Saturday, May 28, 2011

Shaking things up in Women's Exercise

Three out of four of the women living in the Manna house are involved in the women's exercise program, which continues to run six different classes five days a week.  With an update on some changes that have been underway in this ever-popular program, here's Ashley!

Time is zooming by and things are changing upstairs in women’s exercise. All of our classes are getting revamped - new kicks and punches for tae bo, challenging stretching and flexing for pilates, exciting dance moves for zumba, creative steps for weights, and fresh combinations for yoga. But the class that has been upgraded the most is our circuits class, which has recently been transformed entirely.

In addition to using new exercises for the individual stations, we have altered the music (and the way of telling when to change stations). Initially, we would play 45 seconds of a song, and then 15 seconds of another one for the station change. It was somewhat confusing, and women who had not attended classes often needed our prompting to know when to switch. Now, we have a new system: the same song continues to play until it’s over, and gets quiet when Noel’s voice says “¡Cambie!” indicating that it’s time to change! The women loved it and said that it was so much easier to figure out!

In addition, we’ve added a more interactive aspect to the circuits class. We used to go through the sets of circuits 4 times during one class, but we’ve now added a group cardio section for 15 minutes in the middle of class. It allows us to all do something together, and of course, sweat a lot. Noel, Becky, and I even have a hard time making it through those 15 minutes, as we try to push ourselves to doing a variety of really intense cardio activities!

Zumba has also gotten a change, even if it’s just of an instructor. I have recently started teaching Zumba classes every other week. To start with, it was just nerve-wracking, as I am not a particularly skilled dancer, but has ended up being a blast for all of us. It’s another intense cardio workout to add to our plethora of classes, and everyone loves a workout that makes you sweat and is so much fun! 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Vote to win $5,000 for Manna!

The Wills Company in Nashville is celebrating its 20th anniversary by donating $5,000 to a Nashville charity voted on by visitors to its website.  Since Manna is a Nashville-based organization (if this is news to you, please visit our main website to find out more), we fit the bill!  You can help us by submitting your vote, and polls close very soon: May 31st.

Vote for Manna!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

¡Bienvenida, Darcy; Hasta la Vista, Bibi!

Since I was out of town in the States this weekend and had to miss this momentous event, Becky is here to fill you in on our official change of directors in the eyes of the community where we work, Rumiloma:

This past Saturday, Manna Ecuador hosted a Bienvenida/Despedida in honor of Bibi leaving her position as Country Director in Ecuador and welcoming Darcy Phillips as the new Country Director of the Ecuador site.  Following the adult English classes on Saturday morning, we headed up to the third floor women’s exercise room where the celebration began.  In addition to the adult English students, many of the kid’s who visit our centro on a regular basis brought their parents to join in the festivities.  Even though the circumstances of saying goodbye to Bibi were sad, we were exciting to officially welcome Darcy to the team. 

Before the party got started, we began getting the room ready with tables, chairs, and food.  On the white board, we wrote a note for Bibi and Darcy in which many of the kids added their own parting words as well as expressed their excitement for a new director.  After the community members filed in, Zoë began the event with a short speech that shared our sadness and excitement for the change of country director position.  Bibi then address our community member explaining that she is not leaving the community, but when she returns, she will return as a friend and member of the community rather than the director of Manna.  She also expressed how proud she was of everything the community has accomplished in her time with Manna and how her work in Rumiloma and the surrounding areas has aided in her own personal growth.  Bibi ended her speech by introducing the community to Darcy, who proclaimed her excitement to be working with Manna and to officially meet the community.
Lucía and Carlos, our business development partner.
Luke with some regulars to the library.
Jack and Paola, a longtime friend of MPI Ecuador.
Bibi and Wendy, one of Manna's biggest fans.
Brock and one of his English students, Walter. 
Zoë and Vinicio.
Vinicio and his mom, Jenny, presenting Bibi with a farewell bouquet. 
During the Bienvenida/Despedida, the program directors and summer volunteers mingled with the community members, who were having a blast taking pictures with all of us.  Some individuals in the community brought gifts for both Bibi and Darcy, to express their own feelings of gratitude and excitement for a new face in the centro.  One child, whose mom is in the English class, presented Bibi and Darcy with bouquets of roses.  It was great to see how our relationship with the community members is truly appreciated.

