Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Otavalo - Retreat #1

Two weekends ago, all of us PDs packed up our things, closed the library early for the week and took off for Otavalo in the mountains of Ecuador for our first retreat. Sadly, Brock was in Miami and couldn't be with us for the weekend but we made do without him (thank goodness nothing broke and needed fixing). Our first day was spent mostly in the leather markets of Cotacachi - three of us even have new leather jackets to show for it. We were able to see Peguche Waterfall and hiked around for a while - Luke, Jack and I found a great cave at the top of the falls but dared not enter.

Peguche Waterfall

Friday night we went to a nice dinner in Otavalo and then took a long and bumpy taxi ride up to our hostel. The next morning we were able to really appreciate the views that our hostel had to offer - it was gorgeous. Situated between two mountains with fields of green patchwork on all sides of them, we had a truly picturesque view (thank you Zoe!).

View from the hotel

Saturday we woke up early for breakfast of bread and tea and headed to one of the largest animal markets in Ecuador. After gawking at hundreds of chickens, angry cows and some of the largest pigs we have ever seen, we headed to the artisan market.
Debating whether or not to purchase "crunchy" overall shorts and creepy masks, we finally settled on some purchases, ate lunch and left for La Laguna Mojanda.
Bibi worked her magic and found us a camioneta willing to take us to the top of the mountain to see La Laguna. It took us about an hour and halfway through the skies opened up and freezing cold rain started to fall on us in the back of the camioneta. Our nice driver offered us a tarp and we decided to grin and bear it. The Laguna was absolutely gorgeous and worth the frigid rainfall we endured to get to the top. Jack and I decided to take off on a two hour long hike to get to the top while the rest of the group hiked around the perimeter of the lake. Although we didn't see much from the top, the hike itself was amazing.

La Laguna Mojanda

The Mountains around La Laguna that Jack and I climbed

Jack and I halfway up the mountain!

Dinner never tasted so good. We ate at the hostel and then hung out in their common area drinking wine, playing ping pong and singing along to jack's incredible guitar skills.

Sunday came too fast but we made the most of it by taking a long hike to El Lechero (the healing tree of Otavalo). Even though people told us that it was just up the way, we ended up hiking for a good hour and a half before we found the beautiful old tree. We took turns resting and hugging it (especially Ashley with her hurt ankle) and then hiked back down to catch our bus back home.
Overall, the trip was amazing. It was relaxing and fun - exactly what we were hoping for in Retreat #1!

The group (minus Brock) at Otavalo!

3 more to go!
Besos Chao Chao

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

MPI Ecuador Slideshow

Hello blog readers! Recently we were approached by Andrew Preston, the US Director of Manna Project, about making an informational video for those who want to know more about our international sites. Noel and I promptly set out to make the video but were interrupted by an outbreak of political unrest and no internet in our new house. About two weeks later we realized we needed to get that video together so we requested help from the rest of the PDs down here in collecting photos of Ecuador, its people and our Centro in Rumiloma. Everybody was more than helpful; without them this slide show would not have come together as beautifully as it did.

The video addresses the unique vitality of Ecuador, its various cultures and the problems that have arisen from stratification of social classes. It also shows what we as Manna Project International are hoping to accomplish in our Centro.

We really hope you enjoy this!

MPI Ecuador Slideshow

Besos Chao Chao

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Can't read or write yet? We've got the class for you.

With today's guest blog we will have finally made our way through all nine of MPI-Ecuador's 2010-2011 Program Directors! Take it away, Zoë!

Hello to all of our blog readers! Thanks for your continued interest. I’m Zoë McKinney, your guest blogger for this week. You can think of me as “Soy” if you’d like, or So-wee,” as that’s what most of the library kids and their parents call me. I call Palos Verdes Estates, CA (just outside of Los Angeles) home, but I went to college at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. I just graduated this past May with a degree in Human and Organizational Development and Spanish. I’m thrilled to be part of the MPI-Ecuador team this year and also grateful for the opportunity to tell you about the work we’ve been doing down here in the Chillos Valley. I teach the Children’s English intermediate class, Children’s Art and work with the nutrition program. Today I’m going to talk about our Children’s Art class, which we teach for an hour every week.

Arte para niños. Children’s art is a unique program at our Centro because it is the only class that we offer for children who can’t read and write. For fifty cents per three-month course, children can inscribe for our Art Around the World art class. I teach the class with Luke and Sam. We will be focusing on four regions of the world. Each section of the course, we will do a series of lessons that will incorporate a small lesson about culture, technique, or a famous artist, followed by that day’s art project.

What I think is most important about our class is that it offers a creative outlet that most of our students don’t get elsewhere. The Ecuadorian school system does not stress the development of creative thinking. I have spent time helping children in the library with their homework. Many of the assignments I have seen have required simple copying of words and sentences and very little, if any, creative thinking. During art class, we do not leave out an example of the project and consistently encourage students to work without copying each other. After a few classes, I have already seen a real rise in confidence levels. Where certain students came in not knowing where to start when we would give them idea, they now seem to look forward to the outlet.

Children’s Art is a program I initially didn’t see myself teaching, but I am finding more and more value in it every week and look forward to developing it as a program alongside Luke and Sam. Thanks for reading!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Sweet Home Alabama in Rumiloma

In the coming days we will be posting about our experience of the police strike and assault on the president that took over national news late last week. We will also be coming to you with more pictures of the new house; but for now, this week we have another guest blog! Please welcome Sam Arkin:

¿Que pasa everyone? That is about as good as my Spanish gets—or pretty close. My name is Sam Arkin and it’s my turn to guest blog as a Manna Ecuador Program Director. I came to Ecuador fresh off of an 11 month backpacking trip that took me all over Asia, the Middle East and Africa; I thought it was a good idea to get some travel/life experience right after I graduated from Connecticut College in 2009. I heard about MPI from a friend while I was traveling, applied, and the rest is history. I’m originally from Northern California, so it might be surprising to some that I don’t know Spanish very well. I actually studied Chinese and Vietnamese when I was in school, so one of my main challenges, so far, is actually learning Spanish. As for the programs I work with, I co-run the library and teen center, as well as teach adult English and children’s art. I am also grant manager with our last guest blogger, Luke Shallenberger, who actually does say ‘pop.’ How funny is that?

So, I have the pleasure of talking about Adult English this week. I know it may seem boring, given the events of the past week (i.e. the police in Ecuador kidnapping the President and trying to overthrow the government), but Adult English is anything but boring. I teach Intermediate Adult English along with Brock Peterson. We are sort of a two headed monster, so to speak. We hold class twice a week, once on Tuesday and once on Wednesday. The class number fluctuates between 7-15, but we have a group of regulars that like to show up and laugh at our bad jokes and poor Spanish pronunciation. They are a wonderful group of people who are very supportive of each other and are very supportive of Brock and me when we butcher something in Spanish.

At the end of every class we reserve time (it is sort of a passed-on tradition) for a song. The students listen to the song and fill in the ‘blanks’ that are on a lyric sheet that we give them. In our second class, we thought it would be interesting to use Sweet Home Alabama as our song of the week. It turned into a hysterical lesson about Southern vernacular and geography, mixed in with Watergate and Neil Young. I have to say that Brock, being from Georgia, took the lead on that one. He didn’t really need any help from a Yank like me.

I hope that was somewhat insightful. Keep readin, y’all.