Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving from Ecuador!

Happy Thanksgiving from the Ecuador Manna Crew! 

We are very excited to be celebrating this Thanksgiving holiday with a group of 12 volunteers from Vanderbilt University! As many of you know, the new Environmental Health program has been working hard to collect bottles and this week our wonderful group of vols is beginning the construction on our plastic bottle greenhouse. They spent the beginning of the week washing, cutting, and separating the bottles and building the frame. Yesterday bottles were finally attached to the roof! Construction is coming along nicely and it has been really fun showing them around Quito and the Valley. Keep posted to get the inside scoop from one of volunteers as the wrap up their work and share their personal experiences from throughout the week!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Women's Charla

Last Thursday the female members of MPIE hosted the second-ever Women's Only charla.  The first charla was centered around the hard-hitting topic of children's nutrition, but this time the topic was a bit more risqué.  The theme was how to talk to your children about sex and sensitive subjects.  Over quinoa apple bread and instant coffee, we the women of the Valley de los Chillos discussed everything from how to talk to your kids about sex, to safe sex methods, to stereotypes in Ecuador involving teenagers and sex, to even religion.  Things got real, but as we all know, the only way to erode negative stereotypes and inaccurate information is to normalize these themes through discussion and positive affirmation!  With quite the variety of beliefs and backgrounds hosted at last week's talk, there was the full gamut of opposing opinions, but I'd say overall the charla was a huge success.  The topic for the third MPIE women's charla is still pending but it's definitely sure to push the envelope of informative discussion as has it's predecessors!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Small Business Development Indiegogo Campaign

Although it may seem that the majority of our time here in Ecuador is spent playing with adorable children and cute puppies, we've have in fact also been working diligently at improving and expanding all of our programs.  Of late, the Small Business Development team has taken on with great ambition the goal of doubling their lending capacity for the upcoming lending cycle to start in January.  In an effort to raise enough money to do this, the SBD team has launched an Indiegogo Campaign with the goal of raising $2,800 in sixty days through in-kind donations.  This would give our humble, yet highly effective, sustainable micro-finance program the opportunity to grant up to twice as many loans (with 7 loan recipients in the current loan cycle) as well as the opportunity to look outside of granting solely to agricultural based small businesses and to perhaps expand their portfolio of loan recipients.  The campaign was officially launched around 8pm EST last night and as of this moment has raised $110- a great start, but we still have a long way to go!  This is a very exciting time for the Small Business Development program in Ecuador so spread the word to everyone you know!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Top 10 Reasons to be a Program Director in Ecuador!

1.    You can’t beat the “office” 
      Our library is located in the heart of the Rumiloma community. We have a soccer field across the street and amazing views of the valley and the surrounding mountains from our kitchen and workout room upstairs. The surrounding community is filled with friendly people, many of whom are regulars at the library.           

   2. Community members and building relationships 
     In Ecuador, people welcome you like family. Neighbors, friends and complete strangers are always looking out for you, offering a helping hand or insisting that they feed you something. Manna PDs are welcome with open arms into many families shortly upon their arrival. It is not uncommon to have a friend from the library over for dinner, jump in on a random pick up basketball game down the street or have a long conversation with the local pizzeria owner.

   3.  Mountains, beaches and the Amazon 
     The Ecuadorian terrain is amazing! At 19, 347 ft, Cotopaxi looms in our backyard and can be seen from most places in Sangolqui. Both the coast and jungle are no more than a 5 to 10 dollar bus ride away. You can go snorkeling off the coast of Manta, climb an active volcano, or visit the Yasuni, regarded as one of the most biologically diverse places in the world.  There are few places in the world that offer the same variety in such a small package!

   4. The KIDS! 
    The kids in the library are chaotic, crazy, filled with so much love and oh so adorable. Everyday they surprise us with something new, and you will often hear "Profe" being yelled from across the street before your legs are embraced in a hug. They love to share and will gladly offer you a piece of whatever snack they are munching on while they tell you all about their day.

