Friday, May 28, 2010

Dr. Patel on the PHC

(Today's Guest Blog comes from Senorita Sonia "Pricing" Patel. Sonia spends her time coming up with wildly creative art projects for the kiddos every Friday, pricing any and every object you can think of - from bookshelves to blenders, making sure the library is functioning smoothly, and being co-in charge of the up-and-coming Preventive Health Center. Her contagious laughter can be heard pretty much anywhere in the house... and sometimes we're even lucky enough to sneak a listen to a Sonia's renditions of 90s pop hits. Be jealous.)

Sonia and the smallest orito banana ever

"In some ways Ecuador’s healthcare system is years ahead of the United States’. Here a visit to a public hospital entitles free x-rays, emergency care, vaccinations, and anti-diabetic medication, and although some services require out of pocket pay, the fee is minimal - $4 for a pap smear. In the United States on the other hand, state elected officials, say from (cough cough) Georgia, are still arguing over the constitutionality of the passed healthcare reform. While people continue to lose their houses over medical bills and take on thousands of dollars in debt after a few nights in the emergency room, these state officials are standing on podiums bellowing out succession rhetoric.

This isn’t to say that Ecuador’s healthcare system is ideal. In my opinion, the implementation of Ecuador’s universal healthcare system began before economic theories were ever seriously considered. Because of the absence of economic incentives - short hours, high wages, and benefits - there is a lack of medical personnel in the public hospitals and subcentros (free health clinics). This combined with the fact that members in our community have to travel at least 30 minutes by bus to receive free care have led many to utilize physicians as a last resort, only when they experience physical and/or severely debilitating symptoms.

Since August, Shawn, Sarah, and I have been working to broaden our community members’ definitions and understandings of prevention. Our goal was/is to carry out Serena’s, a 2008/2009 PD, idea to open a preventative health center (PHC) in the fourth floor of the Centro. Through a series of focus groups that began with Serena and ended with us, we saw that community members were eager to take charge of their health but felt like they lacked the tools and knowledge to do so. We envisioned a resource center that hosts health book and a computer with internet for research, a health promoter to answer basic health questions, monthly charlas, cooking classes, and a resource manual that lists where free health services can be accessed. We have spent the past 10 months fulfilling this mission.

Through a series of connections and meetings with the MOH, we solicited the help of an already trained health promoter. He has helped us write a health questionnaire (that will give us an overview of our communities’ physical and mental wellbeing as well as help us understand how to best equip the PHC), work towards the completion of 100 questionnaires, and made us aware of a nutrition organization called Alimentate Ecuador.

Alimentate first visited Rumiloma at the end of April. Since then they have been training 10 dedicated women as nutrition promoters. This Wednesday will be the culmination of the program and hopefully the start of their nutrition campaigns in our communities. In April we also initiated cooking classes. Each week, Sarah and Erik teach students how to make healthy meals with local ingredients in our newly installed fourth-floor kitchen.

The summer volunteers have brought more helping hands. As they shadow in hospitals, they will gather information about the locations of free health services for the resource manual. In their remaining time, they will utilize the fertility beads Serena left us for a reproductive health charla.

Until recently, our efforts have been less about opening a center and more about creating a health-focused atmosphere. We have reached a critical point now that necessitates the consolidation of all those efforts into a small purple room upstairs. We have purchased 34 health books, a laptop, and a desk. On June 1st we will have a physical space that our communities can use to access resources, learn how to care for their health before getting (and while being) sick, and lower the cost that Ecuador spends on preventable illnesses.


The weekly Alimentate Ecuador nutrition charla

Presenters from Alimentate discuss various nutrition topics

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Questions for Haley! / Cotopaxi Pictures

It's time to submit questions for Haley Booe's interview! You might think we're jumping the gun a little bit since we haven't posted Chet's interview; with all of the excitement of summer programs, Sarah and I will now be tag-teaming the interviews. Hopefully I don't butcher it too badly as I attempt to learn imovie next week...

Please send any questions to me ( or post them via comment right here on the blog BY MONDAY (como mid-morning). Questions can include anything and everything ranging from:

- how badly she wants to adopt Justin Bieber
- what it's like to teach women's exercise 4 times a week
- how exactly she has a choreographed dance memorized for every song
- how often she watches She's the Man in her bed
- what she's doing in this picture below

As per request, here are a couple of pictures from Mike and Chet's voyage up Cotopaxi from a few weekends back. They were so so close, making it just past the ridge you can see in the picture down below, but unfortunately they started late and had to turn around due to time constraints. Still, we are so proud of them and all of us stared in awe and how incredibly beautiful the view of Cotopaxi was from Quito that day.

