Sunday, August 30, 2009

Birthdays, Bonfires and Buffets

So here we are, returning back to the so-called "Daily Life Blog" with our tails between our legs. Yes, we are quite aware that our last post was on Wednesday. Seeing as how that was five days ago... well. You get the point. Sorry about that. But in our defense, life has been crazy around the Manna House in the last week. Here is a brief recap:

1. Summer Camp ended on Friday! It was a great way to start off our year, as it allowed us to get to know the kids and parents of our communities. We're thrilled to have had such a successful first program and hope that success will carry over to the programs that will begin in two weeks. (We're equally thrilled to not be required to get 10 people out of the door by 8am...)

Mike, Erik, Sonia and Sarah try their hand at the teeter-totter.
The weight distribution was clearly very equal...

Gisela chases Santiago in a game of duck, duck, goose.
(Or, as Iori likes to call it, "duck, duck, duck".)
Krysta walks the little ones back to the library.

2. We co-hosted a very successful health clinic at Alinambi on both Friday and Saturday. Krysta's weeks of planning (along with a little help from the rest of the health girls and the house) finally paid off! And she's kind enough to be writing a guest blog about it later this week!

The entrance to the clinic

Haley shows off the impeccably organized pharmacy.

LOTS of toothpaste donations

Krysta and Haley lead a charla on brushing and flossing.

The whole health crew

3. And finally, today is Jackie's birthday (HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JACKIE!)! In order to celebrate both Jackie and Bibi's birthdays in style, we had our first rooftop bonfire of the year last night and made s'mores. We followed up the late night of s'mores and group bonding with an enormous buffet at the Marriott in Quito. Apparently all celebrations revolve around food in the Manna House.

The birthday brownies at the Marriott

Jackie's THREE... yes, three... birthday cakes
(Unfortunately we already ate the leftovers for breakfast/lunch. Typical.)

The whole group post-brunch and pre-food coma

All in all, it's been a fun (and hectic) last few days. This week will be more relaxed, as we're planning for our programs that begin in two weeks, catching up on work that was pushed aside last week, and making the blog a little more "daily"... :)

Thanks for checking in with us!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Once in a Lifetime

(This week's guest blog comes from Mr. Seth Harlan. Seth left late last night for a Galapagos getaway before he heads back to the States after volunteering with MPIE for 2 years. The presence of the one and only Mr. Ecuador will be sorely missed in the Manna House... good thing he's coming back for a visit in October!)

"Wednesday, August 26, 2009 - Day 712, and I can´t believe how quickly the past two years have flown by. It seems like only yesterday I was dropped off with a host family, repeating the only phrase I could remember from high school spanish- "My name is Seth. Where is the bathroom?" It´s true that things started slowly, and there was a lot to learn between Spanish, the Ecuadorian transportation system, and how to initiate community development in Latin America. Looking back, they all seem like daunting tasks, impossible for any group of recent college graduates to achieve, and although it took nearly two years to feel like we had made progress, I can honestly say that we have accomplished much more than we ever could have imagined. In two years we have hosted over 150 international volunteers, launched more than a dozen successful programs, forged life changing relationships with local community member, and shared invaluable experiences. And although I could continue to reminisce and reflect back on my time here, I would much rather leave a message for the future.

To our past volunteers I encourage to keep an eye on this year's programs directors. I have a feeling that they are going to accomplish things here that we never dreamed of.

To the family members of this year's volunteers, I thank you for entrusting Manna with your loved ones, and I promise you that their time here will have a genuine impact on the people we work with as well as the volunteers themselves.

To our donors, I thank you for your commitment to MPI that supports us and the communities we work with.

Finally to this year's group of volunteers, you have eased all of my concerns, re-energized me, and revitalized my commitment to MPI. Part of me wishes that I could start all over again with you, and part of me is comforted by the knowledge that the groundwork has been laid and you are more than ready to continue what we have started. Enjoy every moment of your experience. It truly only comes once in a lifetime.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

25th Birthdays?

