Saturday, November 26, 2011

UGA Volunteers

We dropped off our first group of short-term volunteers at the airport yesterday morning. The group of five UGA girls arrived late last Saturday night and spent the week exploring Quito, helping us with some manual labor, and visiting our programs. Sunday was spent hitting the tourist highlights of Quito with a visit to the Panecillo (the huge statue of the Virgin which overlooks the city), climbing the steep ladders of the Basilica, and shopping in the artisan market. On Monday they gave the library a much needed paint job, covering scuffmarks and dirty hand prints with a lovely shade sea-foam green. We moved around our usual Tuesday Morning Meeting to take the girls on a hike along Rio Pita to see the waterfalls and experience a bit of nature. They survived their first camioneta ride (gracias Joshua) along the bumpy roads of Sangolqui, and tested their lungs hiking through the woods. Although the trail was flat (más o menos) the girls were still hiking around at an elevation close to 9,000 feet, no easy task when you are used to living close to sea level.

They’ve spent the afternoons hanging out in the library, getting to know the niños, and sitting in on our classes. They helped us put the final touches on our plastic-bottle Christmas tree and practiced their Spanish while playing Egipto with the kids. The girls raised money for the trip to go towards some of our program needs. We took advantage of this extra funding and the extra sets of hands to build some new, sturdier aerobic steps for the women’s exercise class. The volunteers came up with the new design, took a trip to Hiper Market to get the supplies, and spent Wednesday hammering and gluing away. The steps are a huge improvement from the ones we made a few months ago, and now we have enough for a full class.

After the centro closed on Wednesday night we all hopped on a bus to Quito for some Great Indian Food (their cooking is better than their creativity) and the girls got to experience a little salsa dancing in the Mariscal. Some of the volunteers got to see the Chaupitena nutrition class, and accompany the kids on a fieldtrip to the Añamisi’s organic garden. Others stayed at home finishing up the steps and helping to prepare our Thanksgiving dinner (round one for the PDs). We were all feeling a little homesick being so far away on the holiday, so it was nice to come back from the centro to a home-cooked feast. After dinner we all sat down to de-brief and to get the girls’ perspective on our programs and the Ecuador site overall. It was a great chance for us to chat about the experience, discuss some of our challenges, and remind ourselves of the many rewards. The week flew by for us in a busy blur, but we want to thank the UGA girls for their positive attitudes, suggestions, and hard work.

The UGA girls painting the library

Camioneta ride to Rio Pita

We finally made it to the waterfall

Building steps for aerobics class
Manna Thanksgiving (part I)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Although we are far from home for the holiday, we find ourselves among family and with many reasons to be thankful. I am thankful for this amazing opportunity to travel and to experience the richness of the Ecuadorian culture. I am thankful for the chance to teach and learn from the beautiful people in the Chillos Valley. I am thankful to the community of Rumiloma for inviting us into their hearts and homes. I am thankful to my fellow PD’s for sharing in this unique experience. I am thankful to all of our supporters (both financial and emotional), and to the UGA girls for choosing to spend their holiday with us.

For most of us it is our first time being away from home for Thanksgiving. Here in the Manna House we have decided to ease our homesickness by celebrating twice. We will have one feast tonight with our UGA volunteers (though slightly less extravagant since we are all working today), and a second Thanksgiving on Sunday with some of our friends and loved ones in Ecuador. We were able to find a reasonably priced Turkey (I hear Nicaragua wasn’t as lucky?) and will all be cooking our favorite recipes to share. We hope everyone at home is enjoying the holiday and we will share pictures of our celebrations in a few days.

Happy Thanksgiving from MPI Ecuador!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Your Moment of Zen...

Rachel, doing roadside yoga with some kids we met while hiking

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Antorcha de Vida

Antorcha de Vida is a rehabilitation center and educational facility for special needs children, located right down the street from our house in Sangolquí. The directora Nancy is a wonderful, hardworking woman with a huge heart. Noel introduced me to Nancy my first week in the Manna House in an effort to keep up our relationship with this wonderful foundation. This woman was so sweet, welcoming, and passionate about her cause that I immediately started brainstorming ways we could get more involved in what they were doing. She took us on a tour of the facilities and showed us the beautiful organic gardens that are planted and maintained by the children, their mothers, and the women who work for the foundation. Nicole and I decided to expand our Agriculture Program to volunteer once a week during their agricultural workshops. We are only able to give them an hour and a half of our time on Thursdays, but we are learning a ton about organic gardening. The women are so sweet and appreciative, and working with the niños has been an amazing experience, as well as a lesson in patience.

