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.

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