Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Recent Developments in SBD

Initial class of successful loan recipients
The end of the first ever loan cycle of our micro-finance project was a resounding success with a 100% repayment from all five of our loan recipients. Both the loan recipients and members of the Small Business Development program were extremely pleased with the work and progress we made that we have decided to give another round of loans to the small producers in Jatumpungo. However, before we go full steam ahead with the next cycle, we, with the help of our three summer interns helping with the program, have taken a step back and listened to the project participants on how to improve the next cycle.

Manna has had such a positive impact in Jatumpungo, not just with the loans but with the agriculture program and volunteer groups helping out in the fields, that our reputation has spread throughout the small barrio. Therefore, more members of the community would like loans and we are currently trying to raise more money and researching potential candidates to expand the group from five to eight or nine recipients. They have also requested business classes to help them manage and expand what they do with their produce. With a curriculum prepared by a Vanderbilt micro-finance volunteer group, we plan to start giving weekly classes to anyone in the community who wants to attend. Manna is also looking into purchasing a tent to rent out to the farmers so that they can sell their produce at a small market in July set up by the Patronato.

Finally, the tight knit community has come up with a few long term goals. They are currently attending classes on bee and honey production and want to set up a community initiative creating honey products to sell at the local markets. They also have floated the idea of starting a community run restaurant. Needless to say, Manna has inspired this small rural community to dream big and have helped them accomplish a few of their aspirations already. We look forward to continuing work in Jatumpungo and hopefully expanding to another community one day as well.

Friday, May 24, 2013

PD Interview: Polly Jean

Full Name: Polly Jean Colgan
Home Town: Westport, CT
College and Major: Vanderbilt University, Political Science and Psychology

1. What programs do you run?

I am involved in Children's English, Children's Art, Children's Nutrition, and Small Business Development. (I like children.)

2. If you had to pick one, which is your favorite and why?

I can't pick just one. My two favorite programs are Children's English and Small Business Development. I love Children's English because my kids are for the most part psychos and it entertains me to no end. I can also make them do really funny things in the name of learning (i.e. lie on the floor and use their limbs as clock hands as I shout out times), which also entertains me to no end. Small Business Development, on the other hand, is a great break from the under-10 crowd and it's been really rewarding to see the success of our microfinance project.

3. How did you hear about Manna and what made you want to join?

I heard about Manna as a spring break option at Vanderbilt. After participating in one of these spring break trips as a sophomore, I became pretty involved with Vandy's chapter over the next couple years. I knew I wanted to do something unique and travel-oriented before settling down for a "real job" so Manna seemed like a great option.

4. Is there something from your experience so far that has caught you off guard?

The lack of good coffee within this country. For a place that produces some of the best coffee in the world, you're hard pressed to find a non-instant cup o' joe.

5. How are you finding the burden of living with 9 extra people in the house?

I think it's a bit of a burden, but also a fun addition to the house. While I love all my fellow PDs, it is nice having some new faces and energy around. Plus we are really lucky to have a great group of summer vols (and I'm not just saying that because they might read this) who will watch (and by watch I mean dance and sing along to) Beyonce and old school Usher videos with me. Having to interact with that many more people in the mornings, though, is starting to take its toll... but we all know mornings aren't my strong suit. 

6. What is your favorite meal to cook for dinner?

My favorite thing to cook is anything new that I haven't tried cooking before. But my go-to meal would have to be pesto pasta with chicken and roasted red peppers. Yum.

7. Who's more talented Beyonce or Jesus? Explain.

More talented? Easy. Beyonce. Just watch the Love on Top video -

8. Do you have a favorite place to eat or hang out in Sangolqui?

TGIFridays. I sound so uncultured but that buffalo wings, potato skins, mozz stick combo plate is just heaven.

9. Should we get a new dog or cat? Elaborate.

DOG. I can't even begin to explain why dogs are just so much better than cats. I'm pretty upset that we didn't just go to the market and buy one a few months ago... at this point I don't think I'd have it in me to part with a pup just 3 short months from now.

10. What do you think is the best thing you will take away from your experience with Manna?

I think the friendships I've made here are the best thing I'll take away. The experience of living, working, and socializing with such a small group of people creates such a unique bond that I think will last for many years to come.

11. What impact do you hope to leave on Manna?

I hope I can impact the people living in this house to be very wary of the mold and fungus growth on the walls and fruit. It's not okay, guys.

12. What has been your favorite place you've visited in Ecuador as well as in South America? How did the two countries compare to one another? What has impressed you the most about Ecuador? What would you change to better the country?

This is a long question. My favorite place I've visited in Ecuador would probably be Canoa, which is why I'm so excited we're going back this weekend! I also loved our trip to Cotopaxi, and felt very accomplished (and surprised) that I was able to manage the hike to the glacier line - outdoorsy-ness tends not to be my forte. Outside of Ecuador, Buenos Aires is definitely my favorite place I've visited in South America. The steak alone really just made the trip. Argentina and Ecuador are such different places, and almost impossible to compare. From the one little bit of Argentina that I was able to see, I found it much more cosmopolitan than most of Ecuador. 

