Wednesday, December 15, 2010

¡Feliz Navidad y Año Nuevo de Ecuador!

While the days are short and nippy for you, our Norteamericano readers, and perhaps you're even heading into a snowy winter, our December days here at the Manna site are... exactly the same as they were in July when we arrived.  Except rainier.  The sun, announced by our rooster's cries, rises between 6:00 and 6:30, followed by a usually bright and warm morning.  Mid-afternoon the temperature rapidly drops, and a torrential downpour makes getting to the library something of a difficult task for PDs heading to the teen center or children's English at 4:00 and adult English at 5:00.  The sun sets again between 6:00 and 6:30, darkening our upstairs space just in time for the meditation period at the end of women's exercise classes.  By the time we're heading home from the Centro just after 7:00, the rain has stopped and our trek on the Capelo bus is simply damp and cool.  Although it's often nice to have such predictability of daily weather patterns, it's a little disconcerting for us to be entering the holiday season here when we're used to the short, markedly colder December days characteristic of the world above 30N latitude.

However, that isn't to say we haven't been able to get into the holiday spirit, both at our Centro and at home.

Last Friday, we held our second monthly library celebration, the first being our Día de los Difuntos party.  We made cookies, hot chocolate, and decorations for a Christmas party (seeing as the vast majority of Ecuador, like the rest of Latin America, is Christian), complete with the tree we set up at home!  As with our last party on November 5, we advertised during the week prior to kids who regularly come to the library as well as out in the community, and this time had even higher attendance.  When we arrived at the library to open at 2:30, a crowd of kids was already clustered excitedly at the door shouting "Profe!  Profe!" ready to start the fiesta.  We had a schedule lined up throughout the afternoon to occupy the kids of varying ages and interests.  At 3:00 Zoë and Becky took a group upstairs to play games (musical chairs and the human knot, for instance) in our women's exercise space while I announced a Christmas storytime in the reading corner for those who were feeling more tranquilo.  In addition to reading stories from a lovely Spanish Christmas book Hannah had found at a local toy store to a small group of eager kids, I passed out a coloring book I had made of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas (Sucedió Una Nochebuena in Spanish) to children to decorate and take home.  At 3:30 Sam and Brock led multiple games of chess for older kids and teens, some of which took place on our newly painted checker/chess boards on the wooden tables in the game area.  At 4:00, our normal children's art time, so many children wanted to participate in the ornament-making project led by Luke that there was a waiting list 30 names long to go into the children's art corner and use the limited number of scissors and glue available.  By 5:30 our tree was decorated (temporarily, since most children took their creations home) with multiple cotton ball Santa Clauses.  At this time, baked goods in hand, Hannah and Ashley announced the gingerbread cookie decorating hour.  They'd been upstairs churning out gingerbread men, stars, and bells in our kitchen space, and the kids were jumping up and down to decorate them with homemade icing, gum drops, and sprinkles at the end of the day.

The party was a fantastic success.  After the initial surge during which two of our sign-in sheets filled up within 5 minutes of opening, the number of children in our library grew to over 50 by the end of the day.  Throughout the day, while guided activities were going on, PDs were teaching and playing games, talking, and greeting newcomers who'd climbed our stairs for the first time upon seeing our sign outside reading "¡Fiesta de Navidad!"  We left exhausted but exhilarated to close our library for the holiday season on such a note of excitement.

After the party we immediately left for Quito to celebrate further: Brock turns 23 on December 15!  Upon his request, we headed to north Quito, the shopping center Quicentro, to go bowling.  Complete with black lights and air hockey, we celebrated Brock's birthday in classic style at the bowling alley.  Happy final birthday of 2010, Brock!

Monday night, before five of us (Zoë, Becky, Jack, Ashley and I) left for the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu and the rest headed back to the States, we held our own little holiday celebration with Secret Santa around our Christmas Tree.  The evening was a great success, complete with homemade eggnog (thanks Jack and Sam!) and spice cake (thanks to Bibi!), and a lovely way to send us off for the holidays.

