Thursday, October 18, 2012

Manna Retreat to Baños

After five posts describing our Programs here in Ecuador, I figured our immense number of readers would want a break and want to hear about our first group retreat. On the first weekend of October, we traveled to the town of Baños, a spa city nestled on the edge of the highlands that run through the middle of Ecuador and the Amazon jungle that spreads to the East. After finishing up Saturday classes, everyone hurried home to do some last minute packing. Baños is a perfect weekend destination for us because there are tons of different activities and its only a quick three hour bus trip away. Madeleine, our wonderful social chair, found us a great backpackers hostel close to the center of town that was crowded with interesting travelers throughout the day. It was called Hostel Princessa Maria if you ever wind up there and are in need of a place to stay. After a quick meeting to learn the rules of the hostel, we all got fancy and headed out to our first of many delicious meals we had there. While Baños is known for its cascading waterfalls, sprawling mountains, and challenging hikes, we all came away being most impressed by the quality restaurants that are sprinkled throughout the tiny town. After dinner, we headed out first our first and only night out bouncing around to a couple of different bars that line the three block long bourbon street-esque main drag. Again, if you find yourself there, try to check out Leprechaun Bar. They love giving free drinks to gringos and you can sip them around the bonfire they keep burning in the middle of the bar. After a fun and eventful night, we were excited to tackle our activities the next day.

We split into two groups so as a whole we got a good idea of what Baños has to offer. My group of Peter, Joey, Jenny, Madeleine, Janine, Heather and I all rented bikes and went down the path that goes past all four waterfalls. I was under the impression it was off road a lot of the time, riding through jungle paths, barely missing jaguars and swiping snakes from your face. Turns out it was all on the road but that really was the only disappointment. It was essentially downhill the entire time, winding down through mountains that looked like the were the background for scenes from Jurassic Park or Lost. There were so many scenic stops for waterfalls and beautiful views that we had to keep flying past some in order to make good time. Some of my favorite parts was when the road split into a tunnel and separate bike path for bikes only that ran along the edge of the valley we were following and afforded some of the best sights of the day. About halfway through it began to rain but that didn't dampen any of our spirits as we were having a blast. We ended the ride by stopping a popular hike down to the Pailon del Diablo (Devil's Cauldron). As one would expect from the name, it was massive, powerful waterfall that you could literally crawl through the side of the mountain to get to its source. The pictures will succeed where my words fail.

One of the many gorgeous views

Climbing through the tunnel 

That tiny white dot to the right is a person.....yeah

The other group of Polly, Sarah, and Lucy went canyoning, which is one of the more popular activities to do in Baños. It is essentially rappelling down waterfalls. From what I hear, they got just as wet as we did but had more fun doing it. Again, I'll let their pictures speak for themselves since I wasn't there.

Quite a pose

Nice action shot

After a round of massages for some of the girls, we all met up in the hot natural springs that gives Baños its name. We went at six, right after they were all cleaned, but also right when everyone else - tourists and locals alike - visits. It was an interesting experience to tell people we did, but all in all, the water was too hot and the baths too crowded. After a quick shower, we had our last amazing dinner and then ended the weekend with a group discussion on development a lively/competitive round Ecuadorian jeopardy.

Told you they were crowded

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Children's English

Here's Jenni telling yall about Children's English. She's super nice.
          Hello Manna readers! I am Jenni, and one of the things I do is teach Manna’s Advanced Children’s English class. This class is held in our library every tuesday and thursday from 4-5:30pm. Knowing English is an extremely important and powerful tool in Ecuador. If you know English you have better career opportunities and generally speaking, can obtain a higher quality of life. It gives you more options. Because of this, our English classes are some of the most popular and fullest classes.

            Kids English is an interesting program because parents enroll their children for classes, not the kids themselves. The kids then are made to take extra classes when I am sure they would rather be playing with their friends after school. The largest class is Basic, with about 20 students, then intermediate with about 12 students, and then mine. I have 4 kids in my class and their ages range from 9-13 years old. I may be biased, but my students most incredible, sweet and smartest kids I know. They behave extremely well in classes, love to learn and pick up on everything so quickly! I am constantly amazed by how fast they can learn this difficult language. I LOVE my class!

            So I will admit that English classes can get pretty boring. The past few weeks in my english class have been very grammar heavy. We play games and have fun but overall its been a little dry. This week I introduced cooking/kitchen vocabulary and decided that it would be perfect to make something in class to make things more exiting. The kids deserved a fun day. I decided on no-bake granola bars: easy, can be made in a 1/2 hour, and delicious!

            During class I passed the recipe out to the kids and we translated it together, making sure to emphasize our vocab words (to measure, cup, teaspoon, mix, etc.). When I then announced we were going to make the bars their faces lit up: “Really, teacher?”. Then, they got even more excited when they realized the recipe called for peanutbutter. “You have peanut butter here?” they all asked. When I confirmed, yes, they all broke out in excitement. “I have never tried peanut butter before!!!” they all exclaimed.  They were so excited! They explained how they constantly see people eating peanutbutter out of the jar in American movies. It was pretty funny.