One of the things that has impressed me most about Ecuador is the natural beauty. Everywhere I've been - passing through the Andes, spotting snow-capped volcanoes, swimming in the ocean or sunbathing on the sprawling beaches, overlooking a river in the jungle - I've been struck by how beautiful my surroundings are. That's not say it's perfect... in fact, one of the the things I would change to better the country is get rid of the trash and waste that people casually toss anywhere they want. I don't think people in this country necessarily realize how lucky they are to be living in such a beautiful place, and they treat their surroundings as if they're nothing special. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Summer Interns

The first summer session of interns arrived this weekend and we've kept them busy their first few days. I'm actually in charge of this group but due to a scheduling conflict I was in the States for their first weekend and Jenni graciously took the helm. After a weekend exploring Quito, the group of nine college interns have chosen their projects, programs, and partner orgs and have started off their first week running. Be on the lookout for their blog posts throughout the month in the Summer Session 1 tab.


Summer Session 1 interns at Capilla del Hombre with Heather, Jenni and Joey

Friday, May 3, 2013

Planting Seeds

What started with a few seeds, egg cartons, and some of our very own compost, has now turned into a healthy, producing garden!

 Our little project.
Parsley, Cilantro, Basil, Tomatoes - Oh my!

Jefferson and I are in charge of the Agriculture Program here with MPI Ecuador.  We work with a local special needs school, Antorcha de Vida, one of our partner organizations, maintaining their gardens, planting new crops, and hanging out with the faculty and students.  We also have done some work with the loan recipients in our Micro Financing Program, assisting with their agricultural projects all the while strengthening our relations within the community.  

When we first arrived and were choosing our programs, both of us expressed interest but had never started our own gardens before.  I worked on a large vegetable farm throughout high school and helped my mom in her gardens during the summers.  Jefferson did some of his own projects, growing potatoes and tomatoes in his younger days.  However, moving into such a large house with plenty of space, rich soil (you can put anything in the grown here and it will grow, not to take away from our efforts), and being in the "Ag" program, we figured there was no better time to start then here in Ecaudor!

Now we have planters full of basil, parsley, cilantro with about five tomato plants in the ground.  Just last night, when Madeleine and I were cooking, the recipe called for some cilantro and basil.  After a quick trip outback our needs were fulfilled; fresh from garden to our plates.  

Let your garden grow, folks! Until next time..

Thursday, May 2, 2013

PD Interview: Lucy Hanemann

Full Name: Lucy Elizabeth Hanemann
Home Town: New Orleans, LA
College and Major: Vanderbilt University, Majors: Political Science and Spanish, Minor: Sociology

1. What programs do you run?

Library, Women’s Exercise: Zumba, Adult English: Intermediate, and Small Business Development

2. If you had to pick one, which is your favorite and why?

Oh man, that’s hard.  I guess I’d go with Adult English because it’s something that I honestly didn’t think that I could do before coming here.  I had absolutely no confidence in myself that I could teach an English class, but for some reason I decided to take it on.  It really doesn’t make sense why I made that decision…but it’s one of my favorites because of how much it pleasantly surprised me.  Turns out, it’s pretty awesome having your own classroom of adults who really want to learn and who appreciate you for what you’re doing (I hope?).  I’ve really gotten to know my students, and the classroom has gotten to be a really comfortable place where we learn but we also joke and have fun with each other. 
A close second is Small Business Development though because of how much we’ve transformed the program this year to incorporate micro lending.  The fact that people can now look to us for financial support in their business endeavors is just so cool to me!  Ahh now I’m thinking of a million reasons why I love my other programs.  I just don’t want to leave them out!  Oh well, moving on…

3. How did you hear about Manna and what made you want to join?

Since Manna was founded at Vanderbilt, where I went to college, it has a huge presence on campus.  Sophomore year at Vandy was my first experience with Manna, when I went on a spring break trip to La Ceiba, Honduras.  After that, I did two more trips to the same place with Manna because I became so addicted.  Then senior year, partially because I had no idea what to do with my life (that’s what studying poli sci, Spanish, and sociology will do for you), I decided to do Manna.  I’ve always wanted to do something international for a year after graduation to get a different experience and get better at Spanish, and Manna was the best option available!

4. Is there something from your experience so far that has caught you off guard?

Yes.  The amount of KFCs in this country is ridiculous.  What a random fast food chain to latch onto!  But other than that, there have been a lot of cultural shocks that we’ve had to get used to, like lack of personal space on public transportation.  But there have also been some pretty amazing shocks, like the generosity and sense of community that Ecuadorians as a whole have.  I’ve been taken aback by how friendly and helpful people here are, and not just our Ecuadorian friends, but also random people on the street who will stop to give you directions when you’re looking just the most lost!