¡Feliz Navidad y Año Nuevo de Ecuador!  We'll see you in January!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Finals period: Adult English

As our second quarter draws to a close, Sam brings an update on the end of his first adult English course:

‘You look weird,’ our students exclaimed when Brock and I walked into Intermediate Adult English at the start of November.  I didn’t think we looked weird.  I figured we looked distinguished.  I guess I thought wrong.  ‘Why did you grow hair on your lip?’ they asked through disapproving giggles.  This was a great opportunity to explain to our students what Movember is all about. 

In case you don’t know, November is a month dedicated to the awareness of and raising money for men’s health issues, specifically prostate and testicular cancer, as well as depression in men (see  It has become a tradition, in November, to grow a mustache to raise awareness, thus the name Movember, or mustache November. Our group of gents down here in Ecuador decided to partake in this year’s Movember and dawn mustaches for the entire month.  It was a great success, as in we made it the whole month without shaving them off (though my English class wasn’t all that excited about it), and I hope we can all do it again next year.
An artistic rendering of the Manna men during Movember.
All mustaches aside (they are all shaved off and long gone by now, as it is December), Intermediate Adult English is still one of my favorite things that I do down here.  I teach Intermediate Adult English with Brock twice a week.  It’s very fulfilling when you can see your students improve over the course of your twelve week class.  Just last week, we were working on pronunciation and I threw in a few ‘V’ words, and my students, who would have struggled in the beginning of the class, all looked at me as if I was silly, before pronouncing the words with great articulation.  One of my favorite things about our students is that they keep a sense of humor about the learning process.  We all laugh together when working on pronunciation, which is nice because the students lose the fear of making mistakes and enjoy the learning process more.

We have had a very tight knit group in our Adult English class.  As was mentioned on the blog before, our class helped us in making the traditional drink for our ‘Dia de Los Difuntos.’   Furthermore, about half our class regularly rode the bus home with us at the end of the day, joking and trading colloquialisms and cultural observations along the way with us. 

Having now completed the course we feel exceedingly proud: our students did well and the course went smoothly overall.  We were really excited to give our students ‘graduation certificates’ and are quite eager to see who returns for the next round of courses.  All in all, it’s been a great experience and I have learned immeasurably, given that this is my first time teaching English.

Hope all is well with our readers out there.  Stay classy!   

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Happy belated Thanksgiving!

To fill you in on our festivities, we present you Becky:

On Saturday, the Manna house celebrated the great tradition of Thanksgiving.  We decided to wait until Saturday to have our Thanksgiving feast since we all had to work on Thursday.  (Apparently, the people of Ecuador do not commemorate the joint harvest celebration between the pilgrims and Native Americans.)  I volunteered to be in charge of the dinner since Thanksgiving is hands down my favorite day of the year.  I wanted to make sure that everyone had their favorite traditional foods during this holiday that makes us all miss our families and the time we usually spend with them.  I asked everyone to send me their favorite foods and the recipes that their families make.  Throughout this past week, everyone helped go on the multiple trips to the markets, grocery stores, and mega stores to make sure that we had everything that we needed to make a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.  We looked everywhere for cranberry sauce or cranberries to make the sauce from scratch and were almost ready to admit defeat until Zoë’s last minute trip to a shop in the mall that sells foreign foods culminated in us buying their last two cans of cranberry sauce.

We ended up with a delicious menu of a 20 lb turkey, three types of stuffing, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole (well, purple camote dulce casserole, since the orange sweet potatoes we love are not available at all here), roasted corn, salad, and gravy.  We also had the essential surplus of desserts including two pumpkin pies, a pecan pie, two apple pies, two pumpkin loaves, a pumpkin cake, and a mango crumble, since mangos are in season.

