Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Teen Center Paseo

Last Saturday the Teen Center took its first paseo of the New Year to a natural rock-climbing wall near Sangolquí. The trip was lead by an Ecuadorian friend of ours, Joshua, who is a certified mountain guide. He supplied us with all of the necessary equipment, and talked to the teens about safety and proper climbing technique. The wall we used was a natural rock face with built in hooks for ropes that climbers have installed over the years. It was a beautiful place, hidden away behind farmhouses and right alongside a river. We got lucky with the weather and the typical afternoon rain-showers held off (for the most part) until all of the teens and adults had their chance to try out the wall.

We advertised for the trip during the Fiestas de Rumiloma last weekend, and received a lot of interest. Several kids wanted to come but couldn’t because of scheduling issues, and we look forward to seeing them at future Teen Center events. Six teens participated in the paseo, three Teen Center regulars and three of our new English students, as well as Walter, a friend and student of ours who has been helping us out with Teen Center events. Walter is an active participant in several Manna programs, and is always a pleasure to have around. It is especially nice to have him helping with the Teen Center, since he can joke around and relate to the kids in a way that is much harder for Charlie, Watkins and I.

The rock-climbing trip was something we have been planning for a while now, and we were all pleased with the outcome. We are trying to introduce the teens to more positive Ecuadorian role models, and expose them to opportunities they may not have otherwise. Only one of the teens had ever been rock-climbing before, but after they got over the initial fear everyone seemed to really enjoy it. Mishell, one of the new teens in my adult English class, was the only girl on the trip, and the first person to reach the top of the wall. We all had a great time joking around, and cheering one another on. It was fun for me to hang out with some of my new English students outside of the classroom setting, even as they pestered me to translate inappropriate rap lyrics. The paseo was overall a great success, and we look forward to planning and executing the next one.

Carlitos (Profe Charlie) giving it a shot

Joshua and I belaying

Mishell, almost at the top

Johan getting started

Steven (TC regular) crawled up the wall like a spider

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


   This past Saturday saw the culmination of much planning, advertising, and preparation undertaken over the last several weeks by our PDs.  The fruit of our labor was the successful Fiesta de Rumiloma (or FDR), a community-wide celebration now in its second year. 

   The festival’s purpose is to promote Manna Project, the classes and services we offer, to promote other local organizations that do good work in our community, and to bring residents together for a good time.  Other organizations that attended the festival included the Red Cross Ecuador, Antorcha de Vida (a nonprofit that provides opportunities and services to handicapped children), Fundación Añamisi (an organic farming cooperative and produce vender), La Casa Victoria (an Ecuadorian organization similar to ours but operating in Quito), Protección de Animales Ecuador (or PAE, an organization offering free veterinary services), and several local firefighters who put on an emergency medical response demonstration with the Red Cross. 

   About his organization’s participation in the festival, Christian Añamisi of Fundación Añamisi said, “It was nice to have the opportunity to actually show our produce to potential customers,” and added that he hoped the event would continue in future years. 

   The Fiesta was held at the Plaza de Rumiloma, a grassy space in front of a church near our Centro, and in the neighborhood of many people we serve.  Among the highlights of the activities were the very popular “saltarín” kids’ bounce house, spirited games of musical chairs and three-legged races, and the presence of our friend and MC, Christian Guachamin. 

   We thank all of the people and organizations who attended, as well as the weather gods who waited until three o’clock to release the rain and lightning, and we look forward to continue working with our community this week as our programs begin anew.  

The MC and life of the party!  Muchas gracias Christian...

A new word for our Spanish vocabulary:  "el saltarín" - kids' bounce house

Tug o' War:  a game that is simple, timeless, and cross-culturally attractive

Not an actual emergency:  the Red Cross and local firefighters demonstrate the procedure for responding to car accidents

From left to right:  Nicole, Heather, Emily, and Taylor

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Solo Para Mujeres!

Last Saturday the Women’s Exercise program held our first of hopefully many “women only” parties. The idea was to get to know more women from the community, share health information that they may not have access to otherwise, promote our nutrition and exercise program, and introduce more people to the centro. The party was a lot of fun, and a big success with 12 women and teenagers from the community attending, as well as all of the MPI girls. We took advantage of the opportunity to show off our new mirrors which we were finally able to purchase thanks to a generous donation of $200 annually that was designated to our Women’s Exercise program.

