Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Spanish Tradition

   In an effort to provide our first group of summer volunteers with cultural experiences and a more complete picture of Ecuador, this past weekend several of our volunteers had the chance to witness a bullfight, a tradition that has been preserved, with some changes, from Ecuador’s days as a Spanish colony. 
Matadores and picadores don costumes reminiscent of colonial Spain

 We were much happier to be watching than participating

   The Andean region of Ecuador is in fact the home of some of the most highly sought-after bulls exported for bullfights in Spain and elsewhere.  However, the bullfight we witnessed took place in a humble location near our home in Sangolquí, and featured both locally raised bulls and bullfighters (matadores).  

One of our vols, Joanna, taking in the scene.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Reduce Reuse Recycle!

So we’ve been looking for a while now for the best way to get rid of all the extra plastic bottles we had lying around the library from previous art and recycling projects. Recycling facilities are few and far between in Ecuador, but we couldn’t bear to throw them away, especially when we are trying to set an example for the kids in the library. A friend of ours informed us recently that there is actually a facility in Selva Alegre (not far from our house in Sangolqui!) where we could recycle all the extra bottles. After Nicole checked the place out, we decided to make a project out of it, asking kids in the library to bring in bottles off the street until we had enough to fill up our neighbor Caesar’s pick-up truck. Knowing that kids will do anything for a funda de caramelos  we offered them an undeniable incentive: a bag of candy in exchange for a bag of bottles . Nicole took the lead on this one, giving me time to ease my group of summer vols into life in Sangolqui and experience all of our programs. Her and Caesar took an entire truck-full of bottles to the recycling facility on Saturday and even more exciting news- we can continue to have recycling in the library and at home! It was painful for us when we first moved in to see how many recyclables get thrown away here, and how much trash builds up in the streets. It was even more painful to see how quickly we got used to trashing our own plastic and glass containers. We are thrilled to be taking a small step in the right direction, and trying our best to educate the kids in the library on the importance of recycling and reusing materials whenever possible.

In other news: Watkins and I traveled to Baños with the summer vols this past weekend. Check out pictures from the trip and  read about Session 1’s experiences first hand here!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Summer Vols!!

Our first session of summer vols have all arrived and moved into the Manna House! After a late night of airport pickups we slept in this morning, had a lovely breakfast of fruit salad and coffee cake (and lots of coffee) and got started. After orientation and getting to know each other we set out for a short tour of Sangolqui to get to know the area they will call home for the next month. We got to see a live band performing for Mother's Day in the plaza by the church, and then walked through the bustling Sunday market. Everyone got to take their first Capelo bus ride to the centro in Rumiloma. After checking out the library we got lunch at la clinica across the street from the house and everyone got to try some coastal Ecuadorian cuisine. Right now the vols are taking their Spanish placement tests and then we are off to get some ice cream. On the agenda for tonight is some bonding around the campfire, and then a Quito city tour tomorrow. Summer vols will be writing their own blog posts about their experience throughout the next month which can be read by clicking on the Summer Session 1 link at the top of the blog!

Happy Mother's Day to all our moms at home. We miss you and love you but we promise we are all safe and happy in Ecuador!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Estamos en la Mitad del Mundo!

Here is a touching blog from Nicole about the Children's Art field trip to the Equator:

It all began with Wendy and a game of Monopoly. Wendy, one of our most dedicated regulars, and I were playing Monopoly with a few other kids in the library. We were using the Teen Center’s Ecuador-themed Monopoly, which is composed completely of popular sites and cities in Ecuador. The two most coveted by all potential property-owners are Mitad del Mundo – a monument that was built on the Equator in Quito – and the Galapagos Islands; Park Place and Boardwalk, respectively. Jonathan was lucky enough to land on the Galapagos early on and, like any wise investor, went bankrupt in purchasing it, but offered the rest of us discounted trips. I exclaimed that I was jealous and that I wanted to go to the Galapagos. Within half of a second, Wendy responded in the most innocent voice, with even more excitement than I could ever hope to muster: “I want to go to Mitad del Mundo!” It was just one of those moments. It was February and after 7 months of living in Ecuador, I had been to Mitad del Mundo twice while Wendy, after 9 years growing up in Ecuador, had never made it to the north part of the city and it was one of her biggest wishes.

I could not shake that moment – and still can’t, for that matter. I began thinking of possibilities to get this little girl to the middle of the world. A week or so later, Taylor and I met to plan out our art schedule and projects for the year. We decided that we wanted to implement an art field trip of some kind at the end of the quarter for those who had attended a certain number of classes. And we immediately knew where we were headed. We talked about fundraising options and were so lucky to have the support of Taylor’s parents, Mr. & Mrs. Brown, who were visiting at the time. They heard the story about Wendy and offered to pay for the paseo. The kids were thrilled about the news and I had never seen Wendy’s shy little smile so full of joy…until we actually got to Mitad del Mundo, then that first smile was blown out of the water.

So last Friday, during the one-week break between quarters, we took 7 kids who had attended over 9 classes to the north side of Quito, a much, much, much longer trip than expected. Still, the kids were such good sports, freaking out to see the Panecillo, pretending the police were after them, proudly bragging if we passed something they had seen before, and simultaneously putting so many things in perspective for me. The rain that persisted through the buseta ride came to an end right before we arrived and we could barely contain the kids as the ran around screaming, requesting pictures, and announcing to all that they were at Mitad del Mundo. It might have been the best thing that I have ever witnessed. After lots of playground time, pictures, a museum, and bathroom trips, we loaded up with chifles and water to start the long trek back to the Centro. Standing in the parking lot as we piled in to the buseta, I felt a tug on my hand and Wendy stood on her tip-toes to whisper in my ear “Thank you, really, thank you”. And I was reminded of how simple things like art class are really so much more.

