Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Grassroots Advertising, Inscriptions, and “¡Tu Lenguaje!”

The academic year is fast approaching for MPI Ecuador. I do not mean that any of the recent college graduates that make up the new team of program directors will be enrolling for classes, however. Instead, all of us will soon be assuming the role of teacher, a frightening and ironic thought to any of us who have ever been sent out of class for being disruptive but colluded with other disruptive classmates to avoid punishment from the teacher (definitely not me). Collectively, we will be doing our best to impart our gringo accents to our English students, inspire creativity in young art students, demonstrate healthy cooking techniques to adults, and motivate women from the Chillos Valley to master Zumba routines in women’s exercise classes. But before the fun can begin, a certain amount of work is required of the teachers-to-be, and this work is also the subject of this week’s blog. In the lead-up to classes, which begin on September 13th, the new team of program directors has been walking the streets of the Chillos Valley making MPI’s presence known and advertising our fall classes. In the process we’ve had our share of laughs, shrugs, and reasons for optimism.

Even the best ideas require marketing before they catch on. At MPI Ecuador we think that the classes we offer are at least “very important” for the communities we serve— so it’s important that we find ways to advertise what we offer. However, our options are limited by the lack of widespread Internet access in the communities we serve. No matter. This week each program director has taken part in what in reality may be the best form of advertising for us: approaching strangers on the street and explaining to them about Manna Project and the classes we offer. To maximize our reach, we divvyed up all of the different municipalities that Manna Project serves in the Chillos Valley, and with flyers in hand, sent a pair of PDs to each community to advertise our English, cooking and nutrition, children’s art, and women’s exercise classes.

The PDs already take buses to our Centro in Rumiloma as well as everywhere else we go, and this proved to be a valuable platform for reaching large numbers of people. My compadre Charlie and I took turns standing at the front of the buses speaking loudly about MPI and our classes, while the other passed out flyers to the people seated.

In San Pedro, a smaller and less dense municipality in between Rumiloma and Sangolquí, we targeted families with children as we walked around, introducing ourselves as volunteers from a nonprofit organization, and briefly describing MPI’s classes and services. Often our approaches were met initially with confusion or suspicion, but we were encouraged that most people appeared piqued afterward, and almost everybody accepted our flyers. Once, after chatting with a group of people gathered around a grill on a street corner about their interest in our English classes, a woman responded that “No entendí tu lenguaje.” We recovered from her not understanding our Spanish by countering, “So now you know that we can definitely speak English.” Like the other program directors, Charlie and I talked to many people during our walk-around, and gained permission from several storeowners to leave information in windows. We ended our advertising campaign in good spirits, discussing how the people we were recruiting would probably be taking the same bus to the Centro that we do.

Making the rounds in the communities we serve is important for more reasons than simply increasing participation in our programs. By talking to people and gauging their reactions, the experience was both an exercise in communication with the very people we are trying to serve, and a reassurance to these people that our intentions are sincere. My experiences talking to strangers and being pushed out of my comfort zone this week gave me a heightened sense of purpose and enthusiasm for our work, and I believe the rest of the team shared this experience. Speaking on behalf of all the current team of program directors, I am excited that our fall class offerings will soon begin and hope to see in the Centro with us some of the same faces from the streets that we walked this week.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Games Games Games

Hey everyone, for this week’s guest blog I would like to introduce an important member of our library Daniel Ajoy, an Ecuadorian volunteer who comes to the centro regularly to play games with the niños. Daniel brings a variety of games that teach the kids valuable lessons and also give them a break from the standard choices at the library. The kids really enjoy playing with him, and always ask for him when he isn't around. Here are a few words from Daniel himself about what he does:

Hi, my name is Daniel Ajoy and I go to the Manna library at Rumiloma as often as other obligations allow. I enjoy very much playing and teaching board games to the kids there, because I remember the times when I was bored at home when I was young, as these kids are, and I didn't know how to use the game pieces I had, to play with my brother and sister.

The library has a few board games the kids are free to play with. I imagine that all of the games were donated with all of their components complete. They are in shelves accessible even to the younger kids, but through the months of use and exploration, many of them have lost pieces or have broken ones. From what I've seen, the most resilient games are the ever popular Uno, and Othello, because the board is sturdy and the pieces are identical and abundant, so if some of them get lost the game is still playable.

I usually go with a bag that contains:

· two Piecepacks, which are generic sets of pieces: numbered tiles, numbered coins, dice, and pawns.

· two bags of many nice-looking glass beads

· one bag of buttons in four colors

· a white set of Dominoes

· a deck of regular cards

With the pawns we have been able to play a few games of Candyland, changing the rules a bit so that it's not just a matter of taking a color card from the top of your stack and moving you pawn to that spot in the track through the Land of Candy, but having each kid manage a hand of three color cards, and make decisions about which card to play next. This rule change was suggested by Tom Vasel in this video.

