Thursday, December 15, 2011
Thursday, December 1, 2011
Saturday, November 26, 2011
They’ve spent the afternoons hanging out in the library, getting to know the niños, and sitting in on our classes. They helped us put the final touches on our plastic-bottle Christmas tree and practiced their Spanish while playing Egipto with the kids. The girls raised money for the trip to go towards some of our program needs. We took advantage of this extra funding and the extra sets of hands to build some new, sturdier aerobic steps for the women’s exercise class. The volunteers came up with the new design, took a trip to Hiper Market to get the supplies, and spent Wednesday hammering and gluing away. The steps are a huge improvement from the ones we made a few months ago, and now we have enough for a full class.
After the centro closed on Wednesday night we all hopped on a bus to Quito for some Great Indian Food (their cooking is better than their creativity) and the girls got to experience a little salsa dancing in the Mariscal. Some of the volunteers got to see the Chaupitena nutrition class, and accompany the kids on a fieldtrip to the Añamisi’s organic garden. Others stayed at home finishing up the steps and helping to prepare our Thanksgiving dinner (round one for the PDs). We were all feeling a little homesick being so far away on the holiday, so it was nice to come back from the centro to a home-cooked feast. After dinner we all sat down to de-brief and to get the girls’ perspective on our programs and the Ecuador site overall. It was a great chance for us to chat about the experience, discuss some of our challenges, and remind ourselves of the many rewards. The week flew by for us in a busy blur, but we want to thank the UGA girls for their positive attitudes, suggestions, and hard work.
The UGA girls painting the library
Thursday, November 24, 2011
Although we are far from home for the holiday, we find ourselves among family and with many reasons to be thankful. I am thankful for this amazing opportunity to travel and to experience the richness of the Ecuadorian culture. I am thankful for the chance to teach and learn from the beautiful people in the Chillos Valley. I am thankful to the community of Rumiloma for inviting us into their hearts and homes. I am thankful to my fellow PD’s for sharing in this unique experience. I am thankful to all of our supporters (both financial and emotional), and to the UGA girls for choosing to spend their holiday with us.
For most of us it is our first time being away from home for Thanksgiving. Here in the Manna House we have decided to ease our homesickness by celebrating twice. We will have one feast tonight with our UGA volunteers (though slightly less extravagant since we are all working today), and a second Thanksgiving on Sunday with some of our friends and loved ones in Ecuador. We were able to find a reasonably priced Turkey (I hear Nicaragua wasn’t as lucky?) and will all be cooking our favorite recipes to share. We hope everyone at home is enjoying the holiday and we will share pictures of our celebrations in a few days.
Happy Thanksgiving from MPI Ecuador!
Friday, November 18, 2011
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Antorcha de Vida is a rehabilitation center and educational facility for special needs children, located right down the street from our house in Sangolquí. The directora Nancy is a wonderful, hardworking woman with a huge heart. Noel introduced me to Nancy my first week in the Manna House in an effort to keep up our relationship with this wonderful foundation. This woman was so sweet, welcoming, and passionate about her cause that I immediately started brainstorming ways we could get more involved in what they were doing. She took us on a tour of the facilities and showed us the beautiful organic gardens that are planted and maintained by the children, their mothers, and the women who work for the foundation. Nicole and I decided to expand our Agriculture Program to volunteer once a week during their agricultural workshops. We are only able to give them an hour and a half of our time on Thursdays, but we are learning a ton about organic gardening. The women are so sweet and appreciative, and working with the niños has been an amazing experience, as well as a lesson in patience.
The kids at Antorcha de Vida have a variety of mental and physical handicaps, which they work on through different types of therapy. We spend the morning helping them pull weeds, water the plants (and often ourselves in the process), and look after the gardens. Keeping the kids occupied and interested in the work can be a difficult task, and our extra sets of hands are definitely useful. One of our favorite kids, Michael, has a problem with his legs and needs to hold onto someone for support when he’s walking. He is in the process of learning to walk on his own, but sometimes gets too excited and needs to be reminded to slow down and take it one step at a time. The kids really seem to enjoy working in the gardens, and love to show us the handfuls of weeds they pull.
