Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Lunch with Nancy

Our lovely host Nancy dishing out sweets.

It can be easy to get bogged down with work and everyday routines.  We have so much going on constantly throughout the week that come weekends we can be quite exhausted.  Our schedules change; the people we work with and places where we work too.   

However, one of the most rewarding experiences we encounter is spending an afternoon at a community members house.  Building relations with members of the community is definitely the group's forte and one of the most enjoyed and interesting experiences.  The language and cultural exchange is comfortable and casual over home cooked meals, and occasionally, some karaoke in the living room.

This past Sunday the group visited our friend Nancy's home for a afternoon lunch, leaving with bellies full of food and laughter.  Nancy's three daughters and son greeted us graciously as her massive mutt Jack (think of Stephen King's Kujo, seriously) into their home complete with a tour of her terraced gardens and small nursery.  We played soccer and tossed the football to work up our appetite.  

Nancy operates a small foundation near our house in Sangolqui.  Along with several other women, she has established Antorcha de Vida as a small but vital institution that offers therapeutic recreation and learning services for children in the area with special needs. Jefferson and myself have been working in the gardens at Antorcha; keeping their garden beds clear of weeds, planting new seeds, and of course getting to know all the friendly folk that comprise the staff.  Madeleine also has been a huge help for them, assisting in horse therapy sessions and in the classroom doing other therapeutic exercises.  

The boys belting it out.

With only one true singer in group (Joey), we cleared our plates and then our throats for some karaoke.  Joey broke the ice with some Allman Bros., passing the microphones to Jefferson and myself who did an groundbreaking rendition of the Weather Girls' "It's Raining Men".  Passing the microphone around for an hour or so we had a great time but realized that maybe we should leave the singing to the showers.  

This is a perfect example of what being a Program Director is all about; setting our tracks down in the community, using social relationships as the vehicle to learn, understand, and explore a culture that is foreign to us, just as our culture is foreign to them.  The term "foot soldier" comes to mind quite often as we are the eyes and ears of the organization.  Activities spent on beautiful afternoons such as the lunch at Nancy's house are a fresh reminder of what we really do here in Ecuador and how fortunate we are to be partaking in such an unique experience.


If you or someone you know wants to learn more about the Program Director experience, please visit the MPI website:

Also - we are still accepting applications for 2013-14 PDs.  Again, if you know someone who would be interested in such an experience as this, please have them visit the following link:

Thank you for checking in and as always all the best,


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro

I had my fair share of Ecuadorian Carnaval last year, after walking the Sangolquí parade route home from the library, alone, with my backpack and blonde hair (aka wearing a big red target). I was barely recognizable when I made it to the house, covered in flower, water, foam spray, dye, and whatever else my vecinos decided to throw at me along the way. So this year I headed east, to see how they celebrate in Rio de Janeiro, the Brazililan city known for having the biggest Carnaval celebration in the World… and for a good reason! I arrived in the midst of the first weekend of the celebration, which the Brazilians take very seriously and I was relieved to see there wasn’t an egg-throwing teenager in sight. The streets of Rio were full of guys in dresses, elaborate Carnaval costumes, and people of all ages dancing samba in the street. The celebration lasted all day and all night… for five days straight. Sunday night we headed to the Sambadrome to see a little bit of the biggest show on the planet. I have never been so overwhelmed. We bought tickets to the parade around 2am, and the enormous rows of seating were still full of spectators waving flags to support their samba school of choice. We watched as literally thousands of costume-clad samba dancers passed, interspersed by gigantic floats built almost as high as the stadium seating. After about 40 minutes watching the steady flow of floats and dancers we picked up a program to see which groups we had seen… and realized it had all been part of one samba school! I still can’t believe the time and work that goes into the Carnaval preparation, and thousands of schools compete, for one week of celebration. While the parade was a once in a lifetime experience, the highlight of my Carnaval experience came the next day, while doing some sightseeing in the city. We visited the Selarón staircase in Lapa, city stairs that have been decorated by a mosaic of tiles from all over the world, a work of art by a Chilean artist that he says will only be completed on the day he dies. While admiring the artwork and searching for a tile from Ecuador, we all the sudden found ourselves in the middle of a bloco a moving street party playing live Samba music and dancing. Before we knew it we were surrounded by locals in costumes, singing and dancing, and climbing all over the stairs. We went with the flow, and joined in the party. Carnaval in Rio was a once in a lifetime experience, and one I highly recommend witnessing. 


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Fresh Faces, Same Place

 Action shot, mid-learning!