With the glass beads we have played Breakthrough on the Chess tables, I think it is a very nice simple game to play with the kids, but the problem is that it is just for two players. I'm trying to find games for more players that use the Chess tables and we have tried Pente and Halma with the colored buttons. The kids have enjoyed both. Also with simple buttons, glass beads and pawns, we have played other multi-player games like: Veleno (which we call "Help your friend"), Poison Pot, Pandora's box and Yavalath. For those a simple printable board was needed.

We have a nice set of thick black Dominoes... but it lacks three pieces. I realized that the incomplete black set of Dominoes had enough pieces to play an adaptation of Raj, we use those pieces and a deck of regular playing cards, and each player gets all the 13 cards of a suite, so with one deck up to 4 players can participate. Playing cards are relatively cheap here, and I'm still trying to find simple, yet novel games to play with them. We have played Army Ants, Sequence, with a printable board; and Eleusis, but in its Express version. I think kids would benefit from playing more Eleusis (which I presented to them as "Nature against Scientists") but I suspect they don't appreciate my representing Nature every time, and they don't yet have a sense of what good rules are, to play as Nature themselves affectively. However, their favorite card game is Egyptian Rat Slap.

With the Piecepack tiles we have explored games like Hey, That's my Fish!, Penguin and The Secret Door. With the Piecepack dice we have played: Can't Stop and Pickomino (which they usually just call Worms). And lately we have tried more sophisticated adaptations like: Way of the Dragon, Forbidden Island, Royal Racers and Cloud 9 (which we call "7 Heaven" and we assemble with Piecepack components, a Dominoes set to indicate "cloud points", and origami dice)

The idea of using origami dice came from the desire of playing fun games with what we have at hand, paper for example. We use origami dice to play Sushizock im Gockelwok, and regular notebooks and pencils to play Dots and Boxes which in Ecuador is called "Galleta" and Sprouts. I still want to show them how to play Racetrack with more than two players, but that looks like an all-boys game, so I'll wait for the right opportunity.

It would be nice to have generic sets of Dominoes, dice, cards and color tokens at the library, so that kids can play the games rules we learn on their own.

Thank you Daniel! The PDs and the niños genuinely appreciate your help!

Daniel playing with some of the library regulars

Thursday, August 18, 2011


I Y Montañita

This past weekend we PDs had four days off for a holiday, 10 de agosto, the day on which Ecuador first declared its independence from Spain. Although actual independence wasn’t achieved until much later, the day is very important in Ecuadorian history, especially for Quito. Everyone had time off for the holiday and like almost everyone else in the city, we took advantage of the long weekend to take a trip to the coast. Although Ecuador is a very small country, it takes a long time to navigate through the sierra to get the beach. We have heard a lot of horror stories about long bus rides through the mountains, so we were all a little apprehensive about how to get there. After a lot of deliberation we opted to fly to Guayaquil, then take the three hour bus ride to Montañita, a small but lively beach town that was highly recommended to us by former PDs and locals alike. At 5am on Friday we grabbed our bags and piled into the back of a camioneta (pick up truck) for the 40-minute ride to the airport in Quito. Due to flight issues and an overcrowded bus terminal it ended up taking us a lot longer to get there than planned, but we passed the time with lots of card games and cheap food.

The town was like nothing I have ever experienced. It is full of surfers, international travelers, wandering craftsman, expats, and Ecuadorians looking to have a good time. We stayed in a really neat hostel right in the center of town, which was awesome until it was time to go to sleep. The music and celebrations finally started to wind down around 6am and which point we could finally catch a few hours of shut-eye under our mosquito nets. By the end of our trip we were scraping our change together to buy choclo con queso (grilled corn with pesto sauce, mayo, and cheese) and most of us were indebted to the bank of Emily. We are quickly learning how to make a little money go a long way. Unfortunately we didn’t see the sun once during our trip (though some of us still managed to get sunburned). We did however play in monstrous waves, dance in the streets, buy lots of jewelry, and get to know each other a lot better.

Emily and I walking to the plane

Nicole and Taylor relaxing on the beach

Surf school

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Walter's Story

Hi everyone, I would like to share with you a piece written by Noel about Walter, a community member who had a particularly large impact on the 2010-2011 Program Directors:

Walter first showed up at the Manna centro in Rumiloma in September to register for English classes. It was his first venture into the English language and the first time teaching for us 2010-2011 Program Directors. As the basic adult English teacher that quarter, I was Walter’s teacher from September-December 2010.