Explaining the recipe
Showing the kids how to measure 1 cup of cereal (in English!)

All of them wanted to help!

So much giggling as they press the bars into the pan!

They loved the peanutbutter/honey mixture we used to congeal the bars

Making the granola bars with the kids was incredibly fun. They all fought over who got to measure, mix, and press the bars into the pan. They all got to try peanutbutter, which I then explained you can buy here! (its just not very common to eat.) The bars sat while they took their weekly quiz and afterwards we all hung out and enjoyed our delicious granola bars.

This was by far my most fulfilling English class. The excitement from my kids, their enthusiasm to help and learn, and giving them an opportunity to try something new, really made me feel that somehow, in some tiny way, I was helping make their world a little better. And even if it was only for 30 minutes, that makes me incredibly happy.

- Love and peanutbutter -

Friday, October 5, 2012

Children's Nutrition

Here's Peter to tell you about our Chilren's Nutrition Program. And there are pictures!

Cueridos Amigos!  You got Pete this week writing about Childrens' Nutrtion class.  After a few meetings with the school director and some of the teachers, Manna’s Childrens' Nutrition class was incepted as part of the Natural Sciences curriculum at Chaupitena. We have three classes of seventh graders every Wednesday with about thirty or more students in each class.  The students and staff have been very warm and welcoming to Polly, Jenni and myself.

One of our goals this semester with the classes is to create an interactive curriculum that would enhance comprehension and be simultaneously fun.  With only three classes under our belt we have covered two food groups, grains and vegetables/fruit, and discussed the importance of healthy eating habits and what is a healthy overall diet. Every class begins with a brief review and quiz on last week's material then our charla or health topic of discussion with a relevant activities throughout.  The most challenging aspect so far has been keeping such a large class interested and focused on the material.  However, with three of us we do an excellent job of monitoring all the chatter, poking and prodding that comes with being eleven years old.

We all love to cook, and of course eat healthy, so incorporating some food preparation activities is on our plate this semester.  We all agree that this would be one of the most effective ways to get young persons interested and thus aware about healthy eating habits.  We are not sure yet if putting knives in their hands is the best idea, so we will start with forks.

We look forward to continuing our relationship working with one of the local schools in our community and getting to know a wider range of its members.  What it all boils down to is that it is fun for the students and that they are digesting the material. Speaking for the entire group this is definitely one of the most enjoyable and rewarding programs we are fortunate to be a part of...
As Polly says we “have never been so popular at recess!”

Polly, Jenni and the gang.

Sebastian taking meticulous notes.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Small Business Development Program

Sorry for the lack of posts last week. I wanted to post about our new and improved Small Business Development program but was waiting around for some pictures that never came. So here's a nice boring looking post about a very interesting new look at an old program. I'll let Sarah do the talking:

Hey everyone! Here in Ecuador we've been spending the last couple months turning our Small Business Development program from a consulting service for individual business owners into a full-fledge microfinance program. The road has been both rocky and exciting and we've been learning a lot. Our aim from the start was to run a first loan cycle as a test of our model and see how successful we could be at providing this service to the community (are we giving the loans to people who truly want to invest in their businesses? are they able to pay us back within the set timeframe? is this access to affordable capital actually making a difference to the revenue they make in their businesses and thus improving their standard of living?). We spent our first couple weeks meeting with community members who could guide us in the process, making visits to the director of a small savings and loans cooperative, to the manager of the local government offices of the Patronato for Social Progress, to the credit officer at a microfinance NGO - and luckily they were all eager to give us a hand and help us navigate the new world of microfinance (new to us, at least).  

As of now, our first microcredit project looks like this: Working with the Patronato, we are first providing a four-week course in agro-business planning and management to eight farming women from the semi-rural community of Jatumpungo. At the end of this course, the women interested in receiving a loan will submit a business plan and we will select a group of 4 women to give a loan to. They will be given a maximum of $400 per person, to be paid back over 4 months (corresponding with the growth cycles of their greenhouse crops) at an annual interest rate of 9% (which adds up to a total of $12). Our hope is that they will invest these loans in new and simple technologies for their greenhouses (irrigation, fertilizer, better tarps, etc) so that they can produce and sell more and start earning a significant income from their land. If this first loan cycle goes well, we will be seeking to reinvest in a new cycle, and hopefully our experience gained from this one will help us scale the project to reach more beneficiaries. 
That's all from Small Business for now. We are presenting our project to the president of the Patronato tomorrow morning - wish us luck!

Side note: We presented to the president and she loved the idea so we're moving forward with our plans .

Later this week - Children's Nutrition by Peter Wagner