The kids at Antorcha de Vida have a variety of mental and physical handicaps, which they work on through different types of therapy. We spend the morning helping them pull weeds, water the plants (and often ourselves in the process), and look after the gardens. Keeping the kids occupied and interested in the work can be a difficult task, and our extra sets of hands are definitely useful. One of our favorite kids, Michael, has a problem with his legs and needs to hold onto someone for support when he’s walking. He is in the process of learning to walk on his own, but sometimes gets too excited and needs to be reminded to slow down and take it one step at a time. The kids really seem to enjoy working in the gardens, and love to show us the handfuls of weeds they pull.

My favorite part of the experience is listening to the Ingeniero tell stories (often the same ones) about the political history of Ecuador, the medicinal properties of eggplant, and his grandsons in Miami. This 80-something year old engineer stumbled upon Antorcha de Vida one day, and has been sharing his agricultural expertise with them ever since. His secret formula named MBO (after him of course) is an organic, chemical free, fertilizer that keeps diseases and pests away from the crops. This mixture has done wonders for the plants there, and the women continue to pester the Ingeniero for his recipe. Unfortunately for them, the secret is just for him and his nietos in Miami.

The Ingeniero can recite the same love poem in Quechua, Spanish, and French… but can’t remember our names. He affectionately refers to us as the Señoritas Extranjeras and after several failed attempts to correct him; we have decided to let that one slide. Listening to his stories is an incredible way to learn about the country, and about organic gardening. This man knows everything there is to know about agriculture and herbal remedies. So whether we are mixing secret organic formulas with the Ingeniero, or just walking back and forth with Michael, volunteering with Antorcha is always a beautiful experience.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

El Feriado (The Holiday)

While the month of November brings colder weather and the beginning of the holiday season for everyone Stateside, the new month heralds the arrival of a different holiday for Ecuadorians. While the temperature remains a perfect 65 to 70 degrees most days, many Ecuadorians have been busy making plans for what to do with a four- (or more-) day weekend in honor of Día de los Difuntos, which was officially celebrated November 2nd. Similar to Day of the Dead in Mexico, el Día de los Difuntos honors the souls of family members who have passed away with a celebration of cooking and graveside remembrance. At the Manna house, we were fortunate to enjoy two particular Ecuadorian traditions: colada morada, a hearty drink made from berries similar to blueberries, and guagua de pan, which are baked creations shaped like children. Check out pictures below that Heather posted from the Manna house get-together.

Aside from sampling cultural fare and learning about Ecuadorian traditions, the four-day weekend provided the opportunity for PDs to travel and explore Ecuador. One group of PDs, including Emily, Charlie, and country director Darcy made a long trip to the Amazon rainforest in “el oriente” to see its exotic biodiversity. Another group of PDs, including Watkins, Heather, Nicole, and Rachel, chose to stay behind and explore places near Sangolquí. With the accompaniment and guidance of a couple of our adult English students, we discovered a former lime mine in the heart of traditional Quechua land and also hiked to “la gran cascada” of Rio Pita, which is the highest waterfall in Ecuador.

On the first day of the Sangolquí-based adventurers’ vacation, the group of PDs accompanied English student Nadia Torres on a work-related trip. Nadia works as a photographer and journalist, and is helping write a book about the history of Sangolquí. Our trip began with a bus ride along dirt roads to a small town called Tolóntag, near where we hoped to find a mine from which lime (cal) was taken that was used in the construction of the plaza of Sangolquí. Nadia, being a journalist, procured us permission to visit the mine and some general directions from the town’s mayor. While Nadia worked her magic, the PDs made friends with some locals and were gifted with maqueños, a kind of plantain with a reddish peel and peach-colored fruit. In our casual conversation, we were told that children from Tolóntag traveled an hour each way to school every day. We also noticed that the Spanish spoken in this small town differed markedly in pronunciation from what we’re used to, a difference Nadia attributed to the Quechua tradition.