My favorite part of the experience is listening to the Ingeniero tell stories (often the same ones) about the political history of Ecuador, the medicinal properties of eggplant, and his grandsons in Miami. This 80-something year old engineer stumbled upon Antorcha de Vida one day, and has been sharing his agricultural expertise with them ever since. His secret formula named MBO (after him of course) is an organic, chemical free, fertilizer that keeps diseases and pests away from the crops. This mixture has done wonders for the plants there, and the women continue to pester the Ingeniero for his recipe. Unfortunately for them, the secret is just for him and his nietos in Miami.
The Ingeniero can recite the same love poem in Quechua, Spanish, and French… but can’t remember our names. He affectionately refers to us as the Señoritas Extranjeras and after several failed attempts to correct him; we have decided to let that one slide. Listening to his stories is an incredible way to learn about the country, and about organic gardening. This man knows everything there is to know about agriculture and herbal remedies. So whether we are mixing secret organic formulas with the Ingeniero, or just walking back and forth with Michael, volunteering with Antorcha is always a beautiful experience.
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
While the month of November brings colder weather and the beginning of the holiday season for everyone Stateside, the new month heralds the arrival of a different holiday for Ecuadorians. While the temperature remains a perfect 65 to 70 degrees most days, many Ecuadorians have been busy making plans for what to do with a four- (or more-) day weekend in honor of Día de los Difuntos, which was officially celebrated November 2nd. Similar to Day of the Dead in Mexico, el Día de los Difuntos honors the souls of family members who have passed away with a celebration of cooking and graveside remembrance. At the Manna house, we were fortunate to enjoy two particular Ecuadorian traditions: colada morada, a hearty drink made from berries similar to blueberries, and guagua de pan, which are baked creations shaped like children. Check out pictures below that Heather posted from the Manna house get-together.
Aside from sampling cultural fare and learning about Ecuadorian traditions, the four-day weekend provided the opportunity for PDs to travel and explore Ecuador. One group of PDs, including Emily, Charlie, and country director Darcy made a long trip to the Amazon rainforest in “el oriente” to see its exotic biodiversity. Another group of PDs, including Watkins, Heather, Nicole, and Rachel, chose to stay behind and explore places near Sangolquí. With the accompaniment and guidance of a couple of our adult English students, we discovered a former lime mine in the heart of traditional Quechua land and also hiked to “la gran cascada” of Rio Pita, which is the highest waterfall in Ecuador.
On the first day of the Sangolquí-based adventurers’ vacation, the group of PDs accompanied English student Nadia Torres on a work-related trip. Nadia works as a photographer and journalist, and is helping write a book about the history of Sangolquí. Our trip began with a bus ride along dirt roads to a small town called Tolóntag, near where we hoped to find a mine from which lime (cal) was taken that was used in the construction of the plaza of Sangolquí. Nadia, being a journalist, procured us permission to visit the mine and some general directions from the town’s mayor. While Nadia worked her magic, the PDs made friends with some locals and were gifted with maqueños, a kind of plantain with a reddish peel and peach-colored fruit. In our casual conversation, we were told that children from Tolóntag traveled an hour each way to school every day. We also noticed that the Spanish spoken in this small town differed markedly in pronunciation from what we’re used to, a difference Nadia attributed to the Quechua tradition.
With permission, vague directions, and a hired camioneta (pick-up truck), we embarked down a rocky road until the driver bade us farewell and we began walking. We enjoyed good views of hills and volcanoes, and after a while encountered a family working a field of crops near the road. After pleasantries, the adults had their children guide us to the site of the former mine, where we had lunch and took pictures, and laughed at our guides’ antics. The kids were intrigued by our accents and happily showed us the former mine, which is now a thermal pool of water, and other sites near their farm. We ended our trip that day by returning to Sangolquí and having ice cream at an heladería next to the plaza of Sangolquí.
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Thursday, November 3, 2011
Hey everyone, I turn this week's blog over to Profe Nicole for a Children's Art update:
Children’s Art is one of our programs that operates almost entirely off of in-kind donations. To date the art program has not spent a dime for any of our classes. Each week, Taylor and I spend time researching traditional and popular forms of art from various countries; we then take these projects and themes and adapt them into something we can do with what we have: a finite art supply shelf and the short attention span of 5-10 year olds.
