet at a time

(In an effort to add more voices to the mix, we're upping the guest blog frequency, trying for twice a week. Today's comes from Eliah!)

"If credibility is important to securing local buy-in to community development projects—and it is—I often get off to a rocky start here. As one of the two PDs working on Manna Ecuador's soon-to-be-released agricultural education program, I am often asked by the community members and agricultural experts I talk to what it is I grow on my farm. Nothing, I tell them. Actually I don't have a farm. In fact, I don't know very much about agriculture. Interestingly, this almost always produces the same response from the person I'm talking to: a sort of silent, confused nod, not unlike how they might act had I told them I was wearing leopard skin underwear. Reading this, you may be reacting the same way right now. "So what are you doing running an agriculture program?" you might ask. Then again, it could be the leopard skin. Either way, this example is instructive of how many programs at Manna Project work.

As a rule of thumb, we Manna Ecuadorians aren't explicitly qualified for most activities we take part in. This shouldn't be surprising; after all, we don't hold advanced degrees or have years of work experience under our belts. Instead, what we bring to the table is the ability to find the people who are qualified for some task and the community members interested in their expertise and connect them up. So while I may not know whether a lettuce- or grain-based diet makes for the most succulent guinea pig, I know a guy who does, and he'll come out here and tell you for free.

Anyway, that whole credibility thing is still important, so today Dana (the other ag ed PD) and I did some farming. INNFA, a social welfare organization, runs a model farm in Conocoto to teach agricultural techniques to locals. We went there, as always, in the hopes of connecting our community members with expert help—we talked to Julio, INNFA's agricultural engineer, about bringing a group to work at the farm on a weekly basis—but we stayed to rake hay, pull beets, and anything else that kept us away from Juan, the 50-something worker who wanted Dana's number. In the end we were rewarded with a sack of fresh, organic produce and a sense of gratitude that, while we may not know whether to take offense when they ask us to do some hoeing, we can do this job.

So while it could be that our ag ed PD next year is a licensed agronomist and card carrying member of the US Potato Board, and I hope that happens, I'll live through the awkward nods and questioning stares and keep on building the networks that make this program run. Who knows, maybe I'll even learn something along the way.


(our fridge is now stocked with produce from our very own farmers)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Barack and Roll

(Today's guest blog comes from Jocelyn Lancaster, and is a rumination on home and hope, change and pride. Enjoy!)

"Yesterday, we at MPIE spent one of the most historic days of our country's history well outside of its borders. Not only was the first African American U.S. president being sworn in, but the event marked the first real change in U.S. leadership during our politically conscious lives. The last time George W. Bush was not our president, I was 15 and way more preoccupied with tennis practice and geometry than foreign affairs and taxes. This particular shift, however, we have been following with scrutiny, from reading daily articles online to organizing and attending debate watching parties in Quito. Yesterday was significant in that we were all extremely aware of what this shift in power meant for us and for our country.

Dunc, Serena, Dana, Eliah, Mark, and I were able to go to a gringo restaurant in the Mariscal to watch the swearing in ceremony. It was PACKED with Americans. Even though most of us didn't know each other, a sense of unity and pride pulsed throughout the room as we listened to the resonation of Aretha Franklin's "America the Beautiful" and watched politically significant figures from both parties walk the grounds of Washington together, side by side.

I thought about how there must be pockets of U.S. ex-pats literally all around the world just like us, experiencing the same thing so far from home, and that even though I had no idea who or where these people were, we all have one thing in common.

Coming from such an amazing country makes experiences abroad even more special than they would be otherwise, because we feel secure that no matter where we go or what we desire to see, America the Beautiful will still be there waiting for us when we choose to return. And that though things do change, the values that our country is built upon, and the people within it, remain steady. Because of this, the American dream stretches to all ends of the Earth as its citizens venture out to try to make a difference beyond its borders and to experience new and exciting things.

If you know where you come from, you know where you have potential to go. I know for a fact that where I come from has directly influenced the things I have been able to do here in our little community south of the equator. Our programs and projects are a direct reflection of the ideals instilled in us by the United States, and by all of our supporters back home. Yup, that means you : )


(keeping up to date with inauguration day online)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

King of the Apes

Apoyo Escolar has started up again (as has Adult English and Women's Exercise), and with it comes a whole new season of hilarious quotes from our overly excitable students. Today, a glimpse into a typical exchange in our Ecuadorian afternoons.

