Thursday, December 12, 2013


The last two months have been a real whirlwind down here in the valley- 12 fall break volunteers, 2,500 recycled plastic bottles, 1 completed plastic bottle green house, 2 thanksgivings, 2 heavenly days at Secret Garden Cotopaxi and now...3 weeks of well deserved vacation.

Our second quarterly retreat was held at the tucked away, cozy hostel known as Secret Garden, located directly at the base of Cotopaxi.  Complete with mist laden fields of horses and llamas, long winding trails, waterfalls, delicious food served three times daily, and even a baby cow that thinks it's a dog- it's definitely one of the most memorable locations we've been to thus far in Ecuador.  After heavy talks of leadership and community development on our first day there, led by our fearless leader Heather K, we played a riveting game of Ecuadorean Jeopardy.  The next day we took a so-called "stroll" to see a waterfall- about a 45 minute walk.  Led by a British-Guatemalan in shorts and rubber boots, we, the program directors of Manna Project International Ecuador, our dog, three other dogs, and a baby cow headed out for what turned out to be a death-defying rock-face scaling, rapid wading haul up to see a (albeit beautiful) regular sized waterfall.
It was definitely a team-building kind of hike.

Secret Garden- Cotopaxi AKA heaven

It's slow going when you're hiking with a hungry baby cow.

Photographical proof that llamas are real.

Aside from the necessary clerical work required for one to take a three week long vacation, it should be smooth sailing from here on out for the PD's of Ecuador.  Excited to see our families and to jet set off to every known location in the western hemisphere- we have already started packing our bags, but with heavy hearts to leave the valley and our beloved community.  Though we shall return in January post-haste and with renewed ambition and excitement to continue the work we're doing.  Until then!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Construction is Finished! Vandy Break Group Completes the Greenhouse

Thanksgiving has come and gone and with it our wonderful group of short-term volunteers from Vanderbilt University. As I mentioned in my last post, the fall break group was here to help out in the Environmental Health Program by constructing a plastic bottle greenhouse on the roof of the library. The idea for a plastic bottle greenhouse “sprouted” from our new recycling program in the library.  As community members continued to donate plastic bottles, we wanted to demonstrate other ways in which recyclable materials such as plastic bottles can be reused instead of tossed in the trash. Once the group arrived the greenhouse went up quickly, with only a few minor bumps in the road. By Saturday it was complete with planting boxes and a new composting bin, for the scrapes let over from Adult Cooking and Nutrition.  After our holiday break we will have a planting party to show off the greenhouse to our community and get some herbs and vegetables in the ground for our cooking classes! 

Check out these photos of their hard work and fun adventures here in Quito and the Valley:

Our wonderful Vanderbilt group (plus their awesome leaders) 

Our Vandy group leaders, Lauren and Roo, at the Bascilica 

Group at the top of the Teleferico

Sorting bottles 

Making the compost bin 

The FINISHED product! 
While the group was here they also helped out in other various Manna programs! Many enjoyed getting involved in our other education programs, such as teaching English and nutrition. Here is an account from volunteer Lauren Pak about her participation in various Manna programs as well as work with partner organizations like ESPE:

"As Manna’s Thanksgiving Service Participants, we had the unique opportunity to participate in a variety of community development programs.  We were excited to get involved in various education programs, specifically nutrition and English literacy. Here are some of our collective experiences:

Pre-school:  Not only were the kids a joy to work with, it was a wonderful experience to interact with small children.  Since some individuals didn’t know how to speak Spanish, it was lovely to see how communication and interactions can occur through physical touch as found with the preschoolers.  Language learning starts and is the most effective at a young age.  A good foundation is necessary for any kind of learning, and it was wonderful to see how Manna was working to build a strong starting point for the future.  It was interesting to see hear from the preschool teacher as well that some kids didn’t know their colors in Spanish but knew the vocabulary words in English.  As shown, primary education has an enormous impact in child development.   

Some of the vols spending time at the local pre-school 

Elementary: The elementary school was an eye-opening experience.  The children were very sweet.  They all clapped and were so excited to see new faces.  A sad realization was the fact that these classrooms were overpopulated and that there was a disparity between the learning levels of the children.  The problem lies in the fact that there are no extra classes to help those either being left behind in their academics or programs for those who are needing more stimulation.  

Helping out in nutrition class 

University: Since we are college students ourselves, it was interesting to see the community dynamics of the local Ecuadorian university and how it was similar and different from our own experience in the United States.  It was humbling to see with how much tenacity the students worked to learn English.  Some students were in their early 30s and came back to school to learn, others were married to native English speakers and wanted to learn how to communicate more effectively, and others had dreams of starting their own company in the United States and were hoping to cultivate heir English skills.  Overall, it was inspiring to see how motivated these students were to learn English in order achieve success." 

Headed to ESPE, the local university, to chat with English students 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Que Viva La Reina!

