Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas Party

As a holiday send-off for all our library regulars (and some new ones as well), on Saturday the Ecuador PDs hosted a Christmas party with themed drinks, games, and prizes. If attendance is a measure of success, our party was a hit, and a good sign for the next quarter. It was also an important chance to say goodbye to the kids who we will not see until January, after our upcoming 3-week vacation. Thank you to all adults and children who attended, and ¡Feliz Navidad!
By the numbers: with over 120 people officially signing their name at the door, we estimate that there were around 170 people at the Christmas party

Meet Pedro, the new Manna ping pong champion

'Tis the season for... arts and crafts

New faces in the teen center

Emily, a library regular, with her Christmas snowman

Everyone loves chess in the teen center, especially these jóvenes from Emily and Taylor's nutrition class

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Blog Swap: Nicaragua!

And for our next blog we have and update from our oldest MPI site, here is Samantha with a day in the life of a Nicaragua Program Director:

Hi! My name is Samantha and I’m a member of MPI’s Nicaragua team. This week, MPI Nicaragua is excited to share a bit more about what we do here at Manna’s oldest site. Rather than rattle off a list of programs, we thought it might be fun to share a Thursday in the life. Below is a typical, if slightly busy, Thursday in my life. Enjoy, and thanks for reading!

7:30 a.m.: Wake up, sneak out of my room so as not to wake up my roommate Carrie, and head to the kitchen. There I find Elena, our amazing cook, finishing up a batch of French toast. We have a cook Monday through Thursday to allow us to focus on programs during our four busy days of the week.

9:00 a.m.: Pile into the micro with all nine fellow PDs to head to La Chureca (Managua's trash dump). The drive to Chureca takes about 20 minutes, and provides an interesting cross-section of life in Managua. At one main intersection, two familiar men propel themselves onto the hood of the micro and begin cleaning the windshield. We keep a stash of cookies in the glove compartment for such occasions, and these guys always remember us, making sure to shake everyone’s hand through the windows before the light turns green.

9:45 a.m.: We arrive at the clinic and community center in La Chureca after a brief but incredibly sweaty walk. On Tuesdays, I help Jesse teach our brand-new kids’ English class in Chureca’s Esperanza School. Thursdays, however, I still work with Jenny and Karen, my older, more advanced students. Unfortunately, Karen was unable to come this morning due to a university soccer game, and Jenny is nowhere to be found. On the walk to Esperanza we run into Milton, one of our students. His regular teacher, Matt, is busy, so I offer to work with Milton. Milton is 17 years old and recently moved out of Chureca, but returns to the dump to hang out with friends because he feels that people outside are too fresa (pretentious). Milton knows everyone in Chureca, and offers to help me find Jenny’s house to check in and schedule our next class.

10:10 a.m.: Milton and I find Jenny’s house, and, in lieu of ringing a non-existent doorbell, we peer over the fence (constructed with black trash bags). We see Jenny’s head peeping out of a structure on the other side, and realize that she’s in the shower. While rinsing shampoo out of her hair, she tells us with a smile that she’ll be ready to meet next Tuesday.

11:00 a.m.: I conclude a short but productive lesson on the past simple tense with Milton. After finishing our discussion on Lil Wayne vs. Eminem and giving him a homework assignment, I meet up with the other PDs (who have been walking around talking to moms in our Child Sponsorship Program) and we make our way back to the micro.

12:30 p.m.: Arrive at El Farito, the community center where we work in the local community of Cedro Galan. Thirty kids promptly spill through the gates and line up to wash their hands before sitting down to collectively scream/sing their prayers and eat (“GRACIASSSSS SEÑOOOOOOOR POOOOR TU AMOOOOOR!!!”). I have a great talk with Armando and Gerald as they inhale their arroz con pollo.

1:15 p.m.: To incentivize and reward kids for helping with Comedor cleanup, every two weeks we put on a venta in which helpers who have earned “dolares” can purchase items ranging from silly bands to crayons or—for the big spenders—a Frisbee. The venta runs smoothly this afternoon, without any tears or drama!

1:30 p.m.: Today, I stick around for Fiona and Christin’s Kids English class. I sit at the back table with Agdiel, a 16-year-old with a severe mental disability. Agdiel is great today, super quiet and well behaved. We draw squiggles and participate when Fiona shouts call-and-response questions (“IS HE ON THE BUS?!” “YES HE IS!”)

