Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Children's Nutrition - 100 students in three 6th grade classes!!

Today marked the first day of Children's Nutrition at Chaupitena, teaching the Harvard Healthy Plate in three separate 6th grade classes! Nick, Abby, Cate, Claudia and myself headed to the school bright and early ready to take on over a hundred students and talk about healthy eating habits. When we arrived we found three classrooms full of eager and energetic 11 and 12 year olds. They were excited to have us and took extra care in creating their own 'Healthy Plate' models.

Profe Nico and our third class of the day showing off their healthy plates

Who knows the different parts of the Healthy Plate? 
Each student put lots of care into their own Healthy Plate models (we were impressed when everyone pulled out a compass and protractor to draw perfect circles and portions) 
Students taking a diagnostic exam while Profe Nico supervises from the back of the room 

El Plato Saludable 

Thursday, October 24, 2013


Yesterday was quite an eventful day in the centro down here in the valley!  It had been decided that our community center was in desperate need of a) a good scrubbing and b) a serious makeover.  We invited friends of the community center to participate in our first big "minga" of this year.  A minga in Ecuador is basically a giant cleaning party where all of your friends come and help you clean your house, or in this case your biblio.  We were so pleased at the turn out and couldn't believe how enthusiastic the community was to help us improve our shared space.  There is still much work to be done, however.  Here are some pictures of the progress we've made.  Once the final touches are put on, more pictures of our new and improved community center will follow.  A huge thanks to everyone who came out to help!
Jim attempting to...change a light bulb?  Maybe?

Profe Tay Tay knows her way around a broom.

MPIE: helping communities help us help them.

CAUTION: Men at work.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Meet Luna! The new Ecuador house puppy.

After a few months of consideration and prolonging, we have finally adopted a dog! Our original plan was to adopt through a local shelter with the help of some vet friends. However as fate would have it Luna (the new pup) fell into our hands in a slightly different manner. The Friday before we planned our weekend trip to the shelter to scout dogs, Cate was walking into the biblio when 4 of our regular attendees ran up to her with 2 dogs in their arms. They explained that the had seen a woman bring the dogs to the field across the street, (or cancha as we call) drop them in the grass, and run away. At first we were skeptical because many of the dogs roaming the streets of Ecuador have owners and are let out during the day to do as they please. The kids, however, insisted that the puppies had been abandoned and wanted us to take both of them home with us. Cate reluctant to agree to this, told the kids we were not able to take the dogs, but after Joel brought one of the puppies up to the library, the 4 of us that were there were sold and Luna took her first taxi ride back to the Manna compound.

Little Luna in her new house

Luna's first camioneta ride 
At this point we were not sure we would be able to keep her but we wanted to make sure she wouldn't be out in the streets, at least for the weekend. That night Cate and I gave her her first bath, which was a terrifying experience for all parties involved as Luna tried to crawl into the shelves with all of our shampoo to hide and screamed like a baby being tortured. Later we named her Luna, which with some coincidence was a name that came with it's own theme song by Juanes. Very fitting indeed.

Luna's first hike (she loved it!)
I am now happy to say that she has settled into the house very nicely, although not yet potty trained she still leaves the occasional present around the house for us to find and has taken a liking to socks and toilet paper rolls. Despite this she is definitely finding her way into all of our hearts and becoming a member of the family.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Bottles on Bottles! Recycling Program Continues to Grow

The bottles continue to pour in! In a previous blog, I mentioned the recycling challenge we introduced during the last week of our summer camp, during which we collected 233 bottles in less than 3 days. Since this first challenge, the program has continued to develop and the lead PDs have made progress towards establishing a permanent environmental program focused on environmental education and sustainable development within our community. As part of this, we have adapted the previous Agricultural Program into a new Environmental Health Program. Recycling remains the first big focus of our new Environmental Health Program. We have continued to collect bottles and, with inspiration from the bottle school recently completed at the Guatemala site, we are planning to construct a rooftop greenhouse (made out of plastic bottles of course) with the help of our fall volunteer group from Vanderbilt.
Recycling charla 
Learning how to make the 'bottle cap curtain'

We also recently held a charla (chat) in the library about the benefits of recycling. Many neighborhood kids attended, some of whom brought bottles to contribute to the project. After the charla, we used tops from the collected bottles to begin making a "bottle top curtain" that will be used to separate a currently open doorway between one of our classrooms and the main area of the library.

