Sunday, February 28, 2010

Week(s) in Review

A lot happens in the weeks that lead up to spring break, including running around Quito writing down directions, finalizing trip budgets, and setting up bunk beds / moving me and Erik into the house for the month. Thanks to Haley and the other group leaders, we feel pretty confident that things will good pretty smoothly come next Friday!

In the midst of all the planning, a number of other things have been happening that we've neglected to mention - a myriad of enthusiastic art classes, Erik's birthday, really professional grant writing meetings, and a fantastic visit from SETH! - Felicitaciones from the Manna house to him and his fiance, Johanna, who got engaged just a few weeks ago right here in Quito! I smell a reunion for your wedding (wink wink)?!

Here's a rundown through pictures of what we've been up to...

Erik turns 22, holler back youngin'!

Sarah and Bibi duke it out to see who gets to write the Gates Foundation grant (other match ups include: Mike vs. Chet, Haley vs. Krysta, more or less everyone else vs. Bibi)

Lucia, Marjorie, Johanna, Seth, and Shawn celebrating in Quito!

All of the art students hold up their masks in-progress

Emily and Mateo painting away

Wendy decorates with style

Stay tuned this week for notes from our first home stay, a rundown about a new 6th grade nutrition/class garden education program starting on Tuesday, updates from preventative health progress... and of course, spring break arrivals on Friday!

until next time,

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Survey Says...

This week's blog comes from Chet Polson, our resident e-card sender for any major and minor holiday, petty cash administrator, and most of all, the only person who has given us his guest blog on time (even early!) every single time he's scheduled. For all of those reasons and many more, WE LOVE YOU CHET.

"Ahoy 'Scrubs' Fans,

All of our first courses for the quarter are winding down, but rather than reflect on our first round of classes I am going to fill you in on something a bit more timeless: microfinance. Erik and I set a lot of big goals for the quarter (including starting to shadow with EPV and getting ready to teach the small business class we were trained for in the fall) but one of our most interesting goals is trying to survey the small business climate in the communities we work with. Now I can hear your eye-muscles contract as you are thinking, “Why on Earth would they want to SURVEY the place?”

Well sure, we already have SOCAT, the large community survey that was conducted two years ago. But SOCAT holds a snapshot of community assets (like skills) and areas where there is interest for possible growth. We are interested in a more robust picture of current business practices to get an idea of how small business is conducted currently and for possible ways to improve it. Right now, we are most interested in how businesses get what they are selling. Let me illustrate our interest with an example.

While there are many tiendas in Rumiloma, there is one I visit frequently about a block from the bus stop on the way into the Centro. I pop in and try to buy a 20 cent, glass bottle, returnable Coke before class when the mood strikes me (it strikes frequently). However, when the owner happens to be out of Coke, it will literally take her weeks to restock. I would probably buy a whole palette’s worth of Coke in the time it takes to restock, so she is losing out on a profit. During these “times of thirst” she literally has to tell me every time I walk in “Oh, Tuesday,” or whatever the next random day may be, so she knows she is out and someone wants to buy one. Many of the other tiendas don’t even sell coke in this size bottle.

This is the kind of example that makes Erik and I want to know more about overall current business practices than just anecdotal evidence. If our assumptions hold, there might be room for business cooperatives. To stick with the Coke example, maybe it would be best for all the tiendas in the area to place one big order directly with Coke, have it delivered weekly, and then just split up. But the honest answer is we just don’t know enough about how businesses work where we are, which is why we need to start with a survey.

We put some time into crafting this survey, and in one page, it covers a lot of areas of possible interest. We ask about business name (a basic question, but useful for advertising), number of employees, where they get their supplies, accounting procedures, and current loans and plans for future growth. The goal is to survey every business in the area: every tienda, every furniture maker, every welder, every internet café. Our official goal is to survey 50 businesses by the end of the quarter, and while we plan to do that, we very well could be surveying for the next several months. Erik and I will be administering the surveys orally to business owners in the area, so it will be a good chance to practice my Spanish and meet some community members who may not have visited our program space just yet. Hopefully by the end of the quarter we will have a big enough sample to see some general trends and have the ability to increase the business capital in the area in some form.