With permission, vague directions, and a hired camioneta (pick-up truck), we embarked down a rocky road until the driver bade us farewell and we began walking. We enjoyed good views of hills and volcanoes, and after a while encountered a family working a field of crops near the road. After pleasantries, the adults had their children guide us to the site of the former mine, where we had lunch and took pictures, and laughed at our guides’ antics. The kids were intrigued by our accents and happily showed us the former mine, which is now a thermal pool of water, and other sites near their farm. We ended our trip that day by returning to Sangolquí and having ice cream at an heladería next to the plaza of Sangolquí.

The next day, the PDs piled into a truck with another friend and English student, Ivo Vaca, and drove down a bumpy road to the path toward “La Gran Cascada” of Rio Pita. The hour-and-a-half walk through a gorge alongside the river Rio Pita was marked by smaller waterfalls, jumping-off points for swimmers, and untypically lush vegetation. Due to the water’s freezing temperature, we did not do very much swimming, and instead admired the views of the river and waterfall. We were thankful to find near our house such interesting places as the waterfall and abandoned mine from the day before, and to be in the authentic company of Ecuadorian families on vacation. For all the PDs on Team Ecuador, the holiday was a welcome break and a chance to learn more about Ecuador.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Long Weekend

So we are back to work after a lovely long weekend off to celebrate el día de los difuntos (day of the dead). Joaquin will have a longer blog up in a few days to give you all full details of our weekend adventures, in the meantime enjoy these photos.

Two of our English students and friends, Ivo and Ismael, brought us colada morada and guaguas de pan, the traditional food for the day of the dead (roughly translates to purple drink and baby bread)

Nicole made her own gluten-free version of baby bread (on right)

Colada morada, a delicious fruit drink that is also very filling. We couldn't finish the huge pot of colada that our guests brought.

Gathering around as Christian explains to us that since we didn't finish all of the colada morada we were doomed to be visited by the dead in our sleep... and no one slept well in the Manna house that night.

Note: These photos (and most of the photos I use in this blog) were taken by Nicole Hamilton. Gracias Nicole!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Year of the Dog

Hey everyone, I turn this week's blog over to Profe Nicole for a Children's Art update:

Children’s Art is one of our programs that operates almost entirely off of in-kind donations. To date the art program has not spent a dime for any of our classes. Each week, Taylor and I spend time researching traditional and popular forms of art from various countries; we then take these projects and themes and adapt them into something we can do with what we have: a finite art supply shelf and the short attention span of 5-10 year olds.

We chose to start this quarter by working our way through different countries in Asia. At the beginning of each week I start getting the question, “Profe, qué vamos a hacer en la clase de arte?”, but our eager students never get the answer they want…Taylor and I usually claim that we haven’t the slightest idea or turn the question around on them and so they continue asking us and every other profe in the vicinity. Each class starts with a slideshow about the country we are studying, which often contains more pictures then facts – appealing to that attention span! – but it’s always fun to hear them pronounce the names of the capitals, cities, and buildings, try to claim they can read Hindi, and see the information they retain. After explaining the Chinese calendar and animal for each year, we figured out who was born under which animal; Matias was so excited to find out that he was born in the year of the dog that he continues to include drawings of dogs in every other art project we’ve done, constantly reminding us that he was born “en el día del perro” – close enough!

This past week guest profe Charlie and I mixed things up a bit and got the kids out of the classroom and doing a project that for once they couldn’t take home. The country of the week was India, and I had previously asked help from a friend in the states, Dolly, whose family is from India. After struggling to narrow down the incredible and extensive list of cultural traditions and ideas she gave me, we decided to focus on the Peacock – a sacred bird in Indian culture – and traditional chalk drawings. Despite the typical rainy season schedule that called for rain at 3-4 in the afternoon, the weather was perfect for an outside art project. Some kids used designs and peacock pictures I had printed out, but most of them just went at it…working together and using their hands, elbows, and feet to mix colors and color our sidewalk nothing short of awesome.

After class I came back upstairs and immediately told Heather that we have to add sidewalk chalk to the online wish list. If our students had half as much fun as I did, we might be out there everyday!

Children's Art class hard at work
Matias, knee-deep in chalk and rather pleased with himself
A very impressive peacock
Emily and Wendy working together