We chose to start this quarter by working our way through different countries in Asia. At the beginning of each week I start getting the question, “Profe, qué vamos a hacer en la clase de arte?”, but our eager students never get the answer they want…Taylor and I usually claim that we haven’t the slightest idea or turn the question around on them and so they continue asking us and every other profe in the vicinity. Each class starts with a slideshow about the country we are studying, which often contains more pictures then facts – appealing to that attention span! – but it’s always fun to hear them pronounce the names of the capitals, cities, and buildings, try to claim they can read Hindi, and see the information they retain. After explaining the Chinese calendar and animal for each year, we figured out who was born under which animal; Matias was so excited to find out that he was born in the year of the dog that he continues to include drawings of dogs in every other art project we’ve done, constantly reminding us that he was born “en el día del perro” – close enough!
This past week guest profe Charlie and I mixed things up a bit and got the kids out of the classroom and doing a project that for once they couldn’t take home. The country of the week was India, and I had previously asked help from a friend in the states, Dolly, whose family is from India. After struggling to narrow down the incredible and extensive list of cultural traditions and ideas she gave me, we decided to focus on the Peacock – a sacred bird in Indian culture – and traditional chalk drawings. Despite the typical rainy season schedule that called for rain at 3-4 in the afternoon, the weather was perfect for an outside art project. Some kids used designs and peacock pictures I had printed out, but most of them just went at it…working together and using their hands, elbows, and feet to mix colors and color our sidewalk nothing short of awesome.
After class I came back upstairs and immediately told Heather that we have to add sidewalk chalk to the online wish list. If our students had half as much fun as I did, we might be out there everyday!
Monday, October 31, 2011
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
The Children’s Nutrition program got a fresh start this year since MPI and Alinambi (last year’s nutrition school) decided to discontinue their program. This turned out to be a great thing as with the help of an influential community member we were able to make a new connection with a great school in Santa Isabel. The teachers at Chuapitena (the new school) welcomed Emily and Taylor with open arms, giving them a full load of five classes to teach each week!
In addition to teaching classes about the food pyramid, food cycle, food safety, and nutrition-related diseases, Emily and Taylor also include some basic English vocab into their lessons. They have been meeting weekly with a few of the teachers from Chuapitena to give them a preview of that week’s lesson and offer them an opportunity to ask nutrition and health-related questions. They also have plans to do a cultural exchange of recipes with the women, one week cooking a healthy recipe from the US and the next week a traditional Ecuadorian dish. This relationship with Chuapitena has brought many new regulars to the library and teen center, as well as new students to our English classes.
Emily and Taylor have also made some great changes to the Cooking program, transforming Saturday’s cooking class into a combined adult nutrition charla and healthy cooking lesson. Each class is about two hours long, beginning with a health discussion and followed by the preparation of a recipe that relates to the discussion topic of the day. All of the class participants help to prepare the food, and take home a copy of the recipe to use with their families. They changed the time of cooking class so that it occurs after Adult English on Saturday, giving our English students a chance to participate. Attendance has been increasing each week as more and more English students stay after to help out, and 10th graders from Chuapitena join the class to learn more about the cooking aspect of nutrition. All of these changes have been very beneficial to MPI and to the community we serve. Thanks Emily and Taylor, keep up the good work!
Thursday, October 20, 2011
When school started up again in September the Teen Center attendance suffered greatly. Some of the older regulars have classes in the afternoon, after school activities, or too much homework to come and play video games. Just when Charlie, Watkins and I were starting to get concerned about our program, the library party gave us a huge advertising boost and brought a swarm of new faces to the teen center. With several of Emily and Taylor’s nutrition students now frequenting the Centro, we can once again bother nearby English classes with sounds of Mario and bouncing ping-pong balls.
Profe Joaquin has started teaching some of the teens how to play chess, which has been a huge hit. Steven, a 12 year old from nutrition class has been to the Teen Center every day since the library party and is always begging to play. It is an awesome game for them to learn because of all the concentration and thinking ahead it requires. It is also great to see them turn off the video games for a while and doing something more mentally stimulating. Surprisingly, the teens have also gotten very excited about making bracelets. Since we re-organized the Center and left out string to make jewelry, it has been a new favorite activity. Nothing makes my day like having teenage boys beg me to help them make friendship bracelets.
