Giving Thanks in Ecuador

Ah, Thanksgiving. A time to sit back and reflect on all of the things and people from the past year that you are thankful for (right before consuming for 3 days straight). For many of the Program Directors, me included, this Thanksgiving in Ecuador was their first one away from home. While I feel like I’ve adapted pretty well to life away from the comforts of people that I’ve known my whole life, I have to admit, the days leading up to Thanksgiving were a bit challenging. For me, Thanksgiving has always been synonymous with my family. Being away while knowing that all of my family and friends were together started weighing on me as the date started to arrive. Between this dilemma and the fact that the seasons don’t change in Ecuador like they do in my hometown, I had to continuously remind myself that Thanksgiving was even coming!

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When Thursday did arrive, many of the Program Directors had worked for a large part of the day. When we all found our way back to the Manna house by about 8:30 PM, we were lucky enough to have a small feast ready, provided by one of our coworkers who decided to take the day off to prepare a supper for our Mannamily. In the company of a few of our friends, we had a lovely dinner full of laughs and stories and, of course, incredible food. In the middle of dinner, I found myself taking a mental step back and thinking about how grateful I am to be doing what I love to do through Manna Project International and to be doing it with a team of absolute superstars! By the end of the night, it absolutely felt like Thanksgiving.

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BUT, it wasn’t enough. From the beginning of our time in Ecuador, this community has been welcoming us and teaching us and learning with us. Our host families that we stayed with for the first week fed us and dealt with our lack of bus schedule/route knowledge. Students from our classes took an interest in our lives just as we did in theirs and got to know us, despite our (sometimes) limited Spanish skills. Over time, we’ve developed friendships that we wanted to celebrate. Therefore, we had no choice but to throw a Thanksgiving 2017 2.0. On Saturday, we had a house full of more food than we knew what to do with and over 35 people all celebrating the relationships that we’ve made with each other. There was good music, friendship, games, and fun. Ecuadorians asked about traditional American dishes we had prepared for the meal and many brought dishes representative of their country. As kids played hide and go seek outside Program Directors were able to share with community members for one of the last times before many of us return to the U.S. I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful way to celebrate Thanksgiving!

 

To spend holidays sharing traditions with Ecuadorian families, apply to be a Program Director today! 

 

Quick Trip to Quilotoa

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Recently, the volunteers of Manna Project Ecuador, including myself, took a day trip to a giant dormant volcano called Quilotoa. Quilotoa had been on our list of places to visit since we arrived in Ecuador, and we were very excited to finally see it. Quilotoa was created by a massive eruption about 800 years ago and is now a crater filled with water about two miles in diameter. We left the volunteer house at 6 am to get to Quilotoa as early as possible. The bus ended up taking 5 hours- longer than any of us had expected- but It was well worth the trip. Since traveling in the Andes provides incredible mountainous landscapes, the bus seemed to go faster than it was and the views were really amazing. Finally, we arrived to the crater lake!

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 Upon seeing the massive lagoon inside the ancient volcano, we were all dumbstruck. It was like nothing any of us had ever seen before. After we regained our composure, we began the trek down into the volcano to the shore of the lagoon. The hike down took us about an hour, and dogs that seemed to live in Quilotoa followed us the whole way down. Once we reached the bottom, we explored the shore line and took many photographs of the amazing landscape around us. To climb back out of Quilotoa, we quickly realized that the almost 1,000 ft climb up would be much harder than the descent. Because of the hike, a few of us decided to ride on mules to the top, which turned out to be quite the hilarious experience! We then had lunch and headed back to Valle De Los Chillos- our home. We arrived at the volunteer house around 9 pm that night, utterly exhausted, but feeling as if we could not have spent the day in any better way!

 

To travel to incredible places like Quilotoa, apply to be a Program Director with the Ecuador site today! 