   5. Street food

    Have you ever had ceviche? Ají (the BEST sauce around)? Meat on a stick for fifty cents? These tasty Ecuadorian classics can be found on almost any street corner, in any neighborhood. And for the vegetarians among us, fresh fruits and vegetables are found in abundance just about everywhere. It's hard to get bored with the variety of fruits, many of which you've never seen before, and the fresh squeezed juice that will become a staple in your diet.

   6. Cultural Experiences

    Whether it's going out salsa dancing and learning new moves from a perfect stranger, greeting everyone with a kiss on the cheek like family, or riding on a bus with zero personal space, Ecuador will challenge your cultural norms in both big and tiny ways. You will get used to seeing dogs EVERYWHERE and sharing everything, and having people open up to you like you are part of their family the first time they meet you. Honestly, there are too many cultural differences to count but, that's the beauty of moving to a new country.

   7. Traveling 

   It is easy and affordable to travel all over Ecuador by simply jumping on a bus. Here in the Valley we are a day trip away from the edge of the jungle in Tena, massive waterfalls and natural hot springs in Baños, snow capped peaks and the capital city of Quito. On weekends it is easy to head to the beach for some laid back sun time or get on a canoe for a cruz down the Amazon. Not to mention the rest of South America is only a short flight away! Many PDs take trips to near by countries such as Colombia, Peru, and Brazil, during their longer holiday breaks. 

   8. Living in the country side, just outside of a major metropolitan city! 

    Living in the Chillos Valley, approximately 40 minutes outside of Quito, offers PDs in Ecuador a truly unique experience. The valley offers a true immersion experience; we are often the only foreigners around and our close proximity to the community allows us to develop very intimate relationships with our neighbors and people we work with. The city of Quito, however, is a cultural hub and affords us all the luxuries of living in a city without actually living there. Say you want to visit the former home of the famous Latin American artist, Guayasamin, or visit the Centro Histroic district for some live music and traditional food, or go watch an American football game if you are feeling a little homesick. All of this can be found in Quito, a 30 cent bus ride away.

   9. Spanish 

   One of the main reasons many PDs come to Latin American is to learn, improve or perfect their Spanish skills. In Ecuador, especially in the mountains, Spanish is spoken without an accent, making it some of the easiest to learn in the world. People here really appreciate foreigners speaking to them in Spanish and are incredibly understanding and helpful when it comes to Spanish speakers of all levels. And with 13 months to practice, PDs have plenty of time to drastically improve their speaking ability.  

    10. Last but not least ... YOUR FELLOW PDS!  

   I think PDs from all sites and years will agree that through Manna you will meet people who you probably never would have met otherwise. Living with 10 people in a new country is an unique experience, one that forms fast friendships, many of which will last long outside of the Manna house. You will find yourself opening up to people in new ways, sharing sometimes difficult, sometimes fun, sometimes ridiculous and always rewarding experiences with your fellow PDs. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Ghosts, zombies and profes! Oh my!

Halloween came to Rumiloma last week! The PDs turned the library into a spooky and fun Halloween themed house complete with toilet paper zombies races, bobbing for apples and a haunted house. Kids came dressed in costumes and the PDs took turns painting faces, prizes were given to the best costumes which included one library regular, Joel, who came in full-zombie garb, with ripped clothes and scary face paint. The haunted house was a great success as we converted the Teen Center into a terrifying maze in which local teens and PDs hid behind make-shift walls and jumped out at kids. It was a really fun for us to share some culture from the States and learn a little about Día de Disfuntos or Day of Dead as it is more commonly known as in the States.

PD Abby paints Isaac's face so she can have an evil twin 

Toilet paper zombie races 
Getting ready to bob for that apple! 