I’d attach a copy of the official survey as well, but I’m sure I am already over my word limit.

Song of the Blog: “Voice of the Voiceless,” by Rage Against the Machine "

What Chet does when he isn't microfinance-ing or teaching

- Jackie

Tuesday, February 23, 2010



The birthday boy would be the one of the left

Your Housemates :)

Monday, February 22, 2010

It's That Time Again...

... time for PD Interviews! Wooohooooooo!

For those of you who have not been religiously following the blog since this time last year, let me explain. Last year's PDs had the great idea of interviewing each PD individually and posting the interviews on the blog. It gave a better look into Manna life in Ecuador, as well as allowed people to get to know the PDs "face-to-face"... because well, there's only so much one can convey through a blog post. Now that we've been here long enough to (kind of?) know what we're talking about, and to expound on what we've learned and all of that fun self-reflective stuff, we're ready to get on with the interviews.

So how is this going to work? I'm hoping to conduct, edit, and post an interview once every 3 weeks (give or take). About 5 days before the actual interview, I'll write a post on the blog requesting questions for whomever is being interviewed that week. Then, I'll use your questions during the interview, edit the thing down to about 5-8 minutes, and post it. Rinse and repeat. Nine times.

Who's up first? None other than the mysterious MIKE GABRYS! Work-wise, Mike is known around these parts for his involvement in the library, Teen Center, and for teaching the newest Adult English class in Ruminahui with Chet. Non-work-wise, Mike is known for being the last candidate training for the full Quito marathon in June (the other candidate is wussing out and opting for the half marathon...), baking explosive (literally) brownies with Sonia at least once every two weeks, and being the extreme organizer of the laundry room.

Mike poses for his official Manna website photo...

I will be interviewing Mike THIS FRIDAY (2/26) at NOON... so please, send questions to or post them in the comments section of this post BEFORE noon on Friday!

Thanks in advance!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Taste of Heaven

This week's guest blog comes from Erik Swanson, my apartment-mate until next week when we migrate to the house for spring break - something tells me we might have a little adjusting to do after months of seclusion. After spending Carnaval on the coast, Erik has a lot to say about the beautiful beaches and people he encountered!

"Forty-five years ago, as the story is told, a group of surfers set out to travel the Ecuadorian coast in search of the perfect wave. When they found their ideal wave, they brought their families to a place that is now known as Ayampe to live in tranquility. Never straying from its roots of relaxation and moderate isolation, it is currently a town of no more than 400 easy-going inhabitants. The marriage of its climate, landscape, and culture make it nothing short of breathtaking. When one takes into account the addition of its surf, this small town may, perhaps, appear to be an outpost of heaven on Earth.

The town is small and charming, with its only paved road being the highway that runs from North to South along the coast. There are many small restaurants in the area that serve incredible seafood brought in fresh from the sea and even a small pool hall along the main road of town. Travelers can expect to be greeted with smiles and welcoming locals during the day and to be lulled to sleep by the soft chirping of insects accompanied by the constantly rolling waves at night.

Upon examining the beach itself, one can expect to be struck by all of the magnificent features that contributed to a group of surfers deciding to make it their private paradise. Surrounded by the last tropical forest in Ecuador, not to be confused with the rain forests of the east, and dissected by a river, this small strip of coast is a testament to Ecuador’s natural beauty. Adding to the ambiance of picturesque isolation, the beach’s northern and southern extremities are clearly marked by enormous, impassable rock faces. Completing the scenery, there is a small island formed by two pillars rising almost 100 feet above the waves located due west of the center of the beach. Once a year, the forces that be bless the locals with a stunning sunset that falls directly between the two pillars.