The cooking went as smoothly as any Thanksgiving goes.  Bibi and I spent most of Friday baking pies and other desserts.  On Saturday, we began cooking at noon trying to get the Turkey in the oven by 1pm.  Throughout the afternoon, Bibi, Noel, Zoë, and I kept watch over the turkey and prepared our numerous side dishes.  We planned to eat at 7:30pm, but unsurprisingly, the turkey was not ready until 8:30pm.  When dinner was finally ready, we stood around the table and everyone talked about what they were thankful for.  It was nice to hear that everyone was grateful to have such a great group of friends here in Ecuador (and that Noel was thankful for the internet). 
We were all excited to share our holiday dinner with friends that live in and around Quito.  Three of our friends, Lucía, Roniel, and Nolo, had never celebrated Thanksgiving before, and it was fun to introduce them to our tradition.  We also had some American friends, Amy and Scott, whom we were happy to have come celebrate with us.
Bibi, Noel and me tending to the turkey during the long afternoon.
Noel, Zoë and me, proud of our afternoon's labors.
Amid a crowd in our kitchen, Luke has a moment with our friend and guest's son, Gabito.
Nolo, Hannah, and Sam congregating while Luke cuts the turkey.
Nothing like carving into a turkey to ignite those smiles!
The kitchen is absolutely the place to be on Thanksgiving. 
It was awesome to see everyone work together to make this Thanksgiving dinner happen.  I know that in my experience I have helped my family in the past with cooking for Thanksgiving, but I have never had that much responsibility for the food.  It’s amazing that everything turned out perfectly, and it was because everyone pitched in to make it happen.  It was great experiencing a little piece of home this past weekend.  It has definitely made me excited to come home in December and see my friends and family.  
The whole day was a bit overwhelming for some of us...
...and we had to head off to bed immediately after the meal...
...but overall it was a great success!

iFeliz Día de la Acción de Gracias!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Program Needs blog

In the spirit of the dawning holiday season…

Hello again blog readers.   I wanted to start off by saying Happy Holidays, and more specifically Happy Thanksgiving!  Yes, this means while you are enjoying turkey and pumpkin pie we are down here enjoying another exciting day of work! (no sarcasm intended, honestly) 

As you may know, Manna Project International relies solely on donations and grants for funding.   In order to continue our community development work in Latin America we depend on the donations of organizations, foundations, and individuals.  We have been extremely fortunate to receive the generosity and support we have.  

This being said, in the spirit of giving that comes upon us this time of year, I would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to our new blog page containing all of our current program needs.  With the help of my compañeros here in Ecuador I have constructed this page in order to keep our supporters up to date with items needed for our programs.  Please check it out at  You can also now find this link to the right on this blog page in case you need to reference it in the future.  If you have any questions please contact me, Luke, by email

Wishing you all a wonderful and safe Holiday season: Chow!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Turkey Day!

Family and friends of MPI,
This Thanksgiving I am blessed to say that I am grateful for many things. I am grateful for my family, my friends, my MPI family, an awesome boss (gaining brownie points with Bibi), a dozen beautiful, orange, Thanksgiving roses I just bought at the market for $2, my health, my sanity (most days), the opportunity to be down here in Ecuador... the list goes on and on. I do want to say a specific thank you to all of the PDs who came before us and paved the way for the work that we are currently doing down here in Rumiloma. Thank you to the board of MPI and to the original PDs (even though they were in Nicaragua) - without you none of us would be down here working for Manna.
There are other great reasons to be excited about this time of the year - the main reason being that we can now remove the Christmas tree from hiding and crank up the holiday tunes that I have been sneakily listening to for the last week (okay, two weeks). We will be missing Brock as he is spending this holiday in the States with his family and has been insistent that we stifle our Christmas cheer until after this 25th of November. The time has come!

Noel and I setting up our Christmas tree!

The finished product!

Although we are not celebrating Thanksgiving today and instead will be having a feast on Saturday evening, we wish you all the happiest of Thanksgivings. I can only hope you all feel as blessed as I do this Holiday Season.


Monday, November 22, 2010

Birthdays in Ecuador!