Mike and Chet somewhere around 3a.m. while climbing Cotopaxi

View of Cotopaxi, taken by Mr. Chet Polson

- Jackie

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Summer Vol Intros: Part 2

Now that we're all back and sunburned from our long-weekend excursions, it's time to introduce you to the second batch of summer volunteers!

Trevor Burbank just finished his second year at Vanderbilt University, studying community development. He's working closely with agriculture, especially looking up new composting methods and starting to wander around Conocoto looking for cow droppings. He's also been spending time with Erik in search of Mingas to participate in and local government connections.

Lisa McCorkel comes from Penn State and grew up in Pennsylvania. She spent last summer with MPI in Nicaragua and will be with us for the full eight weeks of summer. She enjoys reading Spanish kids' books (see above) and will be working on teen center and San Juan English. According to Chet, she also has an abnormal tolerance for cold water, which she demonstrated this weekend in one of the pools of Baños.

Stephanie Ceranec hails from just outside Chicago. She just graduated from Eastern Illinois University and will be attending graduate school at DePaul in the fall for counseling. She's been a fantastic person to reminisce about Illinois with, as she's from the town next to where I spent a good chunk of my childhood. She's involved in San Juan English, teen center, and organizing library programs like the literacy class.

Ja Lee comes from North Carolina and is a pre-med student at UNC. She's been helping us with our Aliñambi nutrition class, women's exercise, preventative health and library programs. She is pretty brave on a number of levels: firstly for rappelling down 42-meter waterfalls and secondly for and wearing Chet's snuggie last night while lounging in the living room.

Allie Morris (second from the right above) is going to be a Senior at Vanderbilt University and is studying Latin American and Religious Studies. She's working on women's exercise, library, and adult English B. She studied abroad in Chile; her kickin' Spanish skills make her a great teacher and compañera in the library amongst the kids and teens and her contagious laugh can be heard throughout the house.

The entire good-looking crew near mitad del mundo (the equator) during Spanish class


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

new kids on the calle

As promised, our house has been completely infested (in a good way!) with summer volunteers for session one. It seems like ages ago when we thought fleetingly about what life would be like in a house full of 19 people for 2 months straight; so far it's been refreshing and without a dull moment. This past week was full of bike tours in Quito, strolling through the Sangloqui market, shadowing classes in the centro, gigantic family dinners and dozens of overlapping programmatic meetings. I can also tell you that these vols are not slackers; many are involved in four or more different programs and a few of the girls went straight from an 8a.m. women's exercise class to three back-to-back meetings for the library, health, and art class, well into the afternoon.

Since we're already backed up a bit on PD interviews (Chet's WILL be posted next week), we won't have time to film and edit summer interviews. However, we will to introduce you to the ten wonderful additions to MPIE via photos and social/programmatic updates throughout the next month!

Intros: Part 1

Jenni Adams from Denver, Colorado is our resident pastry chef (She and Stef made all three of Jen's beautiful birthday cakes on Tuesday). She is a 3rd year pre-med student at Clark University in Massachusetts. Jenni has a lot more than sweets on her plate as she is participating in Adult English, Agriculture, Women's Exercise and running library programs over the next few weeks!

Sonia and Jenni before Adult English in the centro

Sonia Savani and Drew Kittrell both just finished their first year of medical school at Southern Alabama University. They'll be working on health-related projects such as preventative health center research and shadowing our MPI family doctor, Lance, once a week. Sonia is also involved in Children's English, San Juan English, teen center, and falling asleep anywhere and everywhere (even in
Pobre Diablo) Drew is teaching San Juan English, Adult English B and can be found reading in hammocks or being one of the most entertaining new catch phrase players.

Chet, Claire, and Drew man the front desk of the library

Claire Mueller, one our eight-weekers, hails from Nebraska and is going into her Sophomore year at Pomona University in California. She is a fantastic cuarenta player and is prominently involved in the teen center and is helping with library projects like painting chalkboard paint for the kids to draw on instead of gluing coloring pages to the wall - a new pastime they embarked upon last week under our noses.