Erik takes a shot of friends at a beach-side bonfire

I had the pleasure of spending the four days of the Carnaval weekend in Ayampe. During a weekend that, at least in Latin America, is typically marked by the over-consumption of alcohol and onsets of temporary madness, I had the pleasure of a weekend filled with sun, surfing, and the company of good friends. My main suggestion for anyone with interest in visiting Ayampe is to bring multiple good books. I’d like to thank Kurt Vonnegut and Jean-Paul Sartre for fulfilling my every literary want and need. "

Friday, February 19, 2010

Water Balloons, Silly String and Espuma: Carnaval 2k10

Last weekend all 9 PDs got out of Conocoto to celebrate the 4-day Carnaval weekend. Carnaval is a pretty big deal in Ecuador... especially to the kids who don't have school, and thus spend their time hitting innocent bystanders with water balloons, silly string, and espuma (essentially stinky spray foam in a can). Carnaval is related to Mardi Gras and is celebrated in the last 4 days leading up to Lent.

We spent our Carnavals spread throughout the country traveling, exploring, sleeping, tanning, playing rugby, and getting (semi) lost in the jungle. Here is a peek into the adventures of last weekend...

Sonia and her boyfriend, Ricky, spent their weekend in Cuenca - here they are hiking in Parque Nacional Cajas near Cuenca

Cuenca is known for its colonial architecture and heavy European influence. Sonia and Ricky will remember it mostly for the people who threw water balloons at them from roofs, balconies, and the back of pick-up trucks.

Shawn went to Casablanca, just outside of Esmeraldas with a crew of Ecuadorian friends - here they are maxing and relaxing in the sun

Shawn and friends walking along the beach in Casablanca

Erik went to a town outside of Montanita with some rugby teammates - here they are throwing the ball around on the beach

Erik's view of the sunset from the coast

Chet flew down to Coca and stayed at the Yachana lodge on the Rio Napo - he spent the weekend in the primary rainforest hiking and birdwatching

The sunset as seen from Chet's lodge on the Napo

Mike spent the weekend in Tena, a town on the edge of the rain forest with his best friend, Kyle - here is a view from their lodge

Krysta, Jackie, Haley and I also spent the weekend in Tena - here we are (slightly lost) in the forest in an attempt to find our jungle lodge

Our weekend highlights also include a particularly exciting camioneta ride over the Rio Napo...

Until next time,

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

One Step Closer to Airing on the Food Network

It's official - the 3rd floor kitchen has finally been installed! After months of fundraising, budgeting, purchasing, and installing, the far side of the third floor finally looks like a kitchen (instead of a haphazard storage space - see below). Big shout outs to Sonia, who took the reins on this project from the first budget draft, and to Krysta who spent the better part of last week cleaning out the space and getting everything put in its place. Our task now is to spend the next month promoting and planning classes to be ready to begin in early April.

A gigantic thank you to all of our unbelievable donors:
  • The Peterson Family
  • The Booe Family
  • Dana Conway
  • The Zhou Family
Literally none of this picturesque spread below would be possible without you. We'll think of you every time we flip an egg or sauté fresh vegetables!

the sink/painted window/slight storage area before...

... and after! hey look, there are mountains back there!

beautiful spankin' new cookware

expertly matched cutlery (I bet you can guess who picked those out)

a spread of utensils, stove, knives, pots and pans, and so much more

Culinary-ly yours,

Thursday, February 11, 2010

We like to move it...

... it being 10 book shelves, 8 tables, a dozen chairs, and close to 2,000 library books.

After observing that many parents are intimidated by the hoards of small children running around for coloring pages and markers as they walk in the door, we decided that some changes needed to be made to the library layout. We did this with two of our goals in mind: increasing readership and catering to adults. Although this is just the first step of many to work towards these goals - we plan to organize a reading competition & book clubs for the spring - we're proud of the new layout and increased ability to control game playing and encourage reading.

Check it out for yourself!

photos courtesy of Miss Krysta Peterson

book shelves serve as a barrier between rowdy games and quieter reading

the new rincon de leer, complete with a rincon of bean bags and circled shelves

This 4-day weekend we're all headed to different parts of the country for none other than carnaval, the South American equivalent of Mardi Gras. Don't worry, we're fully equipped to defend ourselves with water balloons and shaving cream!


Monday, February 8, 2010

Riobamba: SNAFU

Last weekend, the Ecuador Mannafolk learned a very important lesson: group retreats resemble two very important things - community development and Forest Gump chocolates. The former because the outcome is relatively uncertain and the latter because "you never know what you're going to get."