Not even hail storms and power outages could keep the people of Rumiloma away from the election of the Queen of Rumiloma last Friday. After making friends with the new town President, Luis Ñacata, Manna Project was invited to participate in this important event and I was invited to sit on the judging board! I must admit that although I have been living here for 2 and a half years I have never had the privilege of participating in a queen election and I really had no idea what to expect. I definitely didn't expect to be sitting at the judging table from 7pm to 12:30am but hey... this is Ecuador!

The 11 candidates for Reina de Rumiloma were judged on their casual wear, a traditional outfit, formal wear, their overall presentation and their answer to one important question about the future of their town. The coolest part for me was seeing all the familiar faces of community members and library regulars cheering on their favorite queens. Since Rumiloma is not a very big place, it seemed like all the candidates were sisters, cousins, daughters, friends, and neighbors of someone that I knew from the community center. The highlight for me was seeing Isaac, a library regular and one of my personal favorites, accompany his older sister on stage and dance behind her wearing a "traditional outfit" of one of Ecuador's Amazonian tribes.

The candidates were asked questions about personal values and role models and also about important topics such as how to tackle bullying and alcoholism in their community. The winner will serve as an ambassador and representative of Rumiloma at important events during the next year. She is to also serve as a role model for the community. I am hoping we can get her to make an appearance at our library 5th anniversary party in March!

Unfortunately the photos didn't come out great... the lighting was borrowed via extension cords from the next block over and the weather was dark and rainy. Here are a few anyways:

 All of Rumiloma came out to see who would be their future reina
 Not sure the Incans really dressed like that...
 A DJ kept us entertained while the girls changed outfits
 The beautiful candidates in their formal wear
The fate of Rumiloma rests on my shoulders! Thats me in the middle judging away

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

To Drill or Not

Check out this great article written by Maddie Gootman, one of our Fall Break volunteers from Vanderbilt. I am so proud of her for taking some of the issues we discussed last week and raising awareness at home! (Article originally posted here)

There is a major battle surrounding a large part of the world’s biodiversity, and many Americans don’t even know it. The Yasuni, a large Amazonian region in Ecuador, is home to substantial oil reserves, and the president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, wants to tap into this resource and put the money towards social programs, but others fear the cost to the Amazon and to the indigenous peoples who live there.
Because of the complexities of the decision the Ecuadorian people havecalled for a referendum to vote on the drilling issue. However, this choice will have to overcome the drawbacks of freedom of expression and the press in Ecuador. True democratic decisions hinge on the ability for people to communicate their viewpoints, and, given the state of censorship in Ecuador, I fear the livelihoods of Ecuadorians, particularly the indigenous peoples of the Amazon, may be at stake.
Previously, the Ecuadorian government had offered world leaders an opportunity to pay it a portion of the potential benefit of the oil reserves in return for protection of the Yasuni. Enthusiasm for this plan worldwide did not pan out. President Correa decided to end the offer short of its full time span because of what he considered to be lackluster progress on raising the funds to provide the support for what he feels are much-needed social programs. A big drawback to his plan, though, is the environmental and health costs it would have for Ecuador, especially given what past drilling has cost the Amazon.
Despite the lessened flow of information in Ecuador, people still seem to have a variety of opinions on the matter. While I was in Quito, I witnessed an older man protest in the plaza about the damage that drilling for oil does to the land and people. I also met people who were enamored with Correa and trusted him to lead the country (despite accusations ofmanipulating the constitution to allow him a longer term) because of the economic improvements since he took office.
Students in particular seemed to be split on the issue. I had the opportunity to visit with students at ESPE, a college outside of Quito, and I asked them what they thought about the plan to drill in the Yasuni. Some were invested in the president’s plan to use the money from the oil reserves to invest in development for public schools and infrastructure. Others were concerned about protecting the environment, finding sustainable development, and respecting the health and rights of the indigenous people who still live in the Yasuni region of the Amazon.
These students tapped into the complexities of the development versus environment debate that is occurring in Ecuador. Their discussion with me was thoughtful and shows the benefits that the marketplace of ideas can have on difficult decisions such as the future of the Yasuni. But these contrasting opinions definitely do not get equal airtime with the public due to government influence and control on the press, and that is concerning for those who are interested in Ecuador’s democratic process.
After spending time around Quito during the Thanksgiving holiday, I understand much better how torn Ecuador is over this issue; I myself still cannot decide what I think of the plan to sell off parts of the Yasuni to companies (primarily Chinese companies) to drill. But it’s not my decision to make, ultimately. The people who know the issue and area best should make the call: the Ecuadorian people.
Ultimately, democracy and the marketplace of ideas are the best way to determine the future of environmentalism and development in Ecuador, the first nation to include the rights of nature in its constitution. Clearly, environmental protection is important to the people, but development and growth is also essential to their livelihoods. Correa might think he knows best for the people, but he should let them speak and listen to their wishes for their own future.