Jen Weidman (yes, we are related and no just because she is a foot taller than I am doesn't mean she's older than me) just finished her Freshman year at Cornell University. She's studying Environmental Engineering and will use her skills to help plan agriculture projects and build planting boxes and other things for the library. She is also participating in San Juan English and Women's exercise and will be with us for all eight weeks as well.

Celebrating Jen's 19th birthday!

Get excited to meet the second half of the group next week and hear all about their 3-day weekend trip to Baños!

- Jackie

Friday, May 14, 2010


This week's blog comes from Chet Polson and guess what... it's not about microfinance! I love Chet's blogs about microfinance, mostly because I could never explain the ins and outs of the program as well as he can. I also thoroughly enjoyed reading this refreshing look at life in Ecuador told through the eyes of a wardrobe. Enjoy and cross your fingers that Chet and Mike make it up Cotopaxi (the second tallest mountain in Ecuador) on Sunday morning!

Chet resting atop Pasachoa

"I have a ton of t-shirts. This may not be the most interesting revelation to our readers, but it is something that I’ve had on my mind for the past few days. Sonia and I switched rooms Wednesday to get the PD living arrangements squared away for summer. As I had to take all my current possessions from my old room into the office before finally moving into Sonia’s old room (Erik and Chet’s 'Fort' now) I had ample opportunity to look at exactly what is in my wardrobe.

I have 8 button-down long-sleeve shirts. One each is from Mark and Seth. I have 1 Rumiñahui soccer jersey that I play in on weekends. I have 4 jerseys from other teams (Ecuador, Argentina, LDU Quito, and a YMCA one that is good for hiking). I have a “kick it with Pi-Phi” tank top that I don’t believe I’ve worn since orientation. I have four undershirts and 3 collared polo shirts on top of that (again, two of those collared shirts are from Mark and Seth). All in all, I have 34 shirts here in Ecuador with me.

That is a ton of cotton (or polyester, as the case may be with some). And I have even more shirts sitting in my closet at home. Sure, some of these shirts have very different uses. I can only play soccer in my Rumiñahui jersey, because it is the team uniform. Some of the t-shirts are so ratty I don’t like to wear them outside the house. I try to wear a button down shirt when I’m teaching and wear either a collared shirt or an MPI shirt when I am in the library. But I wear my shirts more than once before washing and do laundry every 7-10 days, so I really have way more than I need.

I’ve learned a lot in my time here in Ecuador with Manna, but something I’m only now starting to pick up on is how to do more with less. Manna already does a pretty good job doing more with less. Of our three children’s English classes, only 2 have boards. But we had enough demand for children’s English that the English profes felt the need to offer a full third class. We have gone from having every PD in the library every afternoon to only having three there to allow us to run more programs and plan for more classes. I hope I can get a clearer picture of how to do more with less in my remaining 76 days. I don’t want to come back with this skill just to be thriftier; I don’t just want to mop my kitchen floor with a little less cleaning solution to save money in the long run. I’m interested in conserving resources because, from what I’ve seen, if you pass your extras along to someone else some really incredible results can spring from relatively small gifts. The art class, which has around 15 kids ages 5-10 coming to the library each week, has had to buy almost nothing because out biggest needs (construction paper and markers) are always being donated. Our English classes couldn’t function without the dry erase markers that get sent down a box or two at a time with volunteers. Some of the clothes I wear most often I got out of the adoption corner.

So thank you donors, and not just my donors, for everything you have made possible this year so far, both in the PD’s lives and the lives in the communities we work with. When I leave Ecuador at the end of July, I want to leave 21 shirts behind. I might even leave more if I can. If another PD doesn’t feel the need to augment their wardrobe from the adoption corner like I did, they will be passed along to Ecuadorians in need. But more than just thanking you for what you’ve already done, I want to encourage you to keep passing along little extras: small monetary gifts, in-kind donations, and even clothing to us (or an organization closer to home) to continue producing incredible results.

Song of the blog: 'Bigger than my body' by John Mayer

- Chet"

Thursday, May 13, 2010

the house is a rockin'

After spending a wonderful week in the states surprising my mom for Mother's Day, I was welcomed back into the Manna house on Tuesday night with open arms... plus hungry mouths excited about the candy in my luggage and frantic limbs running around to make sure everything was in order for our first wave of summer volunteers. Approximately two days later I'm almost caught up with everything I missed and somehow summer session one has started to arrive today! We had dinner with our first four arrivals and we're eager for the next two waves to arrive late tonight and late Saturday night.