Taylor and I could not have been more pleased with the paseo…as well as to finally get home from it! This quarter we are taking on music from around the world and our fingers are tightly crossed to be able to take the kids on another trip.

 Ready for the long buseta ride

 One foot in each hemisphere

Learning about the Equator

"Estamos en la mitad del mundo!"

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

We Workout!

Last Saturday we hosted our second Women’s Exercise and Nutrition party (solo para mujeres) to start off the new quarter. We had good attendance, with a lot of our Adult English women and Nutrition class students showing up, as well as a few Women’s Exercise participants and our upstairs neighbor (who we have been bugging all year to come to exercise classes). Walter and Gaston were very offended that we wouldn’t let them attend, but they still helped us out by holding down the fort in the library while we were upstairs with the women.

We cooked a healthy baked oatmeal recipe that Emily had found, along with a peanut butter banana-pineapple smoothie. While the oatmeal was cooking Nicole and I gave a charla on the importance of drinking water, walking as a form of exercise, and the 10 power foods that help with weight loss and muscle development. The charla went really well, and the women had lots of questions for us. Next we each gave an explanation of what we do in our workout classes, and talked about our personal reasons for doing exercise. The women had some awesome and inspirational reasons of their own, which will soon be displayed in the exercise room for a little motivation.

Here are some of the reasons we came up with together:

-To feel strong
-To prevent disease
-To lose weight
-To maintain healthy blood sugar levels
-It makes us feel better
-Because we love to eat
-To feel beautiful
-To clear our minds
-For the endorphins
-To improve our self esteem
-Because we like it

We are working hard to get the women excited for our 5k in June. We handed out lots of information about the benefits of running and how to prepare for your first race. Rumiloma has never had a race before and we are very excited to be the first ones to put one on. All the girls in the Manna House are passionate about exercise and we love having the chance to share this with the women in the community. Stay tuned for more race updates as we talk to sponsors and start the process of inscriptions!

All the women took part in preparing the recipes

 Enjoying the food

 Nicole and I giving our charla

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Manna Benefit

So all of our hard work finally paid off last Saturday night in the very successful execution of our second annual Manna Benefit in Ecuador. Here is a guest blog from Nicole, one of event planners:

Taylor, Darcy, and I began planning this event back in February, reading through the manual from last year, getting input from Ecuadorian friends, and making lots and lots of lists. After somewhat organizing all of our thoughts into a Google Document appropriately titled Benefit Thoughts that would serve as a reference point for the next 2 ½ months, we began the string of what felt like never-ending voyages to Quito. With letters in hand we visited about 10 different restaurants in search of a new home for our event. While we did not host the event at the same place as last year, C’est La Vie, we were able to sit down with one of the owners who was familiar with Manna and get her input on what the event should look like and what we should do to make it a success from an Ecuadorian perspective.

After gathering insight from that meeting, as well as friends and community members, we decided to change the event from a formal sit down dinner to a casual cocktail and appetizer hour (or hours, rather) and charge a much lower entrance fee in order to make it more affordable. We decided on the restaurant Uncle Ho’s because of the awesome food, environment, location, and the undeniably helpful fact that the owner, Kevin, is an ex-pat who speaks English and understood exactly what we were trying to do. Over the next month or so we made about 672 more trips to Quito armed with letters and determination to get over $400 dollars in raffle prizes, as we had already advertised on the invitation! With all the big things in place, this past week was spent catching all the little things up to speed, making candle holders, programs, nametags, signs, etc. etc. etc.

On Saturday, Taylor wrote Darcy, her, and I out of the normal Centro schedule and we headed into Quito early to set everything up for the event. At 2:30 the rest of the PDs showed up and the event was under way. Everyone was right on time – Ecuadorian time, that is – and the place was filling up at around 4pm. We had an awesome musician, John, who played and sang at just the perfect volume, an wonderfully moving speak by our friend and community member, Walter, a riveting acapella performance, and an exciting raffle where almost half of our guests left with prizes!

One lesson that we continually learn here at the MPI Ecuador sight is that things will not go as you plan. It’s almost a guarantee. But sometimes, it’s so much better than you could’ve imagined or tried to plan on your own. And despite a few wrinkles in the plan, like forgetting to factor in the broad daylight at midday that kept the incredible (not to mention very, very long) slideshow that Heather made from being seen, I am going to have to brag and say that the event was a smashing success. It was so encouraging to see friends and students come out to support us, hear encouraging words from people impacted by what we do, and be able to spend time outside of the Centro with people who mean so much to us.

 The event planners: Nicole and Taylor

Darcy and I with our friend and guest speaker Walter 

The Intermediate Adult English Class loves profe Charlie 

Emily, Nicole and I at Uncle Ho's 

Bibi and Lucia with our favorite vecino and Walter 

Walter giving a touching speech about the role Manna has had in his life 

Our Adult English students came out to show support 

Uncle Ho's delicious appetizers went fast

Thank you Nicole, Taylor and Darcy for all the hard work. The event was a great success and a really fun time for everyone.