Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Movin´ on down... into the Valley!

This week we finally realized a change that´s been in the works for many months down here in Ecuador: we MOVED! The extra burden of packing, cleaning, painting, and repairing during the months of August and September paid off when we saw the beautiful, spacious house and yard we were to live in from now on in Sangolqui, further down in the Valle de los Chillos from Conocoto. What follows is a photo essay of your PDs in the process:

The house spent a couple of weeks in chaos as we cleared out of corners and packed three years of Manna history.

Our last dinner in the house in Conocoto was a bittersweet occasion...

But the next day as we hustled to move furniture out for good...

...filled up the moving truck...

...waved goodbye to the city we´d come to call home in two short months...

...we couldn´t help but feel excited...

...as we looked forward to seeing our new house for the first time!

All that moving made us hungry. Solution while we were still between functional kitchens? Almuerzos to go!

But our work wasn´t done yet. Before turning over the keys to our old landlord, there was some serious cleaning and fixing up to do. Accordingly, we spent several more days making the half-hour journey by bus back to Conocoto to get our hands dirty.

Koukah, Bibi´s dog, was more than a little confused by the transformation of the house.

We celebrated the end of the moving process with almuerzos on the roof of our old house: one last tribute to Manna´s life in Conocoto.

To inaugurate our new house, on October 10 we held a housewarming barbeque (or wasi pichai, the Kichwa word used here).

Despite the threat of the usual afternoon rain that's been plaguing us this October, the sun stayed out all afternoon for our Sunday barbeque, and with a great turnout consisting of friends, neighbors, and our beloved Dr. Lance (our trusted doctor here who takes care of all our ailments and injuries, no matter what the time of day or night), it was a very successful initiation of Manna's new home.

We are so happy to be here!!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

New Horizons in Microfinance

Today brings you a guest blog from Luke - or, "Profe Luka" as he is often referred to at our library. Enjoy!

What’s up MPI Ecuador blog readers!? My name is Luke Shallenberger and I’m a current Program Director here in Ecuador and your guest blogger for this week, so get excited. I’ll start off with a little background information. I proudly hail from Big Ten Country. That’s right, the Midwest, where we say things like “pop”, which gets you scrutinized by the other 8 people in the Manna house. I grew up in Mahomet, IL, a small but fantastic town located in the center of the state. I graduated from Illinois State University in 2008 with a degree in business administration. After graduation I spent two years in St. Louis, MO before taking on this adventure here in Ecuador. I currently work with our agriculture, children’s art, cooking class, and microfinance programs. Due to some exciting recent developments, I’m going to be focusing on microfinance today.

Our microfinance program here in Ecuador is closely linked to our partner organization, Esperanza y Progreso del Valle (EPV), a small microfinance loan company. One of our main goals for the program is to strengthen EPV in order to make loans more available and affordable for the individuals in the communities that we serve. The ambiguity of our microfinance program makes it unique among Manna’s programs. It has taken on many new ideas and directions since our arrival in July. Some of these ideas have blossomed while some have remained stagnant not due to a lack of effort on our part but unfortunately a lack of resources. Needless to say, on some of these fronts microfinance has been a bit frustrating at times. However, I along with Jack and Brock have some good news regarding very recent developments with EPV and microfinance.

Jack, Brock, and I pulled an all-nighter last week (I must state that it was not due to procrastination but rather unforeseen circumstances) to put together a proposal for a small business class to present to EPV. The idea for the class was built upon the hard work of last year’s PDs, Erik and Chet, who conducted numerous surveys suggesting a need for such a class and produced a class outline. We proposed the idea of this class to EPV in the hopes of making it a collaborative effort, and they immediately jumped on board. The basis of the class is to teach basic business principles and practices to entrepreneurs and current business owners as well as to provide EPV with more clients. Upon completion of the class the students will present us with a business proposal which will be reviewed by EPV to be included in their loan application process. We hope to have this class up and running by October 25th, so between now and then we have much to do; but we are extremely excited about the promise of our new microfinance plans!

Hope you all have a great week! ¡Hasta lluego!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Manna Manna, How Does Your Garden Grow?

Please welcome our next guest blog from Becky! She will be working this year on the Preventive Health Center, teaching Women's Exercise and Children's English, and with our Nutrition program at a local school in Rumiloma. As Becky describes below, the last few weeks in Nutrition have been busy!

Hey everyone! My name is Becky and I’m excited to be a part of the 2010-2011 MPI Program Director team in Ecuador. I’m from Dallas, TX, but travelled to Nashville, TN to attend Vanderbilt University where I studied Human and Organization Development with a focus on international community development. After this year, I plan to return to Vanderbilt and begin my Master’s in Accountancy, after which I hope to continue working with non-profits.

One of the programs that I am working on is our nutrition program, along with Brock, Luke, Zoë, and Noel. Last year, we began working with an elementary school called Aliñambi that is very close to our Centro. We have created a curriculum that includes giving informational talks or charlas, growing fruits and vegetables in the garden, and cooking healthy dishes in the kitchen. While the actual class does not begin until January, this past week, we have begun preparing the garden, so that we can begin planting our crops to eventually be used in our cooking class.

