Sunday, June 26, 2011

Hey, you're a gringa - teach us English!

Thanks for following us! It’s hard to believe we’ve been here a year already. Contributing to the blog every now and again gives me the chance to reflect on where we were last July and where we are now. We’ve made some steps and progress in many of our programs, and today I’m going to talk about our growth in our Children’s English program.

Contrary to the popular belief among many of the people we encounter down here, Manna Project International is NOT just an English-teaching organization. English is, however, in very high-demand. Many people see it as fundamental to professional success- be that in business, tourism, law, medicine, or many other career options. Therefore, we receive constant inquiries about our English classes. Although children almost unilaterally receive English instruction in school, many parents are eager to get their children supplementary lessons. Our being native speakers as well as our classes’ fair prices make Manna Project’s English program a desirable option.

Since September, we have added a third class to accommodate greater enrollment as well as a wider range of ability. I teach the intermediate class, but we all follow a similar structure and set of teaching methods. Students are placed based on their score on a placement test. We keep our classes small- no more than 10-12 students- in order to ensure that each student has optimum opportunity to participate in each class. We follow the Let’s Go curriculum and complement the curriculum with games, activities, and exercises that build students’ writing, comprehension, and speaking abilities.

Each student must score an 80% on the final exam in order to advance to the next level. The three instructors coordinate to make sure that each level starts off where the previous level finished. This creates a fluid and comprehensive English program.

On a more personal note, teaching English has been one of my biggest challenges here. I used to sit in class as a young child and fantasize about what kind of teacher I would be. I would be “cool” and always nice. I would give no homework. Quizzes and tests would certainly be unnecessary. You can imagine my surprise when I found myself with a disciplinary system identical to that of my 4th grade teacher’s- a system of red, yellow, and green cards. The class starts out on green and cards are taken down whenever the class misbehaves, talking out of turn, looking at each other’s quizzes, or getting up and walking around the room. 10 classes on green amounts to some sort of prize. Getting all the way to red negates a “green day”. Even more surprising is that I give weekly homework and quizzes. What I didn’t understand as a young student was that my teachers probably did all of these things out of a genuine desire to see their students understand and master the material put in front of them. At least that’s why I do it.

It also turns out that English is extremely difficult. Learning Spanish was a piece of cake compared to what these kids face. We break rules, arbitrarily assign prepositions to different words, and randomly designate letters silent in certain words. For every frustrating moment I have, I am equally impressed by these 7 year olds’ ability to understand such a challenging language.

English really is one of our strongest programs, and we are a resource for the community- providing a skill for them that they see as vital. When I look at it that way, the work and frustration is more than worth it and I’m proud to have been part of this program for the past year!
Me and my intermediate children's English class

Monday, June 20, 2011

Getting back in the game at Jesus Divino

Reporting on a weekend at Jesus Divino is guest blogger Brock:

Luke and I resumed our bimonthly stays at Jesus Divino, one of our partner organizations that takes in children whose parents are incarcerated, after a short hiatus due to our conflicting schedules.  While our partnership has continued in the last couple of months from us going to paint some of their houses, having spring break volunteers stay and work there, and summer volunteers going and giving charlas, they were still really excited for us to start spending the night there every other weekend allowing a tía to have a rare weekend off.

The familiarity we have gained with the kids over the past several months has allowed these weekends at Jesus Divino to be very enjoyable and practically problem free.   From gaining the respect of the kids we are able to play, watch movies, and hang out with the children rather than only act as authoritative figures.  Luke and I arrived on Saturday afternoon and immediately jumped into things with the kids by playing soccer and billiards – they now have a child-sized pool table that is a favorite with the younger boys.  We had a typically Ecuadorian dinner and then put on the movie Rio as a treat for the kids.  Halfway through all of the younger ones had fallen asleep, while the older kids continued to enjoy every bit of it.  

We woke up to a beautiful Sunday without a cloud in the sky.  We ran around outside all day with the kids only taking breaks to eat or for do their chores.  Admittedly Luke and I were not extremely enthusiastic about spending a weekend a Jesus Divino but being there with the kids, who are so cute and precious and did everything they could to not let us leave, along with seeing the gratitude on the tía’s face, made every second worth it.  
Kelly, Diana, Tiffany, and Vanessa sit on the front stoop of the house Luke and I were in charge of.
Little Willey was my favorite kid of the weekend, always wanting to play sports with the bigger kids.
Everyone took advantage of the beautiful day!
Jefferson smiling as he continued to go undefeated in pool.
Luke eating lunch with the kids who never want to sit still. 
Me hitting another terrible shot while someone else beats me.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Short-term volunteering has definitely made an impact

With a synopsis of summer session 1 in Ecuador, Sam comes to us with a guest blog.  We also are now getting underway with session 2, which you can track in their own tab at the top of the page!  

Sitting at the airport at 4 AM doesn’t sound like it would be very fun, but when you are with a crew of summer volunteers that you have just shared a month of great adventures, wonderful triumphs and lasting memories—there could be much worse places to be.  It was then, in the wee hours of the morning, we said goodbye to our beloved first summer session volunteer group (with the exception on the one eight-weeker, Elizabeth—or ‘Sista Fix’).  It was a sad goodbye for me.  I spent an enormous amount of time with the summer session one volunteers, being as I am the summer session one coordinator.   