Learning about our Community

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Having lived in Sangolquí for a year, I thought there were many things which were simply unknown. For example, I always wondered why this valley was called the Los Chillos Valley. I asked and no one seemed to know the answer. While I know a great deal about our community currently, I never fully understood the history behind the area where we work. I finally got the answers I was looking for when community members (once known as my host parents) Christian and Laura came to the Library to give a short talk about the history and culture in Rumiloma, the community where our Library is located. All 10 of us crowded into the darkest room in the Library at 11:00 am, to watch a presentation from Christian. Not only was this talk informative and interesting, but it also helped Program Directors gain perspective on how important our work is here in the Los Chillos Valley. In order to make this post as interesting as the talk actually was, I wanted to provide key takeaways from the story of Rumiloma:

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  1. The larger valley where we live and work is called the Los Chillos Valley, named by the indigenous Mitmakunas who settled in this area in the early 1400’s. The Valley is located in a county known as Rumiñhaui, and Sangolquí is the largest city in this county. Within Sangolquí, there are many neighborhoods. One of these is Rumiloma, where we work on a daily basis!

  2. The County of Rumiñahui is one of the Smallest in Ecuador! It gained its independence in the month of May and has a large celebration each year. It is also surrounded on all sides by the county of Quito!

  3. Rumiloma used to be made up of only 6 families! An area which is now known as being semi-urban with houses occupying almost every block was once all farmland. This farmland was filled with large Haciendas. After wealthy families owned Haciendas, many were ousted from their land for not paying taxes, and the land was then parceled out to community members at a cheap price. The area has grown significantly since this time and now boasts over 100 families.

  4. Rumiloma is known as “a town where people come to sleep” because it is so close to the capital city of Quito. Most individuals work in Quito and Rumiloma is a commuter town. Therefore, during the day the town is filled with kids and mothers, while fathers and women of working age are in Quito working. This is a major reason why so many of our programs at Manna over time have been geared towards Women and Children!

  5. Oswaldo Guayasamin, the famous painter was born in Sangolqui! Although he did not technically live in the Rumiloma area, he was born in the same valley and town where we work. He even created a famous statue to honor his hometown.

 The Rumiñahui statue designed and constructed by Oswaldo Guayasamin located in downtown Sangolquí.

The Rumiñahui statue designed and constructed by Oswaldo Guayasamin located in downtown Sangolquí.

After the presentation, we had a question and answer session with Christian and Laura, who have spent a great deal of time living in and researching about this community. Program Directors asked why community members had such an interest in English and what were other community needs here, and received answers that will help shape our programs for the future. This talk not only taught Program Directors about the community where they are working but also explained more about Ecuadorian culture at an early stage in their time here in Ecuador.

 

To learn more about a new culture and be able to have in-depth discussions with community members about their lives and experiences, apply to be a Program Director today!

Traveling in the Sierra- Baños, Ecuador

From hiking up Ilaló mountain to spending a relaxing weekend at the beach in Canoa, we have not had a shortage of exciting adventures in Ecuador. Each time an Ecuadorian has given me recommendations for places to visit, Baños has come up as a must-visit location. All of a sudden, this place I had never heard of before became the next place I wanted to visit; and I was not alone.

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Wanting to take advantage of as many travel opportunities as possible, my fellow interns and I planned and executed a two-night trip to Baños. The excitement I felt as we started our journey – despite having to wait in the rain for our bus -  was almost palpable. If the bus wasn’t so crowded, I wouldn’t have been able to sit still. As we drove through the mountains, the landscape that opened up was nothing short of incredible.

Snow-capped volcanoes (typically visible on a clear day) came clearly into view, followed by mountains and lush green lands that were probably still wet from the day’s rain. I stopped short of pinching myself; “this has to be a dream”, I thought.

The rest of our trip ended up feeling just like that – one big dream; but this wasn’t a dream, it was reality, and we took advantage of every moment.

Here’s how we spent our days -

Bicycle + ATV + Cable Car rides to waterfalls: For our trips to some of the waterfalls in the area, we opted for varying methods of transport. Some of us rode bikes while the rest of us hopped on 4-wheelers/ATV’s. At one of the stops along the way, you could ride standing up in a cable car [cost: $2] across the mountains.

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La Casa del Árbol: This translates to “house of tree”, or as you know it – treehouse. We visited this site for its famous cliff swings and volcano views. Scary-looking at first, this ended up being fun, exciting and liberating!

White Water Rafting: Bright and early, half of our crew opted for the thrill that is white water rafting. Unfortunately, none of their rafts were tipped over… you know, for the fun of it.

La Terma del Virgen: One of the many thermal baths Baños is known for is right next to a waterfall with an incredible view of the mountains on the horizon. We walked here from our hostel (~5 min walk) for a relaxing dip in the hot spring waters.

