An Intern "Thank You" to the People of Ecuador

During my time in Ecuador, I have visited amazing places, viewed breathtaking sights, tried many delicious foods, and made so many wonderful memories. But what I will remember the most about my time here is not the walks around Historical Quito, not drinking homemade juice with every meal, but the immensely warm and friendly people I have met here. During orientation, Carolyn warned us that the Serrano people have a reputation for being shy and quiet. A backpacker I met while hiking Quilotoa went as far as to say Ecuadorians were rude. My experience could not be further from this. There are countless people who have shaped my experience, but I want to thank the following people especially for their kindness and influence.

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Thank you to Alexandra, a key Manna Project member and the first Ecuadorian I had a full conversation in Spanish with. I appreciate you taking the time to listen and attempt to understand by broken and mangled Spanish, and giving me the confidence to practice speaking despite my many, many, mistakes. From basic niceties to not quite G rated slang, you provided me with a unique glimpse into the Spanish language I most definitely would not have received in a classroom. Your patience and encouragement meant so much to me in my first days in Ecuador.

Thank you to Sra. Erika Carrera, the teacher I helped at the local university, for your incredible generosity and energy. I did not expect to an hour long going away party complete with live entertainment, food, and a magician after volunteering for only 3 weeks, but if I have learned one thing about this country, it is that it never ceases to surprise you. Each time I walked into your classroom, I knew the next two hours would be full of laughter and learning, for both your students and myself. I answered their questions and they answered mine. Your classroom provided an atmosphere of mutual cooperation and respect that allowed curiosity to become authentic learning. I smiled every moment of your class, and can not imagine my experience without ESPE.

Thank you to Felipe, one of the most exuberant and affectionate people I have met, and my favorite student from Antorcha de Vida. Your constant joy brightens everyone's day, and was much needed on our occasional two mile shadeless strolls on hot days. I have never seen a bigger, more radiant, more heartwarming smile on a person’s face so often. Thank you for reminding me to always keep a positive attitude, no matter what the circumstances are.

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Finally thank you to everyone in Manna for making this experience so warm and friendly and great. When I boarded my flight to Quito, I was very worried about living in a foreign country where I did not know a single person for an entire month. The Program Directors and my fellow interns formed such a happy and supportive community within so little time, and this was a huge comfort when faced with the obstacles of working in a non profit organization in a Spanish speaking community. I could never imagine that living in a house with 12 other people could be tolerable, not to mention enjoyable. I will remember and cherish the strong sense of community fostered by our group for a very long time.
 


Megan was a first session 4 week intern with Manna Project. Our summer internship positions offer both 4 and 8 week positions, while our long-term volunteer positions are for 13, 5, 7, or 12 months. Apply to volunteer with MPI Ecuador to change your life! 

An Intern Experience in Ecuador

I left Chicago O’Hare to travel to Ecuador feeling extremely excited, but also with the knowledge that I would be taking each and every part of my trip as it came. A month before the trip, I had no inclination that I would be flying down to South America; I was initially accepted into the Manna Project International summer intern program in Nicaragua, but a series of violent protests sparked by pension law changes tossed a wrench into my plans. Manna operates two sites, one in Nicaragua and one in Ecuador; when it was announced that the Nicaragua site would be canceled for the first session, I worked with the Manna staff and my parents to shift my plans for Ecuador.

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I wanted to work with Manna in any capacity because it offered several facets that aligned with my academic and personal passions. Most importantly, I am very interested in international community development, having studied it in courses at Vanderbilt such as Latin American Economic Development. Manna operates an effective approach to international community development by partnering with local organizations to provide a holistic development approach to community members. International development can be a difficult task laden with problematic approaches that resemble voluntourism, or the white-savior complex; Manna’s programs start by listening and getting to know the communities they serve, then aligning resources to meet the demonstrated needs. Manna offers the chance to have my feet on the ground, engaging and serving communities in Ecuador, while at the same time learning about a successful international development model.

Since arriving in Ecuador and experiencing the first week of service, I have already had done things very differently than my normal modus operandi back home. One big difference for me: riding the bus. Ecuador has a well-utilized bus system, and I am still nailing down the names of the different buses (Cia Azblan, Libertadores, Los Chillos, Amaguaña, etc.) and the different routes (Conocoto, Rumiloma, La Salle, El Triángulo). I learned that on each bus, rather than having an automated system like buses I am accustomed to in the U.S. there is an “ayudante”, a man or woman who comes up to each passenger and asks for the bus fare. The fare is typically anywhere from 25-35 cents, so I now carry much more change in coins than I ever have. An interesting facet of Ecuadorian bus culture that I have begun to practice myself: although Ecuadorians tend to be very welcoming people, they remove to move from aisle seats to window seats on buses. Any on-boarding bus passenger who spots an open seat is forced to squeeze past the aisle seat passenger, whereas in the U.S. typically the person would just move over. After having squeezed uncomfortably passed a number of people, I myself have started occupying the aisle seat and insisting that people budge past me.

Another hallmark experience from my first week was a community “almuerzo” [lunch] that I was invited to alongside our program directors. One of the women in the level 2 English class beckoned us to come to her family’s house for Ceviche, a traditionally prepared coastal Ecuadorian dish. When we got there, we had a long chat with her husband, who is a serviceman in the Ecuadorian military. Then, we sat down to Ceviche. It was a cold fish soup, prepared with shrimp, tomatoes, lemon juice, cilantro, and a few other ingredients. As is often custom, there were bowls of tostada, popcorn, and chifles [plantain chips], and we were instructed to add some of these other items to the soup. My first bowl was good; I enjoyed pairing the warm tostada with the cold, zesty shrimp soup, and I ate the whole bowl. However, the texture was very different, and honestly I still don’t know how I feel about cold soup. She refilled my bowl and I struggled through the second helping, finishing it not out of a strong taste for the Ceviche, but to satisfy our gracious host.  

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Looking forward to the rest of the program, I hope to focus on 3 objectives: utilizing my Spanish, making a strong sustainable impact on the community and its programs, and forging strong relationships with the rest of my cohort. I have been listening to Spanish music and starting conversations with anyone who will talk with me, and I plan to prepare extensively for the English classes and other initiatives I am involved in so that I can contribute positively to Manna’s work. Finally, through bus rides and community dinners, I have already had a chance to form bonds with the other interns, and as we serve, learn, and experience Ecuador together, I know those bonds will only deepen and grow.

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!