The Childrens Nutrition Program started a new semester with the 6th grade classes at Chaupitena this past week.  Off to a good start with well behaved students (as far as we know for now), Polly, Jenni and myself are focusing our material on the My Plate curriculum.  With a semester already under our belts at Chaupitena, we decided with younger students this semester to focus more on identifying foods and food groups, healthy choices, as well as the culture of food in general and here in Ecuador.

We still get to spend recess with the students which is the cherry on top of this sweet program we have going on.  However we will not be recommending hot fudge sundaes to our students.

Check in with us again next week.  We have a blog from Heather, our Country Director,  coming soon about her travels to Brazil for Carnival!

Caya Cama o Hasta Manana!

Friday, February 22, 2013

PD Interviews: Peter Wagner

We are starting an interview series with our PD's so our readers can get to know them on a more personal level. We're starting it off with Peter, my fellow blogger, for whom I've come up with some pretty thought provoking questions about Manna, personal quirks, and geopolitical events. Next week I'll be interviewing Jenni so if you have questions for her, please put them in the comments section and I will be forced to ask her. Enjoy!

Peter and the teens on a Teen Center Paseo

Also he asked me to proof-read this.....I did not. 

Peter Gordon Wagner
North Thetford, VT
University of North Carolina at Asheville
Health & Wellness Promotion Major

180 lbs
40 yd dash time: 4.9 seconds (for realz)

1. What programs do you run?
Teen Center, Agriculture Program, Children Nutrition, Men's Exercise.

2. If you had to pick one, which is your favorite and why?
Children Nutrition.  We get to work and develop relationships in another community within our community.  A fun and rewarding experience to work with a local school and expand the community's awareness about MPI, all the while providing a much needed educational experience to children who otherwise would not have access to such material.  

3. How did you hear  about Manna and what made you want to join?
My cousin was an MPI Program Director in 2007 in Nicaragua.  After graduating in December 2012 I wanted to travel so I contacted my cousin, who now works in Bogota, about visiting him.  He immediately referred me to MPI's website and shared his experience with me about Manna and how the experience was incredibly valuable to his professional and personal life.  The rest is history.

4. Is there something from your experience so far that has caught you off guard?
How fast I would pick up Spanish.  Arriving in Ecuador I was incredibly uncomfortable speaking with a very limited experience doing so.  Now I fully understand Spanish, for the most part, and am confident speaking the language.  There is always room for improvement though.

5. What's your favorite part of our house?
I like the rooftops where I can hang up a hammock, read a book and soak in some sunshine. I also like the backyard where Jefferson and I have been doing some small agriculture projects; transforming garden beds, starting seeds, compost, etc. 

6. What is your favorite meal to cook for dinner?
Stromboli or stir fry, with of course a homemade pie to top it off.

7. Who's your favorite band?
Nightmares on Wax

8. What is your go to move when crushing the dance floor?
Electric slide, the worm - you name I can break it.

9. How awesome is our cat Gandalf?
I love him!  Especially when we sip our coffees together in the morning. 

10. What do you think is the best thing you will take away from your experience with Manna?
The personal relationships I have developed with some of the community members.  Spending time with them outside of our programs has fostered such strong personal connections; attending family gatherings for holidays and celebrations, grabbing a bite to eat, playing basketball.  I am so fortunate to have met these people who I now consider to be my friends and family here in Ecuador. 

11. What impact do you hope to leave on Manna?
I hope to leave a lasting impact on the lives of the community members I have come to know in my time here so far through the exchange of social interactions and relationships.  Also being an active, approachable member of the community, demonstrating how important it is to be involved and interested in the community in which you work and live in.  

12. What are your thoughts on the nuclear crisis in Iran? Do you believe the economic sanctions are working or should a different course of action be taken?
No freakin' clue.  

Thanks Peter. Tune in next Friday to get to know Jenni. I'll start now: Her name is spelled with an i, not a y. Who knew?


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Success in Small Business

As some of you might already know, our Small Business Development program has undergone a serious transformation since July. After several months of research, conversations with partner organizations, and logistical planning, we were very excited to launch a microfinance pilot program. Our loan group of five agricultural entrepreneurs was established in December and the loans, ranging from $100 to $400, were distributed in early January. Throughout the last month, we've kept up with our due diligence and made weekly visits to our loan recipients. While Jefferson and Pete labor away on their land, helping to plant seeds or mix organic fertilizer, Madeleine, Lucy, and myself have gone to our loan recipients' homes, observing how they have spent their money and the progress they are making. We were excited to see Rosa Maria's brand new greenhouse, erected just one week after she received her loan, and we got to meet Janneth's four healthy pigs, that she is now able to provide with necessary feed and nutrients. Most exciting, however, was our group meeting last Friday, when all five recipients met up and paid back their first installment of the loan. We're thrilled with the success we've had thus far, and look forward to completing our first loan cycle with 100% repayment!