A little background characterization first:

Dylan: 12 years old, hyper-active, extremely high voice, always brings an intricate lunch to Apoyo (rice, chicken, potatoes...the kid is NOT lacking starch), likes to have full conversations with himself in the cave, a bit of a trouble student who has a difficult time focusing.

Mafe: 12 years old, the angel of Apoyo, absolutely darling and so smart, has everyone in the Manna house convinced she'll be Mayor of the town in 5 years, always smiling, her dogs love her so much they follow her to Apoyo every day.

Scenario: As Dylan and Mafe work diligently on their homework (ok, Dylan is actually singing the Ecuadorian national anthem and pretending to do fractions), one of Mafe's dogs decides to explore the inside of the Casa Barrial instead of waiting for her outside. Dylan immediately falls in love with the big German Shephard mix...the following dialogue happens.

Mafe: He's mine, Dylan.
Dylan: Wow! What's his NAME?!
Mafe: Tarzan.
Dylan: (silent for a few seconds...) Umm...Mafe...? I hate to say this, but Tarzan is actually the "King of the Apes", and THAT is a DOG."
Mafe: Ummm...(looks at Dana pleading for help.)
Dana: ...(Can't respond, laughing too hard)
Holly: ...(Can't respond, laughing too hard)

Amazing. Tune in tomorrow for the first guest blog of the new year, written by the ever lovely Jocelyn Lancaster!

(The kids find my weakness; being tickled. Mafe is in front with pink sleeves, Dylan is in back with the too-big blue hat)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Dinner party for 17

(a wonderful gathering)

Tonight we had Pepita and her entire family; husband, 2 kids, niece, brother and sister-in-law, and their kids over for a dinner party at the Manna house. Serena went to get chicken in the pouring rain, Seth made fajitas, Jocelyn made her mom's famous Texas sheet cake, I made fiesta corn, Dana and Dunc squeezed limes to add to their Lemonade Tang mixed drink, Eliah chopped who knows how many peppers...and we all spent a hilarious and jam-packed afternoon fighting each other for space in the kitchen. Jos actually made her entire sheet cake on the couch :)

It was wonderful having a huge family over to join our equally huge family. After pushing together 3 tables, lighting all the candles, setting up puzzles for the kids (and trying to convince them that monkeys live in our trees outside), and pouring the after-dinner tea, we settled in to a few comfortable conversations with our friends. And we only struggled a little (at my end, at least) with our Spanish grammar.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Advertising and Shananigans

This afternoon Jocelyn, Serena and I headed into the Rumiloma community (where we host our programs) to post flyers and hang posters advertising our five programs which are starting up next week. Of course, we didn't actually get out the door until 1:30 this afternoon, which put us in Rumiloma right around 2. And what happens at 2, you might ask? It rains. Pours, actually. We were being stalked by near bursting storm clouds as we worked our way up and down the streets, soaking up every last dry moments before we ourselves were soaked.

Luckily the worst always seemed right behind us and we didn't get drenched. Tomorrow the plan is to be out the door by 10am so as to avoid the afternoon storms. Tomorrow if I whine about the rain we got drenched by in the afternoon, please feel free to call me out on it in the comments section :)

(Jocelyn and Serena demonstrate the correct way to tag team the tape)

After returning home and meeting Dunc and Dana in the foyer as they prepared to head out to Christian's, we all settled in for an afternoon of lesson planning, syllabus writing, exercise workout-planning (which is hysterical to watch, as it involves Serena playing and re-playing youtube workout videos from the 80's and trying to re-inact them in the living room...I had NO idea Jane Fonda was an aerobics instructor before she was an actress! The things you learn!), until Serena made the mistake of throwing her shoe at Eliah when he walked out of his room.

In under two seconds, Eliah had the front door open, Serena's missile shoe in hand, and was launching it out and over our front wall into the grass far beyond. Serena watched open-mouthed, then sprinted into Eliah's room to find something, which she proceeded to chuck out the still open door. Unfortunately (or fortunately, you choose), since the item Serena chose to throw was actually a pair of Eliah's boxers, they didn't have enough mass to clear the front wall, landing instead on the 10 foot covering above the main door.

Even better, the boxers were lilac.