Greetings from the kitchen of the Manna house where I'm half writing this entry and half admiring my new blue bracelet, courtesy of Seth.  After this morning's camp session, we were all up to our ears with various tasks.  Seth and Sonia donated all of the items that have been piling up under our staircase, generously left behind by old PDs and picked through by us over the past month.  The healthcare girls crafted educational materials from food pyramids (or, what is now more of a column?) to dental hygiene posters.  And, the most important event of today: BIBI'S BIRTHDAY!  We joyously celebrated with a homemade cake, optimistic candles, and a poster from that Bibi promises she's going to frame and hang in her house. 

Bibi proudly showing off her present

Bibi's cake + incorrect candles

I apologize for the brevity of this post, but Seth is catching a bus to Guayaquil in twenty minutes and it's getting a little emotional on the couch in the kitchen...

Sporting our new digs


Monday, August 24, 2009

PD Introductions and Interview Updates

Well hello there. Long time, no blog (for me, at least). I guess that's what happens when the wireless decides to go out for the majority of Friday afternoon/evening, and when half of the blogging staff (not to mention half of the house) is semi-incapacitated due to a mysterious stomach/digestive issue. Thankfully the shifty internet connection has been resolved... and we're working on the stomach/digestive issues.

On a happier (and less disgusting) note, here is the first installment of PD Introductions! We are quite the eclectic (and sometimes ridiculous) bunch... I hope this conglomeration of interviews gives you a better look into our lives in Ecuador, our motivations for joining Manna Project, and our oftentimes absurd personalities.

The second (and final) installment of PD Introductions should be posted sometime next week. And stay on the lookout for Lori Scharffenberg's interview as well... whew. That's a lot of interviews in the next weeks for you (and a lot of iMovie for me). We have quite the busy week ahead of us (especially the health folks), so forgive me in advance if I don't get it posted until next Friday. I'll do my best! Until then, enjoy part 1 of our PD Introductions!

Until Wednesday,

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Departures & Coming Attractions

It was a pretty low key weekend for us in the Valley. A few people were under the weather from either street food or the dinner that Erik and I cooked on Friday night (hopefully the former). We kicked off the weekend with a meeting about the future of the library. Topics included a classroom management discussion led by Lori, revising the disciplinary rules, and brainstorming ideas like creating a weekly story time hour. A few of us has planned on waking up early to go to Machachi for a parade and festival, but illness and my malfunctioning alarm clock transformed our day into lounging around the house. After a week of chasing kids around at camp and promoting our free health clinic for next week, I think a lazy Saturday was just what we needed.

On a more somber note, Seth Harlan, our veteran PD who has been working with Manna for the past two years is leaving us on Tuesday to go to the Galapagos before he heads back to the States for his brother's wedding. We're all really sad to see him go as we've spent the last month getting to know his outgoing, fun and extremely considerate personality during the Jovenes camp and as well as in the Teen Center. For example, just a few minutes ago Seth came down here and gave me a plastic spinning top, a Nalgene, a backpack, a couple ace bandages and... drumroll please... a folder that says "dog gone cute" on it. What a guy.

We spent his last Saturday out in Quito eating at La Fotonovela, a charming Mexican restaurant run by an enthusiastic ex-soap opera star and going out dancing with some of Seth's friends. There are a few positive items about Seth's departure: he's writing a guest blog for us this week, he'll be back next Thursday for a night and promised to go salsa-ing with us, AND most importantly, he has a return trip ticket for late October! Maybe some of the other old PDs will follow suit and come visit us soon too! (wink wink)

Seth receiving a celebratory drink

Lori gets one too!

Rather than getting a drink, Haley spills salsa on herself

Coming attractions for this week of blogging:
  • First round of interviews of the '09-'10 PDs: Chester Polson, Sonia Patel, Haley Booe, Erik Swanson and me!
  • Guest Blog from Seth Harlan
  • A couple of birthdays
  • More anecdotes from summer camp
Get Pumped!