5. If you could change one thing about our house, what would it be?

I’d probably fill in my bug pit.  I guess I have to explain that now…Sooo, my bathroom has some sort of tub that’s really oddly shaped and is highly impractical.  I don’t know if it has ever functioned, but I’m lead to believe that it never did because there’s also a pretty massive and unfinished part of the bathroom that’s set off from the rest.  Maybe it was supposed to be a spa of some sort?  I don’t know.  But I do know that the walls are all unfinished, there are wires coming out of them, and there’s a door just leaning against the wall.  It’s strange.  But anyway, this tub thing is pretty much the worst because whenever it rains water leaks into it from the terribly constructed window on the ceiling above.  AND roly poly type bugs crawl in from outside, drown in the water, then decompose in my tub.  Do you see why it’s called the bug pit now?  The result is that about every week I have to clean it out because it starts to smell reallyyyyy bad.  P.S. it’s raining right now…

6. What is your favorite meal to cook for dinner?

Ha cooking!  It’s not really my forte, but I do really love food!  So, I’d have to say something really easy to make but at the same time equally delicious.  Being a New Orleans gal, my preference is Zatarans jambalaya, straight from the box (conveniently my mom just donated about 15 boxes to the Manna house).  The only extra thing you have to make is some chicken and/or sausage to throw in there!
Additionally, I’d like to give props to my best Manna cooking partner, Joey Teevens.  Without him, I’m nothing in the kitchen.  I like to believe that our dinners will be remembered throughout all of Manna history.  See you on Saturday in the kitchen buddy!

7. What song is on repeat on your iPod at the moment?? 

Well, right now I’m planning my Zumba class for tomorrow.  So, my iTunes is pretty Latino.  Per Jenni’s request, I’m learning a new routine to No te veo by Casa de Leones.  So I’ve had that on repeat pretty much all day.  However, I took a little break just now to listen to Michael Jackson’s PYT.  I don’t know why.  Just feeling it.

8. What is your most cherished experience so far with our neighbor Cesâr?

I feel like I haven’t had as many funny interactions with Cesar as everyone else has.  I don’t think he likes me as much.  But I’d say that every time I hear “VECINOSSSS” from across the street, my heart skips a beat.

9. How much do you miss Gandalf? RIP

I’m not really one to disrespect the dead, but I really don’t like cats.  That being said, for being a cat, Gandalf was a pretty good one.  I’ll always be appreciative of the rat extermination services that he provided.  Except when he brought the dead ones into the house, but I only saw that happen once.  Overall, I guess I do miss that little booger!

10. What do you think is the best thing you will take away from your experience with Manna?

So much.  First, I’ve gotten so much experience living and traveling in a foreign country, which makes you learn so much about the world and makes you so much more self-sufficient.  Second, being able to have control over programs and getting this on the ground experience with a non-profit is a really great learning process.  I’ve experienced first hand how a non-profit functions and what kind of work is needed to keep it up, running, and impacting a community.  Third, and possibly most important, I’ll take away the amazing relationships that I’ve made here.  We truly lucked out with such an awesome, fun, and hardworking group of program directors, and I have no idea what I’m going to do come August without having them constantly around me.  I guess I’ll reach a point in my life where living in the same house with 8 of your best friends isn’t acceptable anymore, but I just don’t want to.

11. What impact do you hope to leave on Manna?

At the very least, I hope to leave the new Program Directors with some really good training and guidance on how to run our programs so that they can continue to expand year after year.  But ultimately I’d like for the kids in the library to learn the difference between Polly and I and start calling me by my actual name.  Maybe they’ll affectionately call one of the new PDs Lucy….a girl can dream.

12. What do you think of the calculated move by the United States government to not recognize the newly elected Venezuelan government of Nicholas Maduro? Is it possible that the US-Venezuelan relationship could worsen or is at absolute zero? What should be the US's next step?

The underlying issue here is the uncertainty with the legitimacy of the Venezuelan electoral process.  Capriles demanded a recount of the votes, which Maduro agreed to do, but then reneged on this agreement, making the whole situation kind of sketchy.  I think the move by the US government to not recognize Maduro and the new Venezuelan government is wise for right now.  The US obviously doesn’t want to show its support for a potentially corrupt and illegitimate government, and the evidence right now does not prove that the election was won fairly. 

The US is making a stance to fight to defend the vote and the opinions of the people of Venezuela, who are obviously not all happy given the riots that have happened in the country.  The president’s absolute control over all institutions in Venezuela has gone on for too long, and it’s about time for this control to lighten up and for other people to be heard.  Plus, it must be pretty hard for the US to take seriously a government who has captured a US citizen and thrown him in jail for trying to incite a Venezuelan civil war even though he doesn’t even work for the US government. 

This move by Maduro is a pretty desperate attempt to turn his population even further against the US, which if successful could potentially worsen US-Venezuelan relations.  But honestly, I don’t think it will and I don’t think things can get much worse.  Never say never though because who really knows.  I mean, the US hasn’t exactly proven false its imperialistic reputation, even now when they’re refusing to recognize the Venezuelan government, so I think even though the US is making a valid move, this could potentially worsen its relations with Venezuela.  We’ll see what happens I guess!

13. Would you rather this interview be in video format?

Definitely not.  You know how awkward I am.  Multiply that by 10 and that’s what a video interview of me would be like.  I’m not going to submit anyone to that level of discomfort.