Nick and Greg use what little material we have to make the Teen Center into a scary haunted house 
Eyes and worms 
Kids wait outside to enter the HAUNTED HOUSE 
Bobbing for apples can get a little messy,  Mateo helps clean up 

Manna PDs get scary 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Minga: The Aftermath

So as promised in the last post I have provided more photos from our new and improved community center after one very successful minga.  With some very strategic re-arranging of the bookshelves, the health center table and resources, as well as the computers, we have found that our library is being utilized in the way it was always intended and proving to be much more effective.  The resources and books we have in our preventative health care section are now physically accessible and are not only being perused by the adults who visit our center, but even read and checked out of our public lending library.  We have re-arranged the computers we have  and geared them towards a solely educational purpose.  Poco a poco our beloved biblio has transformed into both a fun and educational environment welcoming to both children and adults- a big step forward in the difference we’re making down here in the Chillos Valley!

We flipped the book shelves around to give it more of a library feel.  Also check out our sweet bottle cap curtain!

So feng shui.

Being studious!

Profe Nick's idea of having a "Profe's Choice" section where each week we all recommend a new book to read.  Ingenious!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Rock Climbing Paseo!

PD Nick Capezio recently joined Heather Kryzak and Kirk Turner on a rock climbing paseo with the Teen Center. They had a great time, read what he had to say about the trip!

With all the parents taking English midterms, the kids can get respite in San Fernando at the rock-climbing wall. Past a mother pig and her ten babies, a rainbow trout farm, a rickety bridge and a woman’s farm, the boulder emerges complete with carabineer hooks and climbing pathways. Joshua, a longtime friend of the Manna Program, is a certified mountain guide and in charge of testing the two mountain guide trainees as part of their graduation requirements from the 3 year degree mountain climbing school, the Associacion Ecuatoriana de Guias de Montañas (ASEGUIM). One of these graduation requirements includes a didactic portion- and as such we enlisted 11 library regulars between the ages of 8 and 13 to serve as practice climbers. The two climbing instructors, Stalin and Romel, get their teaching subjects, the students get to learn how to scale a boulder, everybody wins- especially Heather, Kirk and myself as we all get to learn proper climbing technique from some experts and get a break from being at the library.

We started out with some stretches- arm rotations, neck circles and grip exercises- many of the muscles used in rock-climbing are untouched by one’s day-to-day routine, and believe me the next day all of us climbers were made well aware of it. Following this, we learned the basics of carabineer control, the infamous climbing figure eight knots, how to put on a harness, and basic helmet safety. Even myself, as someone who had climbed before, enjoyed the refresher, and the kids were all very attentive. We were then given a basic introduction to the wall, and were allowed to transverse a shorter portion of it to get the muscles ready for higher scaling.

Maintaining limberness is essential pre-bouldering 
Magnesium was given to the kids’ hands, to prevent the slipperiness of perspiration, and the kids lined up on the wall one by one, harnessed and helmeted up- good to go. With us both eager to lend a helping hand, Kirk and I offered to be the belayers- helping keep the kids secure and lending our voices to offer encouragement as the kids scaled the wall.

Kirk using outstanding belaying technique to keep a secure base 
You can see the two climbing paths above 
Every kid got a few chances to scale the two climbing routes, and many of the kids were able to get to the top. A couple of the kids emerged as climbing whizzes, and I think another future paseo would garner even more kids’ attention. After eating our snacks of bananas and chochos with a slosh down of Gatorade, the kids helped take down the wall carabineers and pack up the gear.
The first rule of climbing - never look down 

With some kids initially intimidated by the task of scaling a boulder, not a single kid left without attempting a climb. It’s reassuring to see the group overcome these fears and try their hand at the wall. Revealing the inner climbers and getting them up the wall made for a rewarding experience, as we literally acted as their safety net, keeping them secured as they rose to greater and greater heights. I think the proposition of us keeping the kids secure as they aim for higher ground is a fitting metaphor for our biggest goals in community development. I plan on continuing these roles as the year progresses, whether it is in the classroom or the library- the metaphorical boulders never cease to exist, we just learn how to better confront them.