We decided to re-instated monthly movie nights, which the teens are very happy about. Although we wish they wouldn’t always pick bad horror movies, the profes enjoy it as well. We decided to alternate every two weeks having either a Friday night movie, or some other organized weekend activity. Last Saturday we took the teens on a paseo to Parque Carolina in Quito, to meet up with Profe Ashley who ran the teen center last year. We lucked out with a rain-free afternoon and got to spend a few hours playing soccer, skateboarding, climbing trees, and eating cookies in the park. We were joined on the trip by two of our Adult English students and friends Walter and Evo who also wanted to see Ashley, and get out of the valley for a while. While attendance wasn’t quite as high as we were expecting (many teens signed up but then didn’t show up) our first teen center paseo was a success. For the next paseo we are going to try and stay a little closer to the Centro so that more teens are allowed to come. We have some exciting things planned for the Teen Center in the coming months so stay tuned for more updates!
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
As Ecuador’s new team of program directors gets into full swing with classes and programs, I feel that it will be helpful to give everyone on the outside a brief overview of Manna Project’s theoretical foundation, because while this is a blog about our daily lives, our work and many of the daily micro-decisions we make are influenced by the theory underlying our organization. What follows is a brief summary of asset-based community development, the theoretical paradigm under which MPI Ecuador was founded, and which continues to influence our behavior and decisions as an organization.
Asset-based community development can best be described as a way to help people help themselves. It is an approach that involves discovering existing organizations, resources, or capacities within communities that can be leveraged to improve the conditions of individuals and of the community as a whole. One of the most important goals of development under this framework is the empowerment of individuals and of the community, making people “more likely to take control of aspects of their lives, to plan for their future and deal with economic uncertainty, to support their children’s educational achievements, and to work to ensure that the lives of the next generations are better than their own,” in the words of Melvin Oliver1, a past vice-president of the Ford Foundation.
To empower individuals, our Manna site was founded with the cooperation and support of local leaders and an Ecuadorian partner organization in the San Francisco municipality. Since then, Manna has expanded its service beyond San Francisco and now operates a library and community center, which was developed as a response to the community’s assets and the desired outcomes of our work, as stated by individuals in a community-wide survey. Manna still relies upon collaboration with local organizations and the participation of community members in order to build trust and be aware of other development within the community. One of the local organizations we support is the Red Cross Ecuador (La Cruz Roja Ecuatoriana), by volunteering time when they need volunteers, as detailed in a recent blog. This past summer we also hosted a summer camp in conjunction with Añamisi, an organic farming cooperative, with whom we continue to work. We also have individual local volunteers who spend time at our Centro helping with our programs. La Cruz Roja and other organizations that we support are important assets to the community because they are already established organizations. By supporting them, we are upholding one of the principles of asset-based community development by avoiding “the fragmentation of efforts”2, or competition with organizations that already do good work and have a strong foundation. Furthermore, by promoting the goals of local organizations not in competition with us and enlisting the help of local volunteers, we hope to spur a cycle of activism and empowerment within the community.
Being involved with local Ecuadorian actors is important to our work, because although we try hard and are often successful at communicating with and understanding community members, volunteers from the same cultural background as the people we serve is an easier and more effective way for us to build trust and legitimacy. By involving local community members and helping other local organizations, we hope that people in the community continue to see that we are genuinely trying to help them and give the them a stake in the process, instead of seeing us as outsiders with pretensions of being able to drop in and solve the their problems, an unfortunate occurrence for some international development efforts. By forming relationships and being involved in the community, we can, and are, seen for what we really are: motivated young people with a desire to change the world in a positive way.
1. Oliver, Melvin. Assets for the Poor: The Benefits of Spreading Asset Ownership. Ed. by T.M. Shapiro and E.N. Wolff. New York: Russell Sage Foundation. 2001. Pg. xii.
2. Kretzman, John P., and John L. McKnight. Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community’s Assets. Evanston, IL: Center for Urban Affairs and Policy Research, Northwestern University. 1993. Pg. 4.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
On Friday we held a Fall-themed party in the library to celebrate the start of classes and to attract some new community members to the Centro. The party was a wild success (slight emphasis on the wild) largely thanks to the students in Emily and Taylor’s high school Nutrition Classes, many of whom were first timers in the library. We estimate that a total of 70 kids and teens were running around the library and teen center at one point or another during the party. Our modest food preparations didn’t stand a chance… after 3 hours of preparing Fall-themed snacks, everything was gobbled up within the first half hour. Bobbing for apples was a huge success (and a huge mess) as kids with dripping wet faces raced to the back of the line for another chance at winning a prize. After lots of preparation and lots of excitement, we PDs were thoroughly exhausted. Although the chaos probably chased away any adults who might have attended the celebration, the kids certainly enjoyed themselves and we expect to see lots of new regulars in the Centro.