Recently, we have been meeting with the school and Juan Carlos, the teacher whom we will be working closely with. We went over some of the specifics of the course and how it needs to change from last year. One change is that we want our classes to be more consistent with what Juan Carlos is teaching in his natural science class. We will also be working with a local Ecuadorian in the kitchen to make sure that the recipes we make contain ingredients and use cooking methods that the students have access to.

Also, last year, Aliñambi gave us a very small plot of land with poor quality soil. Nothing grew in the space, which made the gardening part of the program unsuccessful. This year though, we have been given a huge plot of land measuring about 90ft by 15ft. When we began, the plot was completely covered with weeds and rogue crops from previous years. For the past week, we have been going to Aliñambe in the mornings to weed the area and to prepare the garden in order to present the space to the 6th grade class. Now that we are seeing the garden come together, we are really excited about starting the nutrition program in January.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Preventive Health Center Ch. 1: Making Lemonade from Lemons

The Manna center had something of a rough week last week. Monday we inexplicably lost electricity in half of the library; Tuesday the water stopped working in our bathroom sinks; and Thursday we were informed that we would have to indefinitely vacate two of our three upstairs rooms because our landlord had a verbal agreement with the prior tenant that if and when she returned she could have those rooms again, and we had nothing in writing that guaranteed us those particular rooms. The landlord told us we had to be out by Friday afternoon. Of course, in order to properly and poetically close the week, Friday morning while our landlord was trying to turn back on the water, something burst and suddenly our library ceiling was leaking from the ceiling in multiple places. By a great stroke of luck, Luke and Brock stopped by the library after a morning meeting in Rumiloma and discovered the leaks, so they were able to move our computers and bookshelves to a dry part of the room before the water could damage anything. That afternoon we moved out of the rooms upstairs and closed the library for the day due to water leaks.

The rooms that we lost were our Preventive Health Center room and the English classroom; we still have our big room with the kitchen that we use for women’s exercise and cooking classes. Lots of scrambling happened over the weekend to change our class schedule (which starts this week!) to accommodate all classes taking place at the big table in the library downstairs and figure out what to do with the PHC.

Hannah, Becky, and I, as program directors for the PHC, were particularly disheartened by the loss of our designated space. The PHC has been a difficult program to get off the ground, and to lose our room seemed like a cruel joke.
However, Mondays bring fresh ideas! Upon considering a portion of the women’s exercise room as a temporary home for the PHC while we figure out what to do about new spaces, the PHC began coming to life in our minds in a way it hadn’t before since we arrived in July. What if we put the table and books on a bookshelf on the raised, tiled section right next to the door so that when people come to the exercise and cooking classes they will be aware of us and take an active interest in the PHC? We can create a real space here to pull together and integrate into our other already thriving health programs an overarching Preventive Health Center in the same room.

With our morale boosted and our creative juices flowing, the three of us paid a visit to the Ministry of Health in Quito on Wednesday to request information and possibly materials on preventive health concerns in Ecuador. The folks at the MoH didn’t hesitate to answer our vague requests by giving us a mountain of posters, brochures, and other health literature for us to take home and properly outfit our new space with. They then proceeded to laugh good-naturedly at our awestruck and overly grateful reactions to such unexpected generosity.

The beginning bare bones of our new Preventive Health Center

So, despite what seemed like a thunderstorm of ill fortune last week, we on the Preventive Health Center team are excited for new prospects afforded by unexpected calamity.

Needless to say, we’re going to be getting a contract for that room in writing.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Big Move Pt. I

This past week has been a test of ingenuity, patience, and (occasionally) pure muscle but we did it... we successfully moved out of the apartment and... drum roll please... we got our entire deposit back! Between moving everything out of the rooms, painting every wall twice and sealing up the hobbit door, it was certainly a time commitment. Although it is amazing to have two extra couches in the common room for meetings (and TV watching), the house certainly does feel smaller without our little apartment. Next week we will begin the process of moving out of this lovely home to our new one in Sangolqui! But until then... a little excerpt from Brock, our handyman extraordinaire.

The story of the hobbit door.

We finished moving out of the apartment this past week and I gotta tell you, a lot of work went into fixing and cleaning it. No project took more time and energy than the hobbit door. Background; the hobbit door was Bibi’s first project as Country Director and it served as the gateway to get from the house to the apartment. Before the door we had to climb on a ledge and through a window or walk around the outside of the house and into the neighbor’s house that was below the apartment.

The project started with Sam and me destroying the stairs inside the apartment that went to the hobbit door since the opening started about 3 feet off the ground. After taking out the stairs, Sam, Luke and I made mortar and filled in the hole with CMU block flush on the outside of the wall. While this was drying we took the sledge hammer to the outside hobbit door stairs. We
then used ghetto rigged form boards to pour concrete that we also made on the roof of the house. We had to hold the form boards in place until the concrete set. Once the concrete was dry it took several coats of stucco to make the inside wall smooth. But the landlord gave it the ok. This came as a great relief after Sam, Luke and I along with some help from Jack spent the better part of two and a half days working on the hobbit door.

And now... PICTURES!!