While this event was very successful and cheerful, I couldn’t help but think with sadness of the upcoming Bienvenida/Despedida that my fellow Program Directors and I will be participating in when we turn the organization over to a new set of volunteers in early August.

As always, keep up with our summer volunteers on their page of the blog!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

MPI connects with local entrepreneurs in Small Business Development

MPI Ecuador's business program has undergone significant changes under the 2010-2011 PD team.  Here to outline its current goings-on is Jack.  To check up on the work our summer volunteers are doing, please visit the Summer Session 1 tab at the top of the blog!

Since January, the Small Business Development program has been offering free consulting services to various businesses in the communities of Rumiloma and Sangolquí. Over the past several months, we have streamlined our approach to heavily target the finances and accounting of the businesses we encounter. When appropriate, we also advise businesses on any possible opportunities we find, ranging from moving locations to carrying different products.

An important part of this program has been Carlos Rodriguez, a finance student from Quito. Carlos makes a one and a half hour journey out to Rumiloma every Saturday to attend one of our English classes and help us work with local businesses. With his help, we have turned the small business program into a structured operation that we are excited to expand.

About a month ago, we finished working with Rosita, a woman who was operating a two-in-one business: half small food store, half sewing business. Rosita did not practice any accounting, and how no idea how much money she was making. First, we taught her to keep a balance sheet. Next, we helped her figure out the wholesale costs of her store’s products; many of her products were bought in bulk, and only some products included a sales tax. We walked Rosita through the mathematical functions she needed to operate on her calculator. Soon enough, she was calculating her gross income for the first time. We eventually added up her monthly income and compared it against her costs of rent, electricity, phone, and water. Unfortunately, we discovered that Rosita was barely making any money. Rosita had been working 15 hours a day, and only made about $60 a month. That’s 15 hours of work to earn $2. Among other things, the biggest problem was a high monthly rent that devoured her income. Although Rosita was disappointed when she saw the numbers, she was glad that she discovered her business’ financial standing sooner rather than later; she might have gone months or years without having realized that her husband’s income was the only reason her business was staying afloat. Rosita is currently in the process of selling her space (there have already been several interested enquirers) and will continue to offer sewing services from her house. She will also continue to sell her products at the local Thursday Sangolquí market as well as at local popular events, such as soccer games. By shedding the disability of a costly location, she will be able to keep a much higher percentage of her income and have a higher profit.

Since completing our work with Rosita, the small business program has been working on organizing a book-keeping system for the owner of a small bakery and has recently given a consultation to a local fruit and vegetable stand. With only a few months of experience under our belts as pro-bono financial consultants, we are more excited than ever to keep this program improving and gaining popularity in the area. 
Jack and Brock with Rosita in front of her store

Pablo and a friend, frequent recipients of MPI's business consulting services, in their store

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Welcome Summer Volunteers!

MPI Ecuador blog readers, allow me the pleasure of introducing six wonderful volunteers who will be with us for this month: Caroline, Elizabeth, Robert, Sydney, Taylor, and Zach!  Hailing from James Madison University, the University of Georgia, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Miami University of Ohio, and Vanderbilt University (in no particular order), six new faces are now to be seen about our house in Sangolquí.  Since arriving last Thursday and Friday, they have had a flurry of orientation to our programs and life in the house, as well as to Quito and the Valley.  They've spent time in the library and teen center, playing games and reading with the kids, and have already jumped into some of our programs: Caroline taught Brock's adult English class on Saturday in his absentia, and Elizabeth was Luke's right-hand-woman during Saturday's cooking class!

Over the next four weeks, these lovely volunteers will be not only assisting in our current programs, but they will also be helping us complete shorter-term projects, expand upon our ideas for programs, and planning and executing their own projects with partner organizations.  From running leadership workshops with teens at Jesus Divino to teaching an English class for children in the neighborhood of San Juan in the Valley, they will be seeing plenty of life in the Valley.  Not to mention some cool weekend travel on the side.
MPI Ecuador Summer Session 1, along with Sam, Session 1 Coordinator, and Luke, at the Basílica in Quito!
The volunteers' experience with Manna will constitute something considerably different from those which PDs can convey on this blog, so in an effort to give blog readers access to the freshness and perspective that our volunteers are already bringing us, I am giving them the keys to their own separate tab on the Manna blog, Summer Session 1!  You can click on it above, right next to our home page tab.  Over the next month we will simultaneously be running our regular programs as well as the volunteers' projects, so please check back regularly for updates on both aspects of summer in Ecuador with MPI!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

You say goodbye, and I say hello!

We have some big news to announce here at MPI Ecuador.   Right now MPI Executive Director Lori Scharffenberg is visiting Manna’s site in the Valle de los Chillos for the first time during this year’s Program Directors’ tenure.  This means that Tuesday, when she arrived at the house, was the first time I’d seen her since our Miami orientation last July and the first time she’s seen Manna’s new Ecuador digs!  She was duly impressed, but checking out the house was in fact not her primary reason for visiting.  She is staying for two weeks largely to help transition in MPI Ecuador’s new Country Director, Darcy Phillips.

That’s right, our beloved Bibi Al-Ebrahim, who has been Country Director since the summer of 2009, is leaving us.  Thankfully, she is not leaving the area altogether and will merely be moving up the pista to Quito in a couple of weeks to be closer to her new job with the Peace Corps.  Bibi, it just can’t be enough to say we will miss you!!

Our next two weeks are thus filled with meetings and tours and the orientations.  We are very excited not only to orient Darcy to programs and daily life in Ecuador, but also to bring Lori up to speed on how Manna is running on the ground these days.  Welcome, Darcy!

Bibi is not the only member of this year’s team who we are having to say goodbye to.  A few weeks ago my partner blogger, Hannah, packed up and headed back to the States for good in pursuit of educational opportunities that required her to leave before the rest of us.  Before she left, we spent some quality time together as the 2010-2011 Manna Ecuador team.  We decided to make our third retreat a laid back one after starting it with a Saturday night joint celebration of Hannah and Jack’s birthday, the last birthdays of the year, with a cookout on our patio, a piñata (ok, so this is Mexican, not Ecuadorian, but we figured getting it in the shape of the national beer of Ecuador was enough), and a throwback to our first days in Ecuador last July: a chivas bus!  

Jack's birthday card, designed by Zoë in the form of the Capelo bus, the bus we take to Rumiloma every day

Jack and his birthday Pilsener piñata
Hannah with her piñata winnings

MPI Ecuador 2010-2011!
The following Sunday we spent the first day of the retreat in Sangolquí, eating at the San Luís food court, watching a movie, and playing a personal favorite game, Bucket of Nouns.  Then Monday we took an hour and a half bus ride to the gorgeous mountain-nestled thermal baths at Papallacta, where we read books and chatted by the pools for the day.  It was a perfect weekend goodbye to Hannah, who’s put in so much time and energy into her programs and life in Ecuador this year.  Hannah, we already miss you dearly!
Jack epitomized our Sangolquí retreat day in his pajamas carrying an ice cream cone and a bucket of fried chicken (yes, it was all for him).

Pools at Papallacta
MPI Ecuador lounging in thermal baths in the Andes

Papallacta baths again
Despite losing a couple of personnel, the Manna house is about to be full again as our first session of summer volunteers arrives tomorrow.  Six volunteers from across the States will be bringing a breath of fresh air (and 12 extra hands!) to MPI Ecuador for a month. 

So many new faces in the house!  Welcome to all!    

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Rumiloma kids take on the masters

This week Zoë brings us an update from one of our most popular programs.  Stay tuned in the weeks to come as the Manna house will be filled with our fabulous summer volunteers!

Greetings from Ecuador to all of our readers! Although we find ourselves with only 3 months left as Program Directors with Manna Project, our programs continue to gain momentum. Today I am going to update you all on the one class offered to children still too young to read and write: Arte para Niños! Children’s Art!

Our mission to promote within our community the value of art, which is exceedingly hard to come by in Ecuador’s public schools, seems to be reaching further because our enrollment has increased and attendance has become more consistent. Increasing enrollment has been a central goal of the art team since August, and Luke, Sam and I are very pleased to see results. Most satisfying, in my opinion, is that the same students are returning to class every week, which really indicates that they value the lessons and projects we do in art class and that it’s not just a fun hour with paints that students attend sporadically.

We have recently changed our curriculum. The previous three quarters we focused on different regions of the world, choosing art projects that reflected local culture and typical art forms from those regions. This quarter however, we are focusing instead on specific artists. Each class we present a small lesson about a different artist, and then do an art project inspired by him. At the end of class, we ask students questions and reward correct answers with pieces of candy in order to encourage retention of the information we offer them in the lesson.

By focusing on particular artists, it is our hope that our students will gain more appreciation for art as a medium of individual expression. They will see how the works of different artists from different eras and different continents vary in use of color, tone and style.

Finally, it is a continued goal of ours to encourage creativity and independent work. Many students, particularly our younger students who accompany older family members to class, tend to mimic the projects of their peers. We want to create a space in which students build up confidence in their own ability to be creative and create an art project on their own. Furthermore, we wish to reinforce that there is no “correct” or “right” final project. This may be the only class they attend in their childhood where this is the case and they are not encouraged to follow a strict set of rules in order to produce a final product.

The art team is very excited about how Children’s Art has progressed over the past few quarters, and we are also looking forward to seeing how our students respond to learning about a variety of influential artists!  Here’s to looking ahead!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

MPI's First Benefit Event!

This past Saturday, April 30, marked a momentous occasion in MPI’s history: we held our first benefit event on an MPI site in Quito!  The event, conceived and developed largely by Ashley over the past several months, took place at C’est La Vie, the Cajun style restaurant where we also celebrated Becky’s birthday and watched the BCS championship earlier this year.  Elva, Carlos, and the staff at C’est La Vie donated their space, normally closed on Saturday nights, time, and talents to help us realize the event.  As the very first major fundraising event at a Manna international site, it was a great success!

As part of Manna’s commitment to being an organization grounded long-term in its international sites, we wanted to reach out to potential supporters in and around el Valle de los Chillos.  About 20 guests attended the dinner and multipart presentation we held from 6:30-10:00pm, which included a raffle, an informational video, a slideshow covering Manna’s history in Ecuador, and a Manna trivia quiz.  We had a choice among three New Orleans inspired dinners with main courses of shrimp etouffee, jambalaya, and gumbo, preceded by a delicious house cocktail based around fresh strawberry and passionfruit juice and rum.  After a welcoming speech by Bibi, we showed a video outlining the history of MPI in Ecuador, followed by a trivia quiz on our current programs, the winners of which received MPI t-shirts.  Our raffle prizes consisted of gift certificates and items donated by restaurants and businesses around Quito.  Our slideshow played throughout the evening when the video and quiz weren’t on C’est La Vie’s central TV screen.

The scene at C'est La Vie
Bibi and Ashley making opening remarks
Friends of Manna!
Brock and Jack expertly tending the bar
Our guests watching the MPI history video
The benefit was an incredibly collaborative event for all of us program directors.  With Ashley coordinating everything and serving as the contact between MPI and C’est La Vie as well as all of the organizations who donated to our raffle, we all chipped in to make different aspects of the night happen: Brock and Jack collected photos and video footage and wrote the script for the video, Becky and I collected photos and put together the slideshow, Jack and I made and hosted the trivia quiz, Zoë and Luke spearheaded decorations, Hannah made the invitations, Sam and Luke created the program, and Luke created a fantastic stand on which to advertise the event outside of C’est La Vie on Saturday that we intend to use for future MPI events.  Before everyone left, Jack and I performed a brief set (Jack played the guitar and I sang).  Overall, it was a tiring but extremely rewarding night from which we not only gained significant monetary support but also exposed potential friends of Manna in Ecuador to what MPI truly does in the Valley and to our mission to remain in Ecuador over the long term, a goal that requires roots, both organizational and financial, in the site itself.
The welcoming table
Zoë's lovely centerpiece on each table
The menu, all food provided by C'est La Vie
Jack and Noel performing to end the night
We are extremely excited to have executed the first MPI benefit in what we hope to be an annual tradition here in the Quito area and a model for similar events at our other international sites in Nicaragua and Guatemala.  It’s a big step toward the sustainability of Manna in Ecuador and raising our visibility – thus extending our reach and effectiveness – at this site.  Hopefully next year will be twice as successful!