We started off the party in the kitchen, handing out recipes and working together to make healthy snacks. We listened to music and chatted while preparing the food and allowing latecomers to trickle in. While the women ate, Emily and I gave a charla on the healthy way to lose weight, tackling the nutrition and healthy diet aspect as well as the importance of exercise. In order to promote our exercise program, we put on music and each gave a 3-4 minute demonstration of our various workout classes. Some of the women who have been to our classes before joined in on the demos while the others watched, cheered us on, and took videos.

After the demos, dripping with sweat, we discussed our plans for the next few months, which include a 5k race in March and a potential 4-week bootcamp to help prepare for it. The women were really interested in our ideas, and gave tons of valuable feedback and suggestions. We listened to questions and comments, and then ended the party by handing out health related articles that pertain specifically to Ecuador. Everyone seemed pleased with the get-together and thankful for the information. We had a great time hosting, and are looking forward to our next fiesta solo para mujeres!

Discussing the importance of healthy diet and exercise
Gigi and Paola joining in on the Zumba demo
Taylor leading the class
Nicole discussing proper weight-lifting form

Weight class demo

Thursday, January 12, 2012

We are finally back and settled into our normal schedule at the library, and our regulars are starting to trickle back in. Us PDs are all fully refreshed after our weekend retreat to Cojimies, on the coast of Ecuador. We spent the weekend in a cabin on the beach that was recommended to us by a friend. It was nice to spend time together again after our separate vacations. We discussed our successes and shortcomings from the last two quarters and reassessed our goals for the upcoming semester. We have a lot of big plans we want to see carried out before the next group of PDs comes in July, and we have the renewed energy and motivation to make it happen.

We have a big week coming up so we are all busy preparing, making phone calls, and advertising, advertising, advertising! Next Saturday we are hosting our annual community celebration, Fiestas de Rumiloma (which we lovingly refer to as FDR). This celebration is a great chance for us to meet new people and really expand our reach in the community. We are inviting all of our partner organizations and other local foundations to come, give demonstrations, and hand out information. Local food vendors will be selling snacks, and the president of Rumiloma is set to give a speech.

Preparations for the celebration have included traveling all around the valley and into Quito to deliver invitations, hunting down a bounce-house, DJ and sound equipment, and talking up the event to everyone we meet. We are hoping to bring in a record number of community members and boost interest for our classes, which start on January 24th. This will be our first major community event, and we are all really excited to see how it turns out. There are lots of exciting things happening here in the next few weeks so stay tuned for more updates and pictures!

Rainbow over our cabaña in Cojimies (sadly we didn't find the pot of gold)

Sunset on the beach

(Nicole Hamilton's photos)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Feliz Año!

Happy New Year everyone!

MPI Ecuador is back from vacation and ready to start a new quarter. While some of the PDs returned to the States for the holidays, others stayed to travel around Latin America and visit with friends and family. Four of us traveled to Peru before Christmas and hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. We spent four days walking in the footsteps of the Incans, sleeping in tents, visiting ruins, and hearing the rich history of the area (not to mention carrying 20lb backpacks). We finished the hike exhausted and sore, but the experience was definitely vale la pena. Two of our PDs visited Guatemala, Taylor traveling with Jesse and Fiona (Nicaragua PDs) and Watkins with his mom after a trip to Belize.

Nicole, Rachel and I got the opportunity to spend New Years Eve in Ecuador, which was a very different experience than we were used to. A few days before the holiday we started to see these almost life-sized dolls called año viejos spring up on doorsteps, in storefronts, and tied to hoods of cars. These dolls are made to look like famous people, politicians, or family members, and represent the year that is passing. In Quito they hold huge competitions to see who can make the biggest and best año Viejo and win a cash prize. At midnight on New Years Eve family and friends gather in the streets to burn the dolls as a way to get rid of bad luck and negative energy from the past year.

All throughout the day busses were stopped in traffic as random fireworks went off and guys dressed up as women begged for change at stoplights… not something you typically experience in the States. These “women” are supposed to represent the widows of the año viejos who will be burned at midnight.

A friend of ours Christian invited us to spend the evening with his family in Selva Alegre, a neighborhood nearby, so we got to experience all of these rituals first hand, along with an explanation of their meaning. We wore red underwear (for love in the new year) and jumped over the fire where they burned an effigy of Christian’s younger primo Gabo. Although slightly overwhelmed by all the new traditions and superstitions, I think we succeeded in securing ourselves a lucky, love-filled and prosperous 2012.

Taylor and Jesse (MPI Nicaragua) kayaking in Guatemala

Our Inca Trail hiking group
Really excited to see Machu Picchu

Año viejos on display

Saying goodbye to bad luck and negative energy