Thursday, March 22, 2012

Therapeutic Horseback Riding

About a month ago Nicole and I started attending therapeutic horseback riding sessions with Antorcha de Vida, the rehabilitation center for special needs children where we work weekly in the gardens. Working with and riding horses is said to benefit communication, motor skills, and social skills, as well as teach companionship, responsibility and confidence. The kids at Antorcha love horse therapy as well as the Captain in charge, an Ecuadorian military officer who has special needs children himself. They place their complete trust in him, letting go of their grip on the horse to clap their hands when he says to, and laying down across the horse’s back, eyes closed in relaxation.

On Thursday mornings after working in the gardens with the Ingeniero, Nicole and I help to pile the kids into the back of a pick-up truck and we travel together to the military training facilities where they offer therapy. Some of the kids need extra guidance and attention, while others know exactly where to go and can’t wait to get there. They take turns riding the horses around a big green field, trying different riding positions, waving their hands in the air, throwing disks to help with motor skills, or just hugging the horse to feel its body temperature. Nicole and I take turns walking around with the horses, providing extra support in case someone starts to slip. When we aren’t accompanying the horses, we hang out with the other kids who are waiting for their turn. Although they all enjoy their time on the horse they aren’t impatient at all, rather they sing and dance and make jokes, seeming to genuinely enjoy every minute. It is amazing to see some of the kids who can’t even walk on their own riding the horses without a hint of fear.

Last week we got the chance to share this experience with a few of the spring breakers from UGA. Margaret found the horse therapy to be especially rewarding (read her blog post by clicking on the UGA tab). Working with the kids at Antorcha has been a beautiful and rewarding experience. They are so free with their hugs and their trust, it is impossible not to love them.

Seeing the excitement on Shirly's face when we arrive makes what we do worth while

These girls always provide the entertainment, singing and telling jokes for everyone

Margaret providing extra support for Michael

Learning how to care for the horse is part of the experience

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Missing our Spring Breakers

Today we said goodbye to the last of our UGA girls, wrapping up the spring break season in Ecuador. The past two weeks have flown by for us and the house feels eerily quiet and empty without all the extra people around. I want to thank all the volunteers from Vandy and UGA who chose to spend their spring break helping us and the people of the Chillos Valley. It was great for us to have some extra sets of hands and hear some fresh perspectives on our programs. Read about the spring break trips by clicking on the Vanderbuilt and UGA tabs, and check out this video made by Kelsey Schmidt from UGA!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Mujer Corre!

Yesterday Rachel, Nicole and I ran in Conocoto’s first annual women-only race in honor of this week’s International Women’s Day. We have been excited about this race for a while, especially since we are in the process of planning our own Manna 5K to take place in June. This was the perfect chance to see a small, local race in action, and to talk to the people who planned it all. We got to witness how everything was organized and executed and made some connections with the group in charge. The race was really great to see, I had never run in a women-only race before and it was cool how many women participated, and how many men and other family members were there to support them. We had our own personal cheerleader, our neighbor Caesar, who was kind enough to drive us to the race at 7am and wait for us at the finish line. After the race they put on a big bailoterapia demonstration (dance aerobics, kind of like zumba) in the main park in Conocoto. We had a good time watching the festivities, and were able to get a lot of great ideas for our own race.

In other news, the three of us also traveled to the airport last night to pick up our new group of spring breakers from UGA! The Manna House got an extra 10 girls for the week and we PDs have several extra sets of hands and some fresh perspectives to help us out with our programs. The UGA girls will be blogging throughout the week, read about their experience here.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Adult English/Nutrition Party

Today we said goodbye to our first group of spring breakers (read about their trip here) and invited all of our Adult English and Nutrition students over to the Manna House for lunch. This is something we have been wanting to do for a while now, and it was a huge success and a great time. After our midterms this morning we closed the library a little early and headed home with everyone to finish preparing the food. Emily and Taylor’s Nutrition and Cooking students brought ingredients to make a few salads and our English students collaborated with soda, chips and desserts. Everyone was extremely helpful with the cooking, setting up, and cleaning up.

We love hanging out with the adults that come to the centro, and have been trying to come up with ways to spend more time with them. This was a great chance to get everyone together, invite them to see our house, and spend time together outside of the classroom setting. The weather cooperated for the most part and we were able to spread out outside as well as in the house. Some of the students set up a makeshift Ecuavolley match while others taught us a new card game inside. It was the perfect way to unwind after a long week of work, eating good food and speaking Spanglish with our students. This is the first time we have had so many students over at once, but we hope to make it a more common occurrence.