While we are saving all of the uncrushed bottles for the future greenhouse, many of the bottles brought in are already crushed or flattened. Today, Cate and I took the first load of these bottles to the local recycling plant. The plant began an incentive a little over a year ago to pay a small amount for each kilo of bottles recycled. Our Ecuadorian friends have told us the incentive has been immensely successful, and as a result the streets are much cleaner. By providing a collection point in the community, we hope to promote a culture of recycling and act as an outlet for community members who want to recycle, but don't have the means to bring bottles to the plant themselves.
Local recycling center 

Carlos and I watching as they weigh our bottles 
It was somewhat of an odd experience, with a security guard who became very suspicious of Cate taking photos. Luckily we had our friend Carlos with us, who was an immense help! All in all we recycled 23 kilos, an estimated 800 bottles all together. After the bottles are recycled, the plastic is turned into fiber that is later used to make jeans. We will continue to collect bottles of all types and recycle those that are too damaged to be used in the construction of the greenhouse. Stay tuned for updates!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Adult Nutrition and Cooking (recipe included!)

As many of you know Adult Nutrition and Cooking is held every Saturday afternoon after English classes. The class focuses on introducing new recipes as well as providing healthy alternatives to classic Ecuadorian dishes. This year the course is being taught by the lovely Virginia and Claudia who started the class off by introducing typical dishes from their homes, including fish tacos (for Claudia's hometown of San Diego) and shrimp and grits (to represent Virginia's southern roots).

Virginia showing the class how to layer the pie 

Tomato Pie 
Last Saturday I had the pleasure of joining their class, to help cook, meet the wonderful participants, and eat some delicious food. The theme of the week was 'Alternatives to Wheat Flour' and Virginia introduced a tomato pie recipe with a bean flour crust (recipe below). After the food prep was finished, Claudia led a short charla about different types of flour including quinoa flour, coco flour and yuca flour, and their best uses. The pie was delicious and it was great to chat with different community members as we cooked and ate!

Enjoying the final product! 

Chefs/Profes Claudia and Virginia  

Pie de Tomate Receta


4 tomates (rebanado)
1 cebolla blanco (grande y picada)
1 taza albahaca
2 tazas de queso cheddar (rallado)
½ taza mayonesa


Primero, cocer la corteza vacía en el horno a 350 grados por 30 minutos o hasta la corteza esta doradas.  Segundo, cortar los tomates y la cebolla.  Saltear la cebolla.  En la corteza al horno, hacer capas del tomate, la cebolla, albahaca y queso rallado.  En cima del pie, poner la mayonesa y un poquito del queso rallado.  Cocer al horno el pie por 20 minutos mas o hasta el queso se derrita.

La Corteza:

2 tazas de harina
1 taza de mantequilla
1 cucharadita de sal
7 cucharaditas de agua

Corta la mantequilla en cubos.  Mezclar la mantequilla con la harina y sal.  Poco a poco, agregar el agua.  Amasar la masa hasta todo esta mezclado.  Rodar el plano de masa y ponerla en un molde de tarta.

Friday, October 4, 2013

New Children's Nutrition Site in Fajardo

We are excited to announce the expansion the our Children's Nutrition Program! In past year we have worked extensively with an elementary school in Chaupitena, however with recent changes to the school system here in Ecuador, Chaupitena has experienced a drastic increase in students and is currently struggling with disorganized and crowded classrooms. The lead PDs working in Children's Nutrition plan on continuing their work at Chaupitena once the school has become more organized. In the mean time the program has expanded to include a new class called "Nutrition and Wellbeing" which is now taught at a nearby high school in the Fajardo neighborhood. The course will focus on promoting an interest in and improving the knowledge of personal wellbeing with an emphasis on nutrition, preventative health and healthy lifestyles. The nutrition portion of the curriculum is modeled after the Harvard Health Eating Plate guidelines. Throughout the course students will learn about topics ranging from healthy grains to diabetes prevention to reproduction health rights. The high school also has a community garden, which will provide the prefect setting for our lessons on food production and resulting environmental impacts.

