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

Saturday, October 8, 2011

A Big Thank You for All Your Support

The Chase Community Giving Competition has ended and the official results are finally available. Unfortunately, MPI did not win our division and will not be moving onto the next round, but we did finish a respectable 3rd behind some other well-known nonprofits.

Also, we would like to send a special thanks to the following individuals, organizations, and networks, who kindly promoted Manna Project during the competition:

v Pencils of Promise

v Brad Corrigan, of the bands Dispatch and Braddigan, as well as his own nonprofit Love Light & Melody

v Catchafire

v Lacrosse the Nations

v Our Time

v Razoo

v ORPHANetwork

v Giving Matters

v Spark Microgrants

v Other Places Publishing

v The US Center of Citizen Diplomacy

v Building Bridges Coalition

v Spark Microgrants and the Local Solutions Forum

v Matthew Perryman

v The band Relient K

v The band Jars of Clay

v Alongside Ministries

v Members of Save the Children's Corporate Partnership team

v Duke University's Center for International Development

And all of our friends who endured our relentless pressure to spread the vote.

While we are of course disappointed to have not moved on to the next round, we are sure that the publicity Manna has garnered during this competition will serve us well in the future. Having visibility is an important component for nonprofits to grow and receive funding, and with more than 10,000 votes, it is certain that MPI has increased its visibility both in the U.S. and in Ecuador.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Hola teacher!

We are now three weeks into our first quarter of classes and thoroughly enjoying all of the new faces around the Centro. It has been nice to see all of our advertising hours pay off as more and more people poured into the library during the first weeks of inscriptions. It was awesome to see the Adult Basic and Intermediate classes reach capacity, and even to have enough interest for an Advanced and Super Advanced English conversation class. It has also been nice to settle into a normal schedule now that all of our programs are finally up and running.

I had been anxiously waiting for Adult English to start; it is a program I was excited about from the beginning. While some of the other PD’s were nervous about teaching, I had a little bit of experience teaching ESL and already knew what a cool experience it can be. I was also looking forward to interacting with some of the older people in the community, since the majority of our library users are niños.

There is something really intriguing about watching adults learn. We think of the educational process as something that we go through as children and young adults but no matter what our age, we still have a lot to learn. It is fascinating to watch adults automatically return to the school-children mentality as they find themselves once again in a classroom setting. My English class whispers answers back and forth and copies off each other when my back is turned. They speak too softly when they are unsure and smile proudly when praised. They groan when I give them tests and make up excuses for why their homework isn’t done. No matter what our age, learning new things seems to keep us young at heart.

Unlike most school children however, the adults in our English classes seem to genuinely enjoy being there. This was made apparent to me when I tried to dismiss my class ten minutes early on Saturday since I assumed they were tired after the three-hour class. No one moved from their chairs, they instead started quizzing me about what kind of music I like and insisted that I sing “Yo no sé mañana” for them, translated into English. After hearing me sing they obviously didn’t beg me for an encore, but it was a fun way to pass the last ten minutes of class.

Some of the adults hang around in the library after classes on Saturday just to chat, which brings a lot of liveliness to the Centro on a day that used to be slow. Last week all of the Adult English classes learned the “Happy Birthday” song and serenaded Profe Emily after class for her birthday. One of her super advanced students and a good friend of ours Evo even brought in a cake to share. While the niños make us smile fast with a hug and an “hola profe,” having the Adult English students around has given us close friends in the community. While we try and shy away from being just an English teaching organization because there are a lot of other ways to serve the community, it is nice to provide members of the valley with a skill they so highly value and desire.

Nicole's Children's English class hard at work

Teacher Charlie explaining the future...