2:30 p.m.: On the way back to the house, I pass by Jorge, one of the students in our Kids English class at Salero. Even though he’s with his cool friends, Jorge still waves to me! Yes!

3:15 p.m: Get home and help Carrie and Anna to prep for the women’s exercise pool party. Today all of the regular attendees of women’s exercise are coming to the house for a pool workout!

4:15 p.m.: After taking some amazing photos of everyone bouncing around the pool, Maggie and I watch Peter Pan and play Frisbee with Henry, Junior, and Jose, three boys who have tagged along with their moms.

5:30 p.m.: Time for Adult Beginner’s English! Fiona reviews object pronouns, and we do a worksheet in class to practice. We have a big class today, and everyone is a little more chatty than normal, but also excited to participate. We’ve recently decided to incorporate more listening activities, so we end class by asking students to fill in the missing lyrics of a Taylor Swift song. Unfortunately Love Story is way to difficult for our class, but everyone remains enthusiastic, especially after seeing Fiona and I sing along.

6:45 p.m.: Get home, eat a quick dinner, and get ready for Anna and Maggie’s Advanced English class. I don’t teach advanced, but enjoy going, as it tends to be very social and conversation-based. A lot of our close friends in the community go, and it’s invariably a good time.

8:30 p.m.: Get home from advanced, do some dishes with Fiona, and relax. Friday’s a light day—our only programs are computer class and girls’ soccer—so there’s nothing to prepare for!

If you'd like to keep up with Samantha and MPI Nicaragua's work, you can follow their blog. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Blog Swap: Guatemala!

Every week you hear about what is going on here in Ecuador, but did you know that Manna operates three international sites in Latin America? Though all three sites are driven by the same mission, each site looks very different on the ground. This week you will hear from PDs in Guatemala and Nicaragua who will share their first hand experiences with Manna in their respective countries. Here is this week's guest blog from Cameron Roth of MPI Guatemala:

What’s up Manna friends, family, fans and followers! My name is Cameron Roth and I am a Program Director in Sololá, Guatemala. Today, I have the distinct pleasure of sharing a little bit of our life in Guatemala. For starters, we live in the town of Sololá on Lake Atitlan. For those of you who have never heard of this little heaven on Earth, allow me to turn to my good friend Aldous Huxley (the casual author of everyone’s favorite high school novel Brave New World). Mr. Huxley describes Lake Atitlan as [Lake] Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing." Mr. Huxley, I agree with you.

However, Manna Project is about collaborating with and helping target communities abroad, not just living in beautiful places (although it is a plus). Our programs differ from those in Ecuador and Nicaragua as we run all of them through two schools, Central and Cooperativa. In Chaquijyá, about twenty minutes outside of Sololá on the Pan-American Highway, we work with kids teaching English, giving health talks, and working on environmental awareness. In Guatemala, English is a government-mandated subject, but as you can imagine most rural teachers do not speak a word of English. So we teach in La Primaría, which is 1st – 6th grade, and give English classes to 3rd – 6th graders. In addition, we offer after-school English for advanced and/or motivated students, and Teacher’s English so that they can begin forming their own curricula. Our health talks consist of preventative health measures such as proper dental hygiene, the importance of washing your hands, and good nutrition. Additionally, we are collaborating with women in the community to make soap from household items to provide it to the schools. When school is out, as it is right now, we run an educational summer camp as well. Easily the most fun part of the year, we have science experiments, sports tournaments, dance-offs, art projects and of course the daily game of cat and mouse.

Finally, we have just broken ground on construction of a four-room addition to the Central school. However, this addition is not your run-of-the-mill construction. Instead, we are constructing a second floor with plastic bottles stuffed with inorganic trash from the community. Each bottle holds about a pound of trash, and we plan to use about 13,000 bottles, so let me do the math…carry the one…that’s 13,000 less pounds of trash burned or thrown in a landfill! Wowzers!

Yes, life is wonderful here in Guatemala. I encourage all who have the opportunity to come visit the beautiful Lake Atitlan and the authentic Maya communities surrounding the lake. Every day, as we soak in the beauty of the “land of eternal spring,” we are reminded of how lucky we are to be here. The people are warm and passionate, and accept us although we may be a little bit different… and a little bit taller. It is a pleasure to build relationships and work together with the people in Chaquijyá.

To keep up with the MPI Guatemala team follow our blog at!



Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Very Manna Thanksgiving (Part Dos)

Here are some photos from our second Thanksgiving feast which we celebrated on Sunday. We all had to work on the holiday itself so we wanted another chance to cook and eat, listen to Christmas music, and spend time with our Manna family.