Manna PDs 2010-2011 at C'est La Vie with the owner for Becky's birthday
This year’s PDs have celebrated much since arriving in Ecuador. Just last week we indulged in a Cajun meal at a Louisiana-themed restaurant in the north of Quito for Becky’s 23rd birthday! Jambalaya, gumbo, shrimp etoufee, and chicken fried steak were the welcome fare for the night at this establishment, founded and run by a native of Lafayette, Louisiana, who has called Ecuador his home for the last 28 years, and his Ecuadorian wife. Although it at times proved confusing (Tabasco sauce and a throw rug on the wall featuring a lobster and crab declaring laissez les bons temps rouler over a boiling pot of gumbo? Where are we??), the location turned out to provide a perfect atmosphere for birthday revelry, complete with the now highly anticipated presentation of Zoë’s beautifully creative birthday card. One of the highlights of all our birthdays here is receiving her card, though it’s for no small amount of anxiety on her part to create a work of art to memorialize each birthday in Ecuador. Overall, hooray for delicious food and wonderful company together to bring in Becky’s 24th year!

Zoë reading Becky's birthday card aloud to the delight of the table.

Becky and her complimentary cake and balloon at C'est La Vie  
Admittedly, we have neglected to mark here the growing older (and wiser) of two more of our group. To right this wrong, we here give tribute to those old souls among us. In September we celebrated Sam’s 24th birthday at a Mexican restaurant in Quito. On a festively lit patio and joined by an old friend of Sam’s from California who happens to also be living and working in Quito, we partook in copious amounts of enchiladas and nachos to quench Sam’s longing for his favorite home comfort food. There’s really nothing like Mexican food to make one feel like one is home in the States, no?

In October we were not lacking for celebration either, as Luke turned 26 in our midst at an all-you-can-eat buffet in Quito. Meats, salads, sides, and desserts from an inexplicable assortment of culinary heritages decorated our table for Luke’s birthday dinner. The meal was followed karaoke, dancing, and more laughter with the entire group – not to mention a champagne cork popped in his honor when a bartender discovered it was Luke’s birthday. A night of friendship and joviality, it seemed the perfect way to mark the passing of another year for Profe Lukay, as our Centro kids so fondly refer to him.

Our two senior men, Luke and Sam, celebrating Luke's birthday!
¡Feliz Cumpleaños a todos!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Our business class gets off to a running start

Today brings an update on one of MPI Ecuador's fastest growing programs, microfinance. Here to give a run-down on the launching of our business class is Brock!
Seeing last year’s leg work come to fruition has been one of the best parts of the microfinance program thus far. Last year Chet and Eric took a class to become certified and learn how to teach small business classes from a local university. After taking the class, they were unable to get a small business class off the ground in Rumiloma. However, they were able to create a course manual, which Jack, Luke, and I have used to get the class started. Of course the class started in true Latin American style over a year after the initial push was made.
After walking around the community surveying potential class participants, we settled on teaching the class Saturday afternoons. It seems like we chose the correct time as 10 people came to our first class. 10 may sound like a small class, but this number actually seems to indicate definite success. Christian and Laura from Anamisi, our agriculture partner organization, were amazed at the turn out. Following the first class we asked all the students that wished to continue with the course to inscribe and all 10 did so. Jack, Luke and I were all ecstatic about the turn out and avid participation of our students. We have high hopes as we continue with our 6 week course.
Nestor, the head of our microfinance partner organization EPV, attended the first class and thought so highly of it that he has asked us to give some classes to their employees for training. It has been so cool for Jack, Luke and me to see this partnership grow in a way that Manna has been striving to obtain for a while. We do have to give credit to the foundation work which was done by the PDs before us. The realization of these new classes is a tribute to the hard work Manna has done in Ecuador for the last three and a half years.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Introducing: Don Quixote, Goldie, Fea and Dulcinea

Dear readers... The moment has finally come! We have them! We finally have chickens! The boys have been looking forward to this day for months and since the new house conveniently has a built-in chicken coop in the back yard, we figured... why not? The boys returned with three chickens and a rooster. So far it has been quite an interesting experience.