The whole group

The boys hogging all the ice cream

Nutrition students helping Taylor prepare the salads

Hanging out with super advanced students Ivo and Nadia

Steven, asking Taylor to translate rap lyrics

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

International Women's Day

In honor of International Women's Day, MPI Ecuador would like to give thanks to one special woman from our community who we feel empowers others. It is especially important within traditionally machismo cultures to honor and praise these inspirational women who serve as positive role models in their families and neighborhoods. Rosario, our neighbor in Rumiloma and our most dedicated Women's Exercise participant, is one such woman.

Rosario is a great role model for women in our community. She takes care of her sick father, her own household, and her grandchildren but still finds the time to come to workout classes several times a week. Her dedication to our exercise classes and to improving her own health is an inspiration to others. She calls herself an "exercise addict" noting that she can feel the difference in her body when she misses a few classes. When Rosario's mother passed away last summer she missed a few weeks of classes and we were concerned about her well being. She came back strong, bringing her sisters to classes and explaining to us that her mother had always encouraged them to workout and stay healthy. She says el Centro de Manna has helped her to lose weight and improve her self esteem. Rosario is also very interested in our Preventative Health Center, taking copies of every health article we put up to keep herself and her family educated. She is a strong woman, both in mind and body, and it is a comfort to have her around.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Spring Break!!

Its that time of the year again... spring break! Which for us means welcoming our first group of spring break volunteers from Vanderbilt. Tonight Emily and Taylor will travel to the Quito airport to pick up a group of 8 Vandy students who will spend the week with us in the Manna House. Over the next week they will be getting to know Quito and the Valley, shadowing our programs, and working on health related projects for our Nutrition and Preventative Health Programs. The spring breakers will have the chance to blog about their experience so you can hear about their trip firsthand. Click on the tab that says "Vanderbilt Spring Break" to follow their blog and see photos from the trip.

Friday, March 2, 2012

What's New With Chaupitena

The New Year has brought some great new changes to both Children’s Nutrition and the Preventative Health Center as our relationship with the Chaupitena School has expanded. Here is a guest blog from Emily explaining where we started with this new school, and how far we have come:

It all started when Taylor and I were sent on a wild-goose chase to find a nearby elementary school where we could possibly hold nutrition classes. Our first encounter with the directors of Chaupitena was brief and rather disheartening.

The director seemed to be very wary of these strange new gringas in the area and a little uncertain of our proposal in general; but we were persistent, and our next meeting with him had a completely new tune. This time, we met with him as well as the heads of Naural Sciences, Vilma and Elvia. The two women were much more open to our idea and were excited for the opportunity to present nutrition curriculum to their students. This was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Since our initial meetings with Chaupitena, our programs with them continue to grow. We completed our first 12-week nutrition curriculum with their 8th, 9th, and 10th in December and are currently holding nutrition classes with their three 7th grade classes. Not only has Chaupitena been an excellent opportunity for the nutrition program, but it has also brought many new faces to the library. We have several Chaupitena students and teachers enrolled in our English classes this quarter, and the teens from our original classes make up the bulk of our teen center participants.

When the older students realized we were finished with the nutrition curriculum they got upset and seemed legitimately concerned that they would never see us again. Luckily we have found a new way to stay involved with these students that we already know and love.

A newly added program with Chaupitena involves our Preventative Health Center Team: Charlie, Watkins, and I. We give monthly health charlas (talks) on topics of their choosing. So far we have had classes about mental health as well as alcoholism and drug addiction. In a future class, we hope to have our friends from the Red Cross assist us in teaching some basic first aid to the kids. These health charlas have been a wonderful opportunity for our preventative health program and also a great way to maintain our relationship with the older students of Chaupitena.

What started as a ‘shot in the dark’ meeting with a potential partner organization has grown into so much more. The teachers and students of Chaupitena have become an integral part of our programs here in Ecuador as well as some very close personal friends.

Elvia and her family came out to support us at the FDR

We look forward to continuing our relationship with the teachers and students of Chaupitena. Coming up in April the Agriculture Program will also be getting involved, giving a PHC Charla on the benefits of organic gardening!