Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The United Nations Peacekeepers function as a "a unique and dynamic instrument developed by the Department of Peace Keeping Organization as a way to help countries torn by conflict to create the conditions for lasting peace."   Working towards international peace, security and  the promotion of human rights, they monitor and observe peace processes all over the world. AND WE GOT OT HELP THEM.

AND IT WAS AMAZING. In several trips to Mitad Del Mundo (literally "the middle of the world") , Manna Project International's Program Directors were able to assist in UN Peacekeeper training sessions. This included dressing up as journalists and berating soldiers for imperfect English, pretending to be representatives from the BBC and aggressively telling Peacekeepers that their English just simply wasn't good enough.  Additionally, we assisted in practice negotiating with Non-governmental organizations and, as a faux- World Food Program Representative, I attempted to help schedule and coordinate food-delivering missions into urgent situations with Peacekeepers in training. 

Working with the Peacekeepers was an amazing experience. Not only are they incredibly friendly, funny and entertaining, but they are a truly inspiring force. Talking with one officer about his year in Liberia and precautions against the Ebola outbreak, I was reminded how amazing and impacting this type of work is.  While some say peace is an impossible goal, I strongly disagree. The current existence of war does not diminish or dismiss the larger goal; the international progress we have made globally since 1945 alone speaks for itself.  As an individual obsessed with both human rights and social progress, even I believe the existence of an international "peacekeeping" force is a huge step, both physically and metaphorically towards international cooperation. The work, sacrifices and  risks these individuals take each day are what will truly, albeit eventually, result in global change and international peace. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Cultural Immersion: Moving Past Rejection

For most of my life I lived in a small town with people who never plan on leaving, and it drove me crazy. I
could never understand people who did not have the magnetic pull to travel the world and experience new cultures. In college, I majored in international studies with a concentration in Latin America and the Caribbean. When I wasn't studying politics I was studying the history of and current cultures of the world, and dying to experience them all. Even with my passion for other cultures, cultural immersion is not an easy task. After the excitement of the tourist phase wore off, I found myself completely rejecting  any and all Ecuadorian culture. The smallest things grew to bother me, for instance the manner in which people walk down the street (slowly and without general rules of passing as in the US). This phase is difficult because you cannot escape it. At some point home is going to be the only place you can imagine being happy and the surrounding culture will be resented. I am still working through this challenge constantly.
 Some days are better than others, but what I always try to remember is to take a step back and look at the big picture. I live in an beautiful place, I have a houseful of amazing friends who make me laugh daily, I have (delicious) food on the table, clean water to drink and I get to work with  incredible kids that light up when they see me, every single day. Adapting to a new culture is always hard. Daily interactions are often uncomfortable, I can't always communicate what I need to say and I am confused more than not; but my life here is wonderful and it's what I always dreamed of. Watching the sun rise every day, truly feeling the laughter I am emitting, appreciating the smile on the children's faces; these are the things that make the cultural immersion process worth every awkward situation.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Four Things Most North Americans Don’t Know About Ecuador

1.    The Mountains
Although some people probably know that Ecuador is quite mountainous, it is impossible to image or visualize the incredible landscape of this country. Unfortunately pictures cannot do the mountains of Ecuador justice but it seems like everywhere we look could be a post card.

2. The Fruit
Born and raised in the USA, I’m used to organic, fresh fruit being expensive and hard to find, especially when what you’re looking for is out of season. It’s the opposite here in Ecuador. While a box of brand name Cornflakes can be almost four dollars, a huge selection of fresh fruit can be bought almost anywhere. 

3. The Seasons (or lack of?)
Instead of Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring, Ecuador’s seasons seemed to be distinguished as the rainy season and the non-rainy season. And while we’re all missing Autumn, the rainy season will hopefully still provide an excuse to wear large sweaters and drink coffee. 

4. Architecture
An orange house, a pink house, a bright teal house...this is the common view during our daily commute. The beautiful architecture, historical styles and brilliant colors of Ecuadorian towns still amaze me daily.  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The First Week of English Class

Yesterday marked our first day of English classes! We began children's classes at 4:00 pm yesterday evening and tonight will be the first class for all five levels of adult English. I think all the program directors can agree that planning time and content accordingly for our first classes was nerve-racking, but the first day was a definite success!

This year's inscription day for English classes was packed, with a line of more than twenty people waiting before the library doors opened. Our English classes are definitely the most successful program we have in Ecuador. It's incredible how many people the seven of us have the chance to impact with our classes. Our classes offer an incredible opportunity; to be taught by native English speakers at a very low cost. The opportunity is so enticing that we not only serve local community members of Rumiloma but people from all over the region. I didn't expect to enjoy teaching English, but knowing how much the classes mean to the students who are willing to come from near and far makes every class a rewarding experience.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Exploring Ecuador: Mindo is Lindo!

After camp came to an end this past week, we finally had the opportunity to explore more of the natural beauty Ecuador has to offer. We traveled a scenic, two hour bus ride to the beautiful town of Mindo. Although only two hours away, entering Mindo is like traveling into another world. Mindo is located in the cloud forest section of Ecuador. It's not the jungle, but it's definitely close! The flora and fauna of this little town is incredible! While in Mindo, we were able to zip-line through the jungle-like forest, go tubing down a rushing river, relax in the hammocks at our hostel, and even go horseback riding! Although I'm terrified of heights, I managed to conquer my fear and I have to say that zip-lining over a cloud forest was a truly amazing experience. Our trail-ride on horseback also offered some awesome views of the forest. This was my personal favorite activity because it reminded me of my childhood horseback riding days as well! The locals in Mindo were genuine, kind and happy people. I feel as though we made friends with every person, worker and guide we met. I hope to return to Mindo soon and enjoy the cloud forest all over again.

Summer Camp has come to an End

A very fun and successful three weeks of summer camp came to an end this past Saturday. The last day of camp the program directors hosted a small fiesta for the parents to come view and collect the art projects and English lessons the kids have been working on for the past three weeks. Seeing the pride in the childrens' faces as they showed their parents their art projects and accomplishments was one of the most rewarding feelings I have had thus far. Hosting summer camp was at times stressful and definitely exhausting; but being able to see how much camp has impacted the children and the happiness the parents had at their childrens' success made every second worth it! Summer camp not only gave the kids an incredible feeling of pride, but us program directors as well. Every time a child was excited about a project or stayed in class while the other kids went out to play, just to perfect their work, I became overwhelmed with pride and joy. I was proud that I had created projects that the kids enjoyed and I was overjoyed to see the delight the kids had to express their creativity. I'm so excited to further encourage the kids creative expression in art class every Friday and I can't wait to see familiar faces from camp in the library and in our programs!