- Jackie

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Community Development with a Splash of Creativity

Here is our very first guest blog of the year, from Mr. Chester Polson! He would like you to know that the song of this blog is “Waterfalls,” by TLC.  I suppose that means you should either a) find it in your itunes library b) sing it aloud or c) change everything he says into waterfall analogies, or d) all of the above.  Enjoy!  

"Buenos días Friends, Family, Strangers, and most importantly donors!


I’m here to mix things up with a guest blog.  I don’t know if you read the daily life blog or check Manna Project International’s website more than I do but I feel like an introduction is probably necessary.  At the very least, it’s good to have a refresher so you don’t have to nod your head and pretend you know me like we're at a party.


I’m Chester Polson, but all of my American friends call me Chet. Everyone here either calls me Chester or Ché (I mostly get Chester). I recently graduated from Vanderbilt University with a double major in Economics and English. One day soon I hope to get a graduate degree in Economics focusing on Developmental or Environmental Economics. I went on two spring break trips with MPI in college, once to Nicaragua and once to Belize under the Manna umbrella. In addition to those Latin American travels, I spent three spring breaks in TijuanaMexico, building houses in high school and have spent a week in HavanaCuba, at an international youth conference. All in all, it’s a pretty good amount of travel for not speaking or studying Spanish.

 Chet is the Guapo in Blue 

I’ll gloss over the “why I’m here” and stick to the “what I’m doing now that I’m here” (though I’ll give you a hint: the why involves wanting to be involved in community development before spending five years pursuing a degree in it). I am (co)in charge of the microfinance and small business classes, (co)in charge of adult English classes, and in charge of children’s art. I also take out the trash around the house and spend my time hunting for change machines in Quito in order to replenish the bus jar. Just Tuesday I spent 3.5 hours heading into Quito and back to get $80 in quarters. This was the first successful attempt in three tries, but I now know where two broken change machines are.


So how are my programs going? Pretty well, so far as I can tell. I’ll start with Microfinance. MPI is partnered with a local cooperative, Esperanza y Progreso del Valle, or EPV. One of Manna’s overall goals here is to strengthen local institutions and that is really the heart of what our microfinance program strives to do. EPV has two offices, one on the first floor of the building our library is in, and one in North Quito, which was recently opened. Sadly, the new office has been a real drain on the coop. It currently has a very high default rate on its loans which has put heavy financial strain on the whole operation. We come in with two major spheres to work in: capacitación and fundraising. We spend some of our time trying to find international organizations that are looking to either loan or gift funds to microfinance programs like EPV. As you can imagine, the current worldwide economic climate makes it difficult to secure this kind of funding, which just means there is always more for Erik and I to look into. However, if any of you readers have suggestions or contacts, please let us know.


Capacitación, or capacity, is the second and probably more important part of how we work with EPV. We work hand in hand with EPV to try and get them better trained (to strengthen their local institution). The old PDs in charge of microfinance spent a lot of last year trying to get them connected to a larger network of microfinance coops in Ecuador as a way to gain access to more working capital and training. Sadly, after much effort, it turned out that this was not a very feasible option. EPV is currently interested in undergoing courses through Swiss credit, which we fully support. Manna has actually agreed to match the cost of the classes up to $1000 dollars to encourage them to actually get the training. We will check back soon to see if they were serious enough about these classes to register.  While it is exciting to be partnered with a legitimate local microfinance coop in the community and I look forward to getting to observe EPV’s work, it is a delicate balance to find what could work and what they are willing to try. There should be a lot of research involved this year.


