Ecuador

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.

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!

My Time at Hogar de la Madre

When I packed for my 3-month internship to Ecuador, I made sure to include my Bluetooth speaker. I pictured myself lying on the beach, laughing with my friends, and playing music to fit the day’s mood. Little did I know, this speaker would serve a totally different purpose. The first time I took the speaker out of my bag wasn’t for a weekend on the beach, or even an evening at home, it was to provide a little comfort to a girl who really needed it.

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Hogar de la Madre is a home for adolescent, single moms and their children. Right now, all of the moms are between 15 and 17 and, besides the two girls who are pregnant, they are each caring for a baby girl. The shelter is more like a small neighborhood than a home, with various buildings for different uses, including bunkrooms for the families, a separate kitchen just for eating, and a nursery full of cribs for when the mothers are busy. The home has a very unique atmosphere that felt impossible to understand after only a few visits. The entire place is run by two nuns but volunteers of all types are constantly coming in and out of the front gate. For example, recently a local elementary school came to bring boxes of food and to sing for the girls. I’ve only heard the place quiet twice: once during a prayer walk led by the nuns and once during a yoga class taught by a volunteer. Since the girls have a constantly changing schedule that includes cleaning rotations, doctors’ visits, and therapy sessions, their daughters spend a lot of time exploring their little world on their own. However, the girls are never far from their daughters and have trained their ears to recognize their own child’s cry from anywhere in the compound. It’s a careful balance within the home of caring for the needs of the girls and teaching them to care for the needs of their daughters. It’s also a heavy place sometimes-when the girls are having a tough day or their babies won’t stop crying. And whenever I’m there, I’m struck by how useful it would be to have a few more sets of eyes and hands.

Just like the girls, I have a different schedule every time I visit. I have spent time watching the babies, cleaning the kitchen, teaching English and even organizing CDs. The only thing I always make sure of is that I will get to spend some time just talking with the girls. One of the girls, Laura*, has opened up to me from the very beginning. She loves the music from the States and constantly watches Youtube to find new artists. Before arriving in Hogar de la Madre, she was a singer on buses and often tells me how she wishes she could leave to sing again. She has big dreams of becoming a Youtube star and moving to LA, where she (and her daughter) can meet her favorite singers: Ariana Grande and Selena Gomez. She sounds like the typical teenage girl and it wasn’t until last week that I found out more to her story.

She, like all of the girls in the home, is there for a reason. For some, it’s because the court ordered it, for some, because their parents ordered it. For Laura, it was a mix of the two. She was a successful bus singer at 16, able to make several hundred dollars a week-which would have been enough to begin a life for her and her daughter. Instead, she was spending the money on drugs. After having trouble with the law, her mother decided enough was enough and sought help. This help came in the form of Hogar de la Madre. Here, Laura has no access to use drugs and must rely on other people entirely to provide for her and her daughter, something she very much resents. She also still feels unlike the other girls. Although the others have accepted their home, she longs to be away from it. She spends most of her time thinking of how and when she will be able to leave.

Her frustration with her situation became the unexpected purpose for my Bluetooth speaker. Because the nuns prohibit the un-monitored use of electronics in the home, she can’t hear the latest music or watch the latest videos and it makes her feel isolated, something even I can understand. So one day, I decided to bring my speaker and we spent an hour listening to all her favorite artists. I could see her stress slipping away as she began to sing along. I really believe that for a few minutes she forgot how frustrated she was to be in a place she didn’t want to be in. The speaker has since been enjoyed by the other girls, too. Last week, they all got in trouble and we had to deep clean the kitchen and classroom areas. At first I expected everyone to be angry the whole time but when I turned on some music, the girls cleaned with smiles on their faces and a few even danced. Their happiness spread even to their daughters, who barely even cried that day.

I often wish that I could speak better Spanish and had more time to help with the hundreds of needs at Hogar de la Madre. There are so many things I want to tell them and so many ways I want to encourage them. From the moms who have a chance to rebuild, to their daughters who will surely have an easier life, there is so much potential inside those walls. It’s hard to fully foster that potential, though, with two 2-hour visits per week. So I think for me, with my limited time, the most valuable thing I can provide is a chance to feel like kids- to have some time to forget the hand that life has dealt them. Even though I can’t personally heal their past or provide them a completely secure future, I’m genuinely thankful to be the one who provides the music.

*Name has been changed. 


Jessica is a short term intern with Manna Project International-Ecuador. To learn more about our internship programs and work with organizations like Hogar de la Madre, check out the Ecuador Programs Page. 

Celebrating Carnaval in Ecuador

While Ecuadorians celebrate New Years, Easter, Independence Day, and Christmas, no holiday generates quite as much excitement, anticipation, silliness and overall hype as Carnaval. As a foreigner, I had absolutely no idea what to expect, in fact, I did not really even know what Carnaval was – and, boy, did I soon find out!

Historically, Catholics have celebrated Carnaval as a time to indulge in life’s pleasures before a period of solemnity, frugality and fasting in remembrance of Jesus’ suffering on the cross before his death. Therefore, countries around the world celebrate Carnaval with extravagant festivals, elaborate parades, lavish costumes and wild parties in order to “live it up,” so to speak, before the solemn period of Lent. For example, think of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, a masquerade festival in Venice or a flashy parade in Rio de Janeiro. While the Ecuadorian Carnaval l may find some roots in Catholicism, a large part of the festivities stem from ancient, indigenous traditions. To commemorate the end of the solar year, certain indigenous tribes would celebrate by throwing decorative flowers, cooking flour and perfumed