Walter struggled a lot. He was shy to speak English, and when he did his pronunciation was garbled nonsense. But he came faithfully to every class, and he did his homework consistently, turning in nearly illegible and often incorrect but always complete pages each week. He came early and stayed late to talk to us PDs. about soccer and his work and Ecuadorian slang. He joked with me during class, laying down Spanish puns that I didn’t understand but that always got a laugh from the rest of the class. I frequently felt that I was learning more from him than he from me.

One day I was pushing Walter to answer a question in English. “My head hurts,” he evaded in Spanish. “It hurts your head to think of the answer?” I responded. “Yes,” he said; “I was shot in the head in July, and sometimes when I think too hard my head hurts.” I was stunned. Walter had been assaulted on the coast over the summer in an act of random violence. Incredibly, he’d recovered enough by September to sign up for English with us and not give a hair’s breadth of indication that anything so traumatic could’ve happened so recently.

Walter finished basic English in December and came back in January to register again. Having not progressed enough to enter intermediate, he happily re-registered for basic English. Walter began trying out English pronunciation both during and outside of class. He’d been the slowest member of my basic class, but now in Brock’s basic class he was pushing the speed past his fellow students’ pace.

By April, Walter was ready to enter Sam’s intermediate level for our final quarter. By this time all the PDs were fond of him. He was no longer afraid to speak in class and persisted in his commitment to attendance and homework. He told me that he used to go out drinking and dancing on Friday nights until the wee hours, but now he went to bed early so he could be rested and mentally prepared for English Saturday morning.

Walter’s 26th birthday was July 25. The Saturday preceding we all walked a few blocks from thecentro to his Rumiloma home, where we met his mother and his sister, whom Walter had invited from the coast expressly to cook us traditional Ecuadorian coastal food. Through the afternoon and into the evening we played Ecua-volley (a version of volleyball nearly as popular as fútbol in Ecuador) and talked and greeted Walter’s friends. In the early evening we lay into the coastal fish tamales and stuffed crab and fried plantains so exuberantly as to render even more incredible the entire day that Walter’s mother and sister had spent making it. With the sun down and the outside lights on, we salsa danced on the patio. Before we gave hugs goodbye and good luck all around and left for the evening, we sang Happy Birthday, once in Spanish and once in English, and Walter blew out his candles.

Walter came for us to symbolize our year with Manna. He, like we, arrived nervous and skeptical but eager to learn. He, like we, tried to finish each task to the best of his ability, knowing that he was making mistakes along the way. He, like we, kept coming back to the task at hand in an effort to improve no matter what the obstacles. And he, like we, found at the end of the year that the most valuable things he’d gained were not an improved grasp of another language or even firsthand knowledge of a foreign culture, but new relationships that now enriched his life. To spend an afternoon and evening in his home celebrating his birthday as dear friends was absolutely the perfect way to close out the year. We have all learned so much about community development and running an international non-profit on the ground, but we have also learned about forming and sustaining relationships across barriers of language and culture and experience.

With these lessons and Walter’s friendship in hand and heart, we now disperse along different paths, forever changed by the unlikely intersection of our lives this year. We hope and trust that MPI Ecuador PDs of 2011-2012 are now embarking on a year that will be equally – though idiosyncratically – full of stories and relationships like ours with Walter.

The 2010-2011 PDs at Walter's Birthday Party
Walter teaching Rachel (2011-2012 PD) how to salsa
Noel's English class receiving certificates (Walter on the far right)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Wait… We have been here for a month already?

Hola! This is Heather, as Noel mentioned in her last post I will be taking over the Blog for the 2011-2012 year along with Watkins, who will be arriving in Ecuador this coming Wednesday (Yay Watkins!). It is hard to believe that us new PDs have been in the country for almost a month already, but we are really starting to feel at home! After spending the first two weeks living with host families in Quito and brushing up on our Spanish, we were excited to move into the house and get to work. With the support and guidance of last year’s PDs we were able to get our feet wet at the library and start getting to know community members. It has taken us no time at all to adjust to life in the Valley. We have quickly discovered how to mount moving buses and fight back when they try to charge us an extra 2 cents for the ride to the Centro. We also have survived our first week of summer camp!

We were all a little nervous to see the herd of 5-10 year olds waiting impatiently in the library on the first day, but they quickly warmed our hearts and we have had a blast playing with them all week. From the youngest camper Miguel who always has a smile on his face to our oldest Dayana who is a wiz at U.S. geography, the kids have really made us Profe’s feel welcome. Today we took the kids on a paseo to the Museo del Agua in Quito. The museum trip reinforced what our partner org Añamisi had taught the kids about the importance of water, where it comes from, and how we can protect it. The niños enjoyed playing in a giant bubble room and getting splashed by the fountain after lunch. It was a long series of bus rides into the city, but most of us were able to catch a little siesta on the way homeand we will surely sleep well tonight!

Arts and Crafts time

Relay races with Profe Taylor

"Profe dice" also known as Simon Says