On the first day the students were given a diagnostic test on basic nutrition. The results indicated a great need for this type of education as only 2 of the 43 students present could name all 6 components of a healthy plate (many included yogurt and shrimp as two of the daily requirements) and only 12 out of 43 knew that eating fruit had different nutritional value than consuming fruit juice. When asked why, one student's response was, "because orange juice is not in an orange." Another slightly comical response from the day included a student saying that the healthiest milk is "milk from a carton." Interestingly enough many students stated that they prefer to eat home over eating at a restaurant because they know how the food was prepared and exactly what they will be eating. We will address these
misconceptions as well as many others throughout the upcoming semester.

Currently MPI is only working with the students at Fajardo every other Wednesday however given the results of the diagnostic test and the attentive nature of the students we hope to increase our presence in the classroom. We are very excited to be working with this new curriculum and group of students!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Clau in the Clouds

A blog post by our own Claudia Zaugg about her experience teaching English to the Ecuadorean Military:

A Day with the Military
Wednesday started at 5:30 AM with a 1.5-hour car-ride in a military-owned vehicle to a military base just north of Quito. Upon arrival, we were greeted with a camp-style breakfast and men dressed in uniform. Not to mention the soundtrack of gun-shots, airplanes, and Arabic prayers playing over the loud-speaker on repeat. For 7AM, we were all a little confused as I am sure whoever reading this is at this point. Let me backtrack a bit. El Valle de Los Chillos has a strong military presence since there is an Ecuadorean base nearby. Therefore, many of our students are active in the military or have family in the military. One of our English students came to us the other day asking for a favor –to help with the final English examination of the UN Peacekeepers. We weren’t exactly sure what this entailed, but myself, Cate, Heather, and Taylor agreed to the challenge. After our delicious breakfast, we were each given a piece of paper explaining the “situation” and our roles as workers for different NGOs. Our roles: mine to act as an official from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Cate from UNESCO, Heather from the UN World Food Program, and Taylor from Doctors without Borders. The situation: a rebel up rise and civil unrest somewhere in Africa causing many people to flee their homes and settle in refugee camps. In my case in particular, the UNHCR had supplies to deliver to the refugee camps but could not successfully deliver them without the security of UN soldiers. One-by-one, the UN Peacekeepers in training would approach my table and have 10 minutes to figure out what I needed from them and how they could fix the issue (all in English). Perhaps the hardest part of this whole role-playing situation was the fact that I was supposed to act mean in some situations, and over-friendly in others. In the words of the soldiers evaluating the UN Peacekeepers, “try to make the one girl cry and maybe flirt with some of the guys.” After the first few rounds, the evaluator at my table started laughing at my inability to act mean. After 2 hours of role-playing, it was time to watch how our 4 different stories would come together. We were taken to another building in the compound where a tall Canadian soldier greeted the 13 UN Peacekeepers. The Canadian started to grill them about what they learned about the situation and was not afraid to call bullshit on their stories. The 4 of us sat there, feeling bad for some of the Peacekeepers whose English was not up to par, and realizing how much information we had to make up to answer many of the questions they asked us (for example, some guy asked me for my radio station number, and I didn’t even know I had a radio, so I just said I didn’t have one. My evaluator cracked up at this one). Overall, the day was extremely eye opening and interesting. Although the situation was hypothetical, we felt pretty cool having such a responsibility in a largely official and important task. All the soldiers we met were overly nice, and have even offered us houses to stay in during our future travels in Ecuador.