It has been really exciting to think about what projects we want to work with them on and what we hope to accomplish with ten more energetic minds. We'll be sure to do introduce you properly to summer session one once they all arrive and get settled. Here are some highlights of what we'll be working on with the summer volunteers:
  • training women to help lead women's exercise class (following up the fantastic workshop that Haley held last Saturday)
  • running a summer English program in San Juan
  • painting a local school, Aliñambi
  • running a summer reading club and literacy classes in the library
  • conducting micro-finance surveys
  • organizing and promoting hands-on charlas about sustainable agriculture
  • attending teen center field-trips and helping increase teen center attendance
  • shadowing and lesson planning for our English, art, cooking, and exercise classes
This weekend we'll be showing them around the valley, touring the centro historico, riding bikes down Amazonas in Quito, going to markets in Sangloqui, and of course, talking about Manna-related stuff via what we like to call 'programmatic speed dating.' Somewhere in between all of that, some of the girls will be competing in a soccer tournament with their Rumiñahui team while Chet and Mike attempt to summit Cotopaxi. We certainly can't say that things are boring around here (nor can we say that we'll be sleeping much in the few days).

Half the table at our double Manna meal (April + May = a baller meal of $14 per person) last night


Saturday, May 8, 2010

Krysta's Interview AND Questions for Chet!

After many weeks of anticipation, I am happy to give you Krysta's interview. (A combination of amazingly slow internet and a forgetful/busy interview editor contributed to its tardiness. Sorry about that.) Krysta was a great sport, and even allowed me to throw some outtakes in at the end... so you might not want to miss those. Enjoy!

And since I've gotten a bit behind schedule on the interviewing, this is also the blog post announcement/request for questions for Mr. Chester Polson III. Chet is our in-house banker/finance man, who has become most famous for tracking our inability to correctly count money via his weekly Monday Morning Meeting Petty Cash announcements. He's also an art class/microfinance/small business man, and will soon be sharing a living space with Erik once the summer vols invade the house this week. Please either send questions to, or post them in the comments section of this blog by TUESDAY, MAY 11th before bedtime. And be sure to check back in for Chet's interview in the next 10ish days.


Monday, May 3, 2010


The past few weekends have been chock full of travel, field trips, and adventures; perhaps it's the rapidly approaching summer volunteer arrival date that has influenced us to cram in as many activities as possible. In the month of April we have collectively and separately gone on a retreat, traveled to Cuenca, climbed Illinizas Norte, been proposed to (okay fine, that was just Haley), got lost trying to exit the largest inhabited crater in South America and attended three community youth-focused day trips. Since Erik mentioned one of the teen outings in his guest blog last week, I'll stick to reporting on the kids' paseo and This past Saturday's hike up Ilalo with the teens.

The kids' paseo for April was to el parque la Carolina's dinosaur museum with about 15 kids in-tow. Since the museum itself is only open on weekends, when I went to investigate a few weeks ago I wasn't allowed to see the facilities. As it turns out, the museum is really more of a badly-staged Jurassic Park set; the presentation included a 25-minute tour moving from scene to scene, each featuring a different moving dinosaur or Mega-beast that scared the pants off of pretty much every kid we were with. Although it wasn't quite as educational as I had hoped, the kids enjoyed the theatrics and running around Quito's largest urban park. I think in the future I will search for venues outside of Quito, as transport sucks up most our time, and I really want to start embarking on nature hikes in the valley.

Our favorite twins enjoy a post-tour 'thrill' ride

Iori (in my sweatshirt post-puddle mishap) and Paola in the park

The whole group at the museum entrance

Sticking with the theme of the great outdoors, Mike organized a trip for this teens on Saturday to summit Ilalo, the hill/small mountain about thirty minutes from our house by bus. Mike, Sonia, Chet and I led Joseph, Carlos and Christian up the trail; by led, I mean they ran up most of it as Mike and Chet chased after them and Sonia and I stopped frequently to 'take in the scenery.' When we reached the top in record time, the boys scurried up a 30-foot tall cross and we all took in 360 degree views as far as the eye could see.

Sonia and I at the base of the cross (we were too scared to go further)

The climbing crew in front of a fountain post-hike

Stay tuned later this week for our quarterly update - a succinct summary of our programmatic happenings spanning January through mid-April - and Krysta wc Peterson's interview to be posted later this week! (if you didn't get that middle name reference, don't worry, you will after you see this interview)

until next time,