Shawn ("Chaaaawn" to most library children), our resident Social Chair, planned a wonderful 2-day group retreat in Riobamba, a small city nestled in the Andes about 4 hours south of Quito. We planned on leaving the house at 6:30am on Saturday (yes, this actually happened - shocking), arriving in Riobamba around lunchtime, taking a scenic hike to see the nearby Volcan Tungurahua and Chimborazo, and promptly going to bed. Sunday's plans included riding on the top of the famous train that traverses the Devil's Nose early in the morning, and heading back to Quito in time to catch the Super Bowl.

Now, remember, these were the plans... but alas, when we arrived in Riobamba it was raining. Take into consideration that Riobamba is fondly called "Friobamba" ("frio" = cold). Pues, all-day rain + cold does not equal a fun outdoor day. After a delicious lunch, the group walked around the market in the rain... then the boys went to take a quick nap (read: ~3 hours), while the girls continued to trudge around in the rain until we hit the jackpot: a gelato store in Riobamba. Of course, we indulged before heading to buy our train tickets for the next day. When we arrived at the train station, our savvy Spanish quickly allowed us to discover that the tickets were SOLD OUT until February 24th. Since we couldn't ditch work for 3 weeks to hang out in Riobamba until the train freed up, we had to sulk back to the hostel (still in the rain) and relay the news to the boys. None of us were thrilled, but we decided to make the best of it and planned for a hike the next morning before heading back to Conocoto.

Sunday morning, after a continental breakfast, we headed out to a small town called Pelileo by bus to start a hike to see the nearby (and currently smoking) Volcan Tungurahua. We found out that the walk was too long to actually hike, so we took a camioneta instead and got to take in the beautiful mountains from the bed of the truck. (Erik and Shawn also took in some water balloons, as Carnaval has officially started, which means any breathing human being is a target for being hit with various forms of water.) The views were beautiful, the group attitude was positive (despite the many changes in plans), and I think we all enjoyed getting out of Conocoto for the weekend.

And bonus points, we made it back in time to see the Super Bowl... 8 out of 10 of us were happy with the outcome. The New Orleans fans cried tears of joy, while the resident Hoosier just cried. But I guess you just can't argue with the underdog. :)

Here's to uncertainty, plan-changing, and annoying/funny Carnaval traditions (depending on who gets hit/does the hitting with water balloons/shaving cream),

PS. Thanks to Erik for sharing his pictures!

Chet and Jackie show their varying degrees of enthusiasm after being hit with shaving cream through the open bus window. Happy Carnaval?

The group (damp and cold) at dinner on Saturday night

Bibi. Cows. Camioneta ride through the Andes. I'd say she's in her element?

Group in front of a cloud-obscured Tungurahua

The boys take a loving man photo

A smoking Tungurahua
What the Devil's Nose train might have looked like had tickets not been sold out...
(picture from my Devil's Nose train experience last summer)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Our In-House Shakespeare...

(Today's Guest Blog comes from the delightful, eccentric, and apparently poetic Haley Booe. Her many talents include: making the other female PDs exceptionally sore during Women's Exercise, whipping up a mad dish of pad thai with limited cooking resources, knowing every choreographed dance scene in every movie ever made, and putting up with me as a roommate. She also happens to be our fearless Spring Break Coordinator... which is now in its stressful planning phase, and thus, is - clearly - consuming most of her thoughts. Enjoy our very own Shakespeare, Miss Haley Booe.)

"Since Spring Break planning is in full swing, that's most of what I have been thinking about these days. So here's a little poem for my guest blog - a tribute to Spring Break, if you will. Please excuse the limited vocabulary... my diction is quite poor, since half of my day I spend speaking Spanish.

'Twas a month before Spring Break, and through the Manna House
Everything was hectic; planning was my spouse.

The schedules were posted, created with care
Every group's leaders made a great pair.

We counted to make sure there were enough beds,
We have to find towels, so they can shampoo their heads!

Through budgets and food and Quito maps,
We planned out our trips to buy Panama caps.