(Eliah scales the front wall to retrieve his stolen undergarments)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Playground Project

(only one out of three swings is functioning)

Tuesday morning (after the whole Christian's English experience), I stopped by Aliñambi to take photographs of their various pieces of playground equipment for a potential project. Seth and Serena were both already there; Seth helping Lorenzo compose a letter of intention for the sewing talleres which have been difficult (to say the least) to implement, Serena going through all of the medicines from HealtheChildren each of us brought back from the states with Julia, the clinic doctor.

I was taking photographs of all the playground equipment to send to a constructor contact of Seth's who will be working with us and HealtheChildren to refurbish all the equipment in the complex. Considering that Aliñambi serves as a home for children from rough households, a school for a couple hundred kids in the neighboring communities, and a location for various summer camps, to say that their playground equipment is in a sad state would be an understatement. Through the lens of my camera, I was able to see just how decrepit the equipment truly is. Missing swings, broken see-saws, rusting slides, tilted platforms, missing screws, chipping paint.

And yet, the kids couldn't care less what it looks like, or what's missing. Because come recess, they can't wait to return to their pirate ship, or swing through Tarzan's jungle, or launch into space from the sea-saws, three adventures I was asked to join in on while snapping my pictures. Just another reason we're excited to be diving back into the thick of things.

Next week will start up the Wednesday guest blogs again, promise!


(the rusting slide sinks into to the grass)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

You just never know.

This is the third month we've been partnering with Christian, an up and coming community leader, on conversational classes with his English students. His courses consist of two parts: theoretical instruction and conversation, but as he is a native Ecuadorian, he initially described his conversational classes as problematically "reinforcing poor English pronunciation". Enter Manna Project, which just so happens to be chalk full of native English speakers whose only pronunciation issues surface when certain Texans insist on calling "Jalapeños" "Jaal-op-in-yos" or "Quesadillas" "Ques-a-dillll-ahhs"...ahem Duncan Fulton.

Three times a week, 2 of us head over to Christian's home and attempt to hold purely English conversations with his slightly bewildered students. It is pretty comical hearing one another speaking as articulately and slowly as possible, only to be greeted by the big eyes and partially open mouths of our students. They're all pretty driven to learn, though, and have made some impressive progress since we first met them in November.

This morning marked our first class post-December break, and Jocelyn and I slumped around the kitchen at 6:30am in a daze (we're the lucky ones blessed with the Tuesday 8-10am slot), talking ourselves into the first bus ride of 2009. When we arrived at Christians, there were no students, but there were 4 little piglets to check up on, one mama pig who, according to Christian, "needs a man pig soon", a new type of Ecuadorian beer to try (at 8:30am), to which Christian would not take "no thank you" as an aswer, and English dialogues to write and record onto his computer. Eventually a "man pig" did show up, and a conjugal visit between pigs...happened...while Jos and I tried our best to focus on the dialogue we were writing about Christmas vacation. It was not easy to do.

And just think, all this happened before 10 in the morning. It's going to be a good Tuesday.
Oh Ecuador, how we've missed you.


(four little piglets!)

(our working table)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Sweet Returns

(saying goodbye to Colorado at Denver International Airport)

And we're back!

We're lucky enough to work for an organization that provides us with a 3 week break in December, and most of us headed back up to the states to soak up time with families and access to our own set of wheels. Granted we don't get what is called PTO, or paid time off (which I'm told by my 'real world' working friends is a hot commodity), but seeing as how we don't get paid in the first place that shouldn't really come as a surprise to anyone.

In true Manna Ecuador form, we started our Monday off bright and 'early'...ok fine it was a 9am meeting. I know, that's not early. But consider that some of us are still functioning on Mountain time and others had just tackled 4 overnight busses in 7 I making excuses? Maybe.

Regardless, our 9am meeting spanned 2 1/2 hours and ran the gamut on items of discussion: a last recruitment push for the final PD app. deadline on February 2, our new dishwashing strategy and dish towel system to promote a more hygenic kitchen, gifts from the states (a 5lb. bag of hot tamales for Dana! A Nintendo for Dunc! Nice work, Eliah!), the latest update on the library-teen center space (which may be available as soon as this Friday), planing for Spring Break, the start of 5 programs next week... it's exciting to think that everything is set and poised to begin again so quickly. All the planning and talking and detailing we did in the fall has put us in a wonderful position to jump right back into a community who has been waiting for us. It's sweet when your return is so warmly anticipated!

Thanks for tuning in again; I don't know about you, but I'm ready for another 8 months of Daily Blogging :)

(I've traded the snowy Rockies for the heat of the Andes)