The chickens are adjusting to a new roost so I am trying to cut them some slack but there are a few things we are all hopeful will change before too long. Firstly, we are sincerely hoping they will stop climbing the fence and attempting to make a break for it. Just this morning one of the chickens (Goldie) and our rooster (Don Quixote) almost tasted freedom by finding a hole in the fence. Luckily our fearless boys chased them down and returned them home to safety. Secondly, the rooster has not quite adjusted to a normal crowing schedule. Some days he is quite an eager beaver crowing at 4:30am (must to my chagrin since my room is right next to the coop) and other days he forgets to crow and calls us to lunch around 11:30 or noon. Lastly, the chickens are severely lacking in maternal instinct; we have 7 eggs so far but the chickens refuse to lay on them. From what I know from children's books, chickens are supposed to lay on their eggs and wait for them to hatch. Our chickens would rather run around the coop and hatch plans with El Gallo (Don Quixote) about an eventual escape from their cozy new homes.

Here are a few pictures to show off our lovely new additions to the Manna team:

Don Quixote and Fea commiserating near the trough. They know the boys are coming to get them.

The boys attempting to capture the chickens as they fly, hop and run around the coop.

Brock giving el gallo Don Quixote some lovin'.

Success! Chickens captured. Photo taken.

Until next time!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Our first weekend at Jesus Divino de Preso

We have begun a partnership with a new organization here in the Valley: Jesus Divino de Preso. Today Ashley brings a little more information about our inaugural activities and conversations with Jesus Divino.

Ashley here again, ready and excited to update you on an interesting new volunteer opportunity in which we have decided to take part. Bibi and Hannah initially met with Juana (affectionately known at their foundation as “Juanita”) from Jesus Divino de Preso, an organization that houses children whose mothers are in prison. While their intent was to discuss spring break, another opportunity emerged out of the meeting - the chance for us to volunteer every other weekend to give the “tías” (house aunts) a few days off.

Jesus Divino operates a number of houses on their beautifully lush property, in which children all live together as a family with their tía. Children are expected to take responsibility for themselves and all of their belongings, including doing dishes, cleaning the house, and washing their laundry daily. The foundation is run by a strong base of professionals who want the children to grow up feeling empowered instead of feeling poor and pitied.

Noel and I were the first to volunteer for a weekend, and it was quite an experience. We traveled to their property not knowing at all what to anticipate or what our role would be in relating to the kids. It ended up being a weekend of dualities: feeling both necessary and superfluous, connecting with kids and yet maintaining distance, loving spending time with them and being frustrated at their periodic disrespect.

It was fascinating to see our shifting roles in relation to the kids as well: at different times we served as authority figures, stand-in loving mothers, disciplinarians, and playmates. After leaving from the weekend both tired and slightly confused at our responsibilities, we met with Juana and a few other professionals from the foundation, including a psychologist with a great deal of insight. They provided us with information about our relationships with the kids as well as the benefits (on both sides) of our volunteering with them. It was incredibly helpful, and we are excited to continue working with them in this unique opportunity!

Two of the houses where the children and tías live on Jesus Divino's grounds, including the one we occupied (left) during our stay.

A tía and some girls waiting out the rain.

John Kevin playing with Noel's umbrella.

Me playing with Freddy and John Kevin in the windows of their house.

Noel reading Aladdin to Freddy, Junior, and Jorge.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Día de los Difuntos celebration!

Last Friday, November 5, we held an afternoon-long celebration at the library of el Día de los Difuntos. After our 5-day feriado, we wanted to bring kids back into our space with a bang. To that end, we advertised during the preceding weeks for a fiesta which would include games, special art projects, and the traditional food and drink of Ecuador’s Día de los Difuntos: colada morada and guaguas de pan (bread shaped as little dolls).

The week before our long weekend, some of our adult English students (Ivonne, who is in the intermediate class, and her aunt Fabiola, who is in my basic class) arranged to teach us all how to make colada morada, a thick, fruity, sugary beverage which we’ve all decided to try to reproduce in our future lives in the States to pour over ice cream or pie. Not only was the instruction a great deal of fun and an opportunity for camaraderie with our students, it was fantastic preparation for the three enormous pots worth of colada we ended up making for our fiesta the following week.

The afternoon was a great success! Our library, decorated with purple and white flowers in honor of the occasion, was filled to capacity from its opening at 2:30 until we closed at 7:00.