We spent all day cooking and taste testing
A vegetarian elbow deep in turkey... talk about personal sacrifice
A picture-perfect turkey, despite our broken oven
Dinner is served
And our lovely desserts modeled by the lovely PDs who made them

Saturday, November 26, 2011

UGA Volunteers

We dropped off our first group of short-term volunteers at the airport yesterday morning. The group of five UGA girls arrived late last Saturday night and spent the week exploring Quito, helping us with some manual labor, and visiting our programs. Sunday was spent hitting the tourist highlights of Quito with a visit to the Panecillo (the huge statue of the Virgin which overlooks the city), climbing the steep ladders of the Basilica, and shopping in the artisan market. On Monday they gave the library a much needed paint job, covering scuffmarks and dirty hand prints with a lovely shade sea-foam green. We moved around our usual Tuesday Morning Meeting to take the girls on a hike along Rio Pita to see the waterfalls and experience a bit of nature. They survived their first camioneta ride (gracias Joshua) along the bumpy roads of Sangolqui, and tested their lungs hiking through the woods. Although the trail was flat (más o menos) the girls were still hiking around at an elevation close to 9,000 feet, no easy task when you are used to living close to sea level.

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

Camioneta ride to Rio Pita

We finally made it to the waterfall

Building steps for aerobics class
Manna Thanksgiving (part I)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

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

Your Moment of Zen...

Rachel, doing roadside yoga with some kids we met while hiking

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Antorcha de Vida

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

El Feriado (The Holiday)

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.

The next day, the PDs piled into a truck with another friend and English student, Ivo Vaca, and drove down a bumpy road to the path toward “La Gran Cascada” of Rio Pita. The hour-and-a-half walk through a gorge alongside the river Rio Pita was marked by smaller waterfalls, jumping-off points for swimmers, and untypically lush vegetation. Due to the water’s freezing temperature, we did not do very much swimming, and instead admired the views of the river and waterfall. We were thankful to find near our house such interesting places as the waterfall and abandoned mine from the day before, and to be in the authentic company of Ecuadorian families on vacation. For all the PDs on Team Ecuador, the holiday was a welcome break and a chance to learn more about Ecuador.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Long Weekend

So we are back to work after a lovely long weekend off to celebrate el día de los difuntos (day of the dead). Joaquin will have a longer blog up in a few days to give you all full details of our weekend adventures, in the meantime enjoy these photos.

Two of our English students and friends, Ivo and Ismael, brought us colada morada and guaguas de pan, the traditional food for the day of the dead (roughly translates to purple drink and baby bread)

Nicole made her own gluten-free version of baby bread (on right)

Colada morada, a delicious fruit drink that is also very filling. We couldn't finish the huge pot of colada that our guests brought.

Gathering around as Christian explains to us that since we didn't finish all of the colada morada we were doomed to be visited by the dead in our sleep... and no one slept well in the Manna house that night.

Note: These photos (and most of the photos I use in this blog) were taken by Nicole Hamilton. Gracias Nicole!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Year of the Dog

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!

Children's Art class hard at work
Matias, knee-deep in chalk and rather pleased with himself
A very impressive peacock
Emily and Wendy working together

Monday, October 31, 2011

Emily and Matias

Meet Emily and Matias... two of our sweetest regulars in the library. The two of them greet us daily as we get off the bus at 2:30 to open the library. A toothless grin and hug from Matias makes any day infinitely better.
They are crazy for Children's Art class and ask us every five minutes "Profe Cuanto falta?" how much longer until la clase de arte? They are slowly learning the virtue of patience.

Matias is 5 years old and is learning to read. My favorite activity is curling up next to him in a beanbag chair and listening to him carefully pronounce every syllable. Him and his older cousin Emily are best friends and partners in crime. They have found a soft spot in the hearts of all the profes.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Nutrition News

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!

Profe Emily reviewing vocab
Profe Taylor with Chuapitena students
The food pyramid
Chopping veggies in Adult Nutrition/Cooking Class

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Teen Center Revival

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!

Our new regular Steven, now a Chess pro
Who wouldn't want to hang out with us in the Teen Center?

The guitar is bigger than he is

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Manna 101

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

Library Party!

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.

Ping-Pong Tournament
New faces in the library
Some of our regulars playing Monopoly
The line to bob for apples

Egipto Tournament