This week in the library there arose such a clatter,
When we have extra volunteers, a lack of bookshelves will not matter.

By February 19th, we must have all their cash,
For the groups will be here to build in a flash.

Building, painting, cleaning they'll do,
And community members won't know what to do.

We'll travel to Quito, and Mindo they'll see,
To show them the country we love; on this, we agree.

Culture, awareness, projects and Manna life,
Our volunteers will experience all without much strife.

And when it's all over, he hope we still will be,
Friends and coworkers with (most of) our sanity.

So stay tuned to see how it all turns out,
Spring Break season is here, there is no doubt!"

Haley poses for her official MPI website picture...


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Different Strokes

Over the past month we have been filling out 'organizational matrices' to keep track of our goals throughout the next quarter for each of our programs. While we still have awesomely solid programs like children's Art and English classes in full swing, we also have many new initiatives and enhanced programs that are well worth pointing out...

Generally speaking: We've started calling our building space Centro de Manna to encompass everything that we offer, including the library, teen center, and third floor space used for Women's exercise, classes, and future preventative health center.

Library: We have $1,000 of new books !!! We're also in the process of reallocating the library space to focus on our goals of appealing to more adults and encouraging reading.

Education: We have a new adult English class in Barrio Rumiñahui, lead by Chet and Mike. We also added a world studies class, connecting South American-focused geography with natural science and environmental issues.

Teen Center: Shawn, Mike, and Erik are working on attracting more teens to bi-weekly movie nights and special monthly events, with a Valentine's day party coming up.

Women's Exercise: Haley/Jillian Michaels, with help from the other health constituents, added a new Wednesday morning class and is working on giving workshops to dedicated attendees who are interesting in helping lead exercise in the future.

Microfinance: Erik and Chet are designing a survey to get to know the small businesses in the community and assess the feasibility of creating a network between them.

Agriculture/Environment: Jackie is working on monthly AG charlas, composting and rain barrel workshops, and monthly field trips for kids to explore the great outdoors.

Nutrition: Krysta is working with local school Aliñambi on a project that includes community based nutrition education, cooking classes, and an agricultural aspect to connect participants to where their food comes from.

Preventative Health: We've been buying and setting up our Centro kitchen (expect pictures soon and a huge thank you to all of our donors!). Sarah, Sonia and Shawn have been working with the Conocoto Ministry of Health on planning the center and finding future staffing.

Mingas: Erik is working with local government officials on setting up public trash bins in Rumiloma, as well as other community projects such as potentially building a a local bridge.

Phew! - I know that's a lot of information, and you're probably feeling like you want to dip your toes deeper into our refreshing pool of community development. But don't you worry because we're about to embark on a new chapter of guest blogs. First up, Haley Booe tomorrow - this will be a special one, folks... I've heard already heard it rehearsed in the living room!

We also promise to go into more depth about these projects as they progress, and if there's anything you're dying to hear more of, holler at us!


Monday, February 1, 2010

Un Montón of Books!

Thanks the work of last year's PDs, we won a grant for library books from Books for Life. The stipulation was that if we spent $2,000 on books, they would reimburse us for that $2,000 plus give us an addition $1,000 to be spent on books. Last year, they bought the first $1,000 worth of books and just last week we spent the second $1,000.

The PDs, along with help of Paola, a community member, broke up into teams to conquer the biggest bookstores we could find in Quito, with each group focusing on purchasing books to cater to a certain genre of library-goers. The book groups included children's, adult, teen, health/nutrition and agriculture.

Today, we moved the piles of books from the make-shift storage space underneath our stairs to the library. And since the library bosses (i.e. Mike, Jackie, Haley and Sonia) spent the majority of their afternoon entering all of the books into the electronic check-out system, the stacks of new books have made their way onto the shelves and are ready to be read! It is quite satisfying to see fully stocked library shelves!


Un monton de libros nuevos!

Thoroughly organized Children's Books

Stocked shelves around the Children's Corner

Mike and Chet help keep the order (book-wise and broom-wise)

Sonia arguably made the most important purchase: Bibi and Spring
The little girl looks JUST like Bibi...