In addition to the microfinance, Erik and I are also going to try and run a small business class. This is a much more pressing matter, and much more exciting. There is a University, ESPE, Escuela Politecnica Ejercito, or the Military Polytechnic School, close by that has a business centered local outreach called CIDE. CIDE runs small business classes taught by professors free of charge. Dunc was able to organize a class through them with some success, and we are looking to build upon that. We are currently recruiting people who either have university degrees or are actively pursuing university degrees to undergo an intensive two week training (40 hour weeks) at the end of September. At the end of the course, we will be certified to train instructors for the small business classes, which will have huge benefits to us. Last year Dunc coordinated the class, and due the rigorous schedule they demand I hear it was tough to get students. Once Erik and I are trained as instructors, we will be able to offer the classes in the community at a time and pace which is more accessible to anyone who wants to take a small business class. We still need to find some more people who are willing to undergo the initial training, but this is still a really exciting opportunity to bring small business training to the communities we work in.


Haley and I will be running Adult English classes on Monday and Wednesday evenings starting in mid-September. We will start planning for these classes soon. This should be a new experience for me as well, but as teaching Adult English is one of many avenues for human capital development, which I came down here to do, I look forward to it.


My final program is children’s art. I didn’t originally plan on teaching this class, but now that I am, I'm really excited about it. The art program was one of MPI’s more popular and well attended programs last year, but initially none of us current PDs showed much interest in continuing it. Holly explained how art is not offered in schools, and the kids have a lot of problems expressing themselves creatively. During class, there is a lot of copying from neighbors and making projects look exactly like the example (one thing I have been told is to be sure not to leave the example out so they can copy it)But, the kids still love it and Holly said she saw a lot of improvement in expressing themselves creatively during “free art days” in just a few months. I think creativity is another important ingredient in human capital development, and am more than willing to spend some time each week making caterpillars out of egg crates and gluing dried coffee beans to cereal boxes. I also think that making art projects with kids each week will be a nice balance to what might be slower and more tedious work with EPV and Adult English, keeping my spirits high.   


So there’s the latest. A lot of this hasn’t really begun in earnest yet, because everyone in Ecuador is currently on vacation, but I have a lot of exciting opportunities in front of me to pursue in the next year. I’m learning more and more that grassroots community development is a day-by-day, fly by the seat of your pants (and with a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in processed foods, mine get looser every day) kind of work, but hopefully my American “plan it and get it done” mentality will be an asset rather than a roadblock to the kind of problems I’m bound to encounter in all of these programs this year.


Tomorrow: probably more pictures of kids from camp!


Until next time, keep reading and supporting us in all the ways you do.





PS: Like what you see? Follow my personal blog! It isn’t updated nearly as frequently as this one is, but you can find it at

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Faces of Summer Camp

Here is a small glimpse into our mornings as summer camp counselors for little kids. They are a little crazy and they wear us out, but just look how cute they are!

Emilia and her brother, Ivan, discuss important matters over water.

Classic Iori

Ivan and Joel ponder Jackie's Rainforest lecture.

Gisela getting ready for face painting.
(I finally got a picture of her! She hates the camera... and was subsequently angry at me for taking this one. Oops?)

Mike and Paola take turns face painting.
(Paola calls him "Mickey Mouse" and thinks it's quite possibly the funniest thing ever.)

Emilia takes her turn painting the profes' faces.

Joel and Emilia discuss their next tactical artistic move...

Looks like it's my turn...

Krysta wins. No contest.

Jackie and Joel

Haley and Gisela

Iori and Chet

Emilia examines her origami perrito.

The boys discuss whose orgami penguin can kill the others' origami penguins... in typical boy fashion.

Origami lessons... a perfect way to end the day.

Hope you're having a wonderful week!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Instilling Environmental Values, One Niño at a Time

    Laura teaches the kids how to plant onions  

Diana, Lady, and Pricilla love the camera 

Me and the kids in front of our masterpiece 

We were so inspired by the success of 'envirocamp,' that we decided to add a similar segment to our niños camp.  Today, we spent environmental hour learning about the Amazon, specifically the layers of the rainforest and what types of animals live in each.  The kids were eager to pick different animals and plants from my basket and place them in the either the canopy, understory or forest floor.  We ended the lesson with face painting, courtesy of Dana and Holly who brought us back Achote plants from Tena, a fruit that is used by the indigenous communities there.  I pretty sure the kids liked painting our faces even more than getting their own done (see Krysta below).  

Haley and Shawn enjoy getting made up
           Emilia and Joel decorate each other    

Krysta definitely wins MVP for today
All of the PDs posing with their make-up artists

I am so grateful to have been able to shadow Cristian and Laura to help prepare for niños camp and the natural science class Krysta and I plan to start in September.  So far, the kids have loved the games, art projects, and science experiments that we've come up with.  Camp is shaping up to be a perfect test run for planning our programs in the Fall!

Stay tuned for Mr. Chester Polson, who will be gracing us with a guest blog on Thursday in place of my usual post, to hear all about taking over Holly's art classes and his progress with co-running the Microfinance Program with Erik. (Yes, art AND finance... he's a pretty well-rounded catch, ladies!) 

Sustainably Yours, 

Monday, August 17, 2009

Interview the Executive Director: Questions for Lori!

Two blog posts in one day?! Pretty shocking, I know. ButI promise it's for an excellent cause.

As mentioned in previous posts, Lori Sharffenberg, Manna Project's Executive Director and co-founder, is currently visiting us in Ecuador and has agreed to let me interview her for the blog. (Or perhaps more accurately, the unbelievably humble Lori has decided to humor me with this interview because I decided mid-morning bus ride that an interview with someone who has seen MPI from the very beginning would be pretty sweet.)

So here's what I need YOU to do: send me questions for Lori's interview by noon THIS Friday. Some topic ideas include her involvement in Manna's founding, where she hopes to see MPI go in the future, and what it's been like to share a room with Haley and me. :) Please submit your questions via the comments section or by e-mailing me at Muchimas gracias!

- Sarah

Lori and the MPIE girls pose for a rooftop photo shoot

Crazy Schedules and Family Dinners

So here we are in our second week as "the official and newly minted PDs," as the eloquent (and sorely missed) Holly Ward would say. I'm happy to report that we are quickly adapting to running programs, staffing the library/teen center and being the face of MPI while wandering the streets of our communities. While much of the credit goes to a well-planned turnover, I'm fairly certain that the rest goes to having impeccably scheduled (and busy) days.

Each of us is operating on a slightly different schedule, as we are juggling various responsibilities. Today, we kicked off our summer camp for niños. For the next two weeks, we get to spend each morning together entertaining and playing with the kids at camp before scattering to tackle other tasks in the afternoon. Krysta, for example, has been working non-stop to organize a joint free clinic day with the local school/orphanage, A
liñambi, in late August. Jackie and Dana have been teaming up with a community member to help run an environmental camp for kids (fondly called "Envirocamp" around the house). Mike has been learning the ins and outs of running the teen center and library, while Chet and Erik have been planning what the microfinance program will look like. Sonia and I have been researching and brainstorming what goes into developing a preventative health clinic. And last, but certainly not least, Haley and Shawn have been practicing their aerobics, tae bo, and yoga (in the living room... quite entertaining) in preparation for women's exercise, which happens three times a week. (Haley has also been spending her time trying to learn the bus routes as she has been stranded twice in the last three days... in the same place...)

Even with our different and hectic schedules, we manage to swarm the dinner table at the same time each night for family dinner, and I've found it to be one of my favorite parts of the day. Hearing my housemates talk about their progress and success amidst the jokes and pleas for dessert (usually from Bibi) is exciting and grounding. It reminds me that our 10 different schedules, infinite different interests and abilities allow us to impact our communities in countless ways.

Looks like it's begun. How lucky are we?

Until next time,

The weekly calendar (i.e. how we keep track of everyone else)... strategically placed next to the kitchen, the most popular room in the house

Haley practices taking Shawn's blood pressure before tonight's Women's Exercise class

Shawn, Sarah and Haley's legs feel GREAT after an hour of squats and Tae Bo...

This is how we feel about teaching aerobics during tomorrow's Women's Exercise class...