The kids participated in an Uno tournament, a ping pong tournament, group board games, and a special art project led by our children’s art profes, Luke, Sam, and Zoë during the regular children’s art hours of 4-5pm on Fridays. The afternoon served as a fantastic advertisement for children’s art, as nearly every child under 11 in the library made lovely construction paper flowers from construction paper and pipe cleaners to take home to their families.

At the end of the day we were exhausted but ecstatic about the number of kids who had heard about and come to share in our celebration. Even though we came home with a pot and a half left of colada morada that we had to make space for in the refrigerator, we all felt like it was a decided success.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

English outside the box

In response to overwhelming community interest in Manna's English classes and following up on expansion initiatives undertaken by the previous year's program directors, we have extended our English offerings outside of the Centro to reach more and more varied of our community members. In today's guest blog Jack brings you a glimpse into what Manna's English looks like outside the box.

Sangolquí: Our home since mid-September, Sangolquí is a bustling metropolis and is the largest city in our valley. Unlike our former neighborhood (Conocoto), Sangolquí has lots of stores, restaurants, internet café’s, and bus lines in close proximity to our house.

Rumiloma: This is the small community where we maintain our library and host the majority of our programs. Rumiloma is slightly less developed that Sangolquí, and has a fairly slower pace of life.

Why the explanation? I’d been hoping to have my own English class down here; however, we already had more than enough people maintaining the current children's and adult English classes at our centro in Rumiloma. Since the move to Sangolquí in September, I have been working through our neighborhood's government to organize a new English class in this area. A few weeks ago, I finally started adult and teen English classes. Funnily enough, the town president decided the best place for these classes would be the local police station. A few times every class, fully suited-up chapas (cops) stroll into the class and listen in on our mock dialogues and vocab games. Every class also features a song of the day: I choose a song to play on my laptop that includes a few relevant phrases or vocab words and give all the students a worksheet with a few of the lyrics missing. For my first song, I chose "Sympathy for the Devil" by the Rolling Stones. This really helped everyone pick up on the phrase “Pleased to Meet You.” Afterwards I translated the lyrics for everyone. Things got a little awkward when I came to the phrase “Every cop is a criminal” (keep in mind all of the cops in Ecuador went on strike about a month ago).

All in all, however, our two new English classes have been a big hit, and they have definitely boosted awareness of MPI’s presence in Sangolquí. As some of the only Americans in our area, we are the only source of English classes in our community that are taught by native speakers (they are also the cheapest - $10 for an 8 week course). While English instruction is only a small part of the development work we conduct, it has nonetheless been a longstanding success that we are excited to continue.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Happy Thursday everyone! For us here in Ecuador today has felt like a strange cross between a Monday and a Saturday because we just got back from traveling over our 5-day weekend. November 2nd and 3rd are national feriados due to el Día de los Difuntos (you may know it as Día de los Muertos) and Cuenca’s Independence Day. Just last week, in classic Ecuadorian style, the government declared Monday, November 1st, a feriado as well, giving everyone the chance to get out of town for a continuous five days.

While Luke held down the fort at the Manna house, the rest of us split into three directions to see parts of Ecuador new to each of us. Brock, Jack, and Sam headed off into the Oriente to Tena for a long weekend full of adventure in the Amazon. It included rafting, caving, and jumping off bridges. The souvenirs with which they returned consisted not only great photos, but also calves covered in bright red bug bites after their insect repellent washed off while rafting.

Becky and Zoë, meanwhile, went south to Montañita, a beautiful and tranquil coast town near Guayaquíl. There, they relaxed on the beach, ate the delicious seafood cuisine the coast is famous for, and made friends with locals.

Finally, Hannah, Ashley and I combined a bit of the jungle (though not the Amazon) and a bit of the beach with a two-part trip to the northwest part of the country. We stopped first in Playa de Oro, where we stayed at a jungle lodge just set back from a river run by the residents of the village of Playa de Oro, went on hikes, and swam in a waterfall. After the jungle, we pushed out to the northern beach towns of Atacames and Súa for a change of pace before heading home.

For everyone, it was a great weekend of travel. We relaxed and adventured and continued to put into the national context of Ecuador what Manna is doing in the sierras outside Quito. Ecuador never ceases to amaze.