I know people [almost] always say this at the end of a trip, but I can’t help it; a return trip to Baños is already on my to-do list. If Ecuador is missing from your travel bucket list, now would be a good time to scribble it on there. At the top of your list of places to visit, write Baños. My hope is that you won’t regret it!

 

*** Tiese is an 8 week Intern with the Manna Project International- Ecuador site. While she has spent the majority of her time in Ecuador working on a survey to promote sexual health in Ecuador, Tiese has also had the opportunity to travel extensively throughout the country. This is one of the many reasons we love having interns on site! If you're interested in a long-term volunteer project, APPLY to be an 11 month or 7 month Program Director today!*** 

A Day in the Life of a Program Director!

Being a Program Director for Manna Project in Ecuador is an incredible experience. Not only have I learned a great deal about a new culture, but I’ve learned how to manage and work with a team and how to look at life with a deeper cultural understanding. I’ve loved this experience so much that I’ve decided to extend my time and stay another year! That being said, friends and family are constantly asking me “What is it you even do every day??” Well family, here goes!

7:00 am: Wake up to the sound of the neighbor’s roosters and the gas truck passing by our house. Decide I could use another hour to sleep so I put in earplugs and roll over!

8:00 am: Finally convince myself to get out of bed to start my day.

8:30 am: Leave the house after a nice breakfast of banana pancakes (a house favorite) and head to the local university ESPE, where I help give conversation classes.

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9:00 am: Begin with an NPR Lesson in my ESPE class. We typically talk in English about different topics relevant to life as a university student.

11:00 am: Finish at ESPE and head to the San Luis mall to pick up groceries for Diabetes Club which I have tomorrow. Stop by sweet and coffee to rejuvenate with some iced Ecuadorian coffee!

12:00 pm: Return to the volunteer house and scrounge around the kitchen for my favorite Ecua lunch- chocho bean salad*!

1:00 pm: Sit in our living room watching the rain clouds come in while planning for my afternoon English class and making the recipe/lesson plan for Diabetes Club tomorrow afternoon.

2:00 pm: Head to the Library for a meeting about prep for our 5K, new programs, or events being planned at that time. Meeting must include serving of afternoon Guayusa tea**!

3:30 pm: Start shift for Teen Center. Spend time playing games like foosball and ping pong with kids waiting for their English classes to begin.

4:00 pm: Teach my Level 3 English class about past simple tense. We have conversations about what we did as children and play one of the kids’ favorite games- scattergories!

5:30 pm: Children get out of English class but parents are everywhere wanting to say hello and talk about their children. I lead “Kids Hour” a class for kids to have creative fun which includes arts and crafts or science experiments.

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6:30 pm: Time to clean the library! We sweep and mop and make sure everything is looking nice!

7:00 pm: Take bus back to the volunteer house. Spend the time on the bus relaxing and chatting with local Ecuadorian children who recently got out of school about Manna and the fun activities we have at the Library.

7:30 pm: Arrive at the Manna house to a freshly prepared meal- a PD favorite- tacos! We sit down to eat together and share and laugh about our days. This is my favorite time of the day because we can reflect and really bond together as a group!

8:30 pm: The team decides we’re not ready to part ways for the night, so we play one of our favorite card games with some reggaetón music in the background.

10:30 pm: Remember I have to write a blog for Manna Project and finish a grant application! Regretfully, I leave my friends, head up to my room, put some music on my headphones and get to work!

11:30 pm: Finish my work and ask a friend to come to my room to watch Game of Thrones! Fall asleep mid-episode because after a day like this, who wouldn’t be tired?? Rest and start all over again tomorrow!

One of the best parts about my job with Manna Project is that every day is different. While this is an example of one day, the next could change completely. While my days are full and busy, I wouldn’t change it for a thing!

 *ChoChos are typically consumed in Ecuador in the form of Chevichochos, (lime with protein packed white beans, toasted corn kernels, and a small salad mix of onions and tomatoes). Instead, I make a big traditional western salad with lettuce, cho chos, cucumber, avocado, and balsamic dressing!

**Guayusa is a tea, which comes from the Amazon region of Ecuador. It has about as much caffeine as a cup of coffee and I find it to be super fresh and clean - I’m surely addicted!

Does this life sound like fun to you? Apply to be a Program Director today to make this a day in your life!