People have often asked me whether volunteers being here in Ecuador, helping MPI out for ‘only a month,’ really makes a difference.  Well, I am here to tell you that the presence of these summer volunteers DID make a difference— in so many ways.  They constructed a set of shelves for backpacks and a sturdy bench and storage box.  They ran their own English classes for adults and children and worked at two different orphanages teaching preventative health and general knowledge.  They painted our upstairs space where we hold cooking, English and exercise classes.  They helped in Children’s Art Classes and with the Small Business Development program.  They lovingly and willingly played with and taught children, teens and adults in our library—and much much more.   

Not only did the summer volunteer group help in an operational capacity, but they brought a certain state of mind that we PDs sometimes lose throughout the year.  They bring fresh ideas and a new and exciting energy that has such a wide reaching impact that it is difficult to describe.  It is easy to merely fall into a routine here.  After ten months, I know that I was guilty of that.  However, when the summer volunteers came, I felt revitalized and I know that the rest of the house appreciated their insight and energy as well.  The summer volunteer experience is meant to expose volunteers to another culture, while allowing them the opportunity to volunteer abroad, but the byproduct of this is much more far-reaching than I really expected.  They made an impact on the communities and organizations that they worked with, but they also made a strong impact on me.  I am very grateful to have had the summer session one volunteers in our house here in Ecuador.  MPI Ecuador will miss them. 

And now for summer session two….

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

De la Mata a la Olla - Organic Agriculture with Añamisi

Our agriculture partner organization has been doing exciting things in the realm of organic farming lately, and Luke, one of MPI Ecuador's agriculture PDs, would like to give a shout out to our wonderful friends at Añamisi:

What is better than food?  If you ask the men of the Manna house the answer would be “Nothing!”   In my eyes they are right, (I happen to be one of these men of the Manna house) but only partially.  The correct answer is organic food!  Yes I know, it is a bit of a trick question.
The distressing reality is that not everyone has access to organic produce and products, and even some that do don’t take advantage of the environmental/health benefits of organic produce and products .
De la Mata a la Olla (roughly translated as “from the earth to the stove pot”), a project started by our agriculture partner organization, Centro de Investigación Enrique Añamisi, works to remedy this problem.  Within Quito and the surrounding Chillos Valley, De la Mata a la Olla supports the agrarian livelihood of many local farmers while giving the opportunity for families in Quito, without yards of their own, to enjoy the benefits of organic produce.  As Christian and Laura, the founders of Centro de Investigación Enrique Añamisi, describe it, their project is an online social network connecting organic farmers with local household buyers, and is the first of its kind in Ecuador.  Christian and Laura work as the intermediaries, picking up the preordered fruits and vegetables from the organic farmers and delivering them to the families that have purchased them.  Furthermore, this service is virtually free of charge for the local producers.  They only pay a small fee to cover the traveling expenses of Laura and Christian.  Sounds too good to be true for the organic farmers, right?  If you want to learn more about De la Mata a la Olla and/or support their project, check out their website for more information at
Hope all is well with our Manna readers/supporters!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

¡Capitán Mineral! ...and other tales of healthy living

As MPI Ecuador team 2010-2011 heads into its final couple of months (I’m sorry, it’s June?!  Where are the long days and warm nights to alert us to summer??  Oh, yes: we left them at higher latitudes.), we are finding it hard to believe it’s been nearly a year since we arrived.  Many of our programs have undergone several incarnations as classes stopped and started again with each quarter or we made changes to meet the apparently changing landscape of our community in the Valley.  However, one program that has followed a steady track since we sat down to meet in August has been the nutrition program at Fundación Aliñambi.

The curriculum we planned for the sixth grade class at Aliñambi is an ambitious one including three components: the garden, the kitchen, and the classroom, interwoven to bring a practical, hands-on element to the theory.  We began in January with the five themes that have governed the class: the cycle connecting food in the earth and its preparation to health in the body, hygiene in the kitchen and food preparation, the food pyramid (which is slightly different in Ecuador from the one that until recently existed in the US), macro- and micronutrients, and foods of Ecuador.  Our Tuesday classes have consisted either of a charla (lecture) or a portfolio entry with which we reinforce the unit we’re in.  Our macro-/micronutrient charla (and subsequent lessons) introduced each nutrient as a superhero or personage that does various things for the body.  The classroom now features a big poster of the food pyramid with colored pictures of food pasted in each category, and each child has in his or her portfolio a personal food pyramid that contains that child’s favorite foods peppered with images of characters like Capitán Mineral, el Rey Carbohidrato, and el Gato Gordo. 

Being able to work with one consistent group of kids over the course of the year has been great for the nutrition team.  I feel like I’ve grown close to them, and it’s been amazing to watch them learn throughout the year.  It will be really hard to say goodbye in July!
Me with our nutrition class on a field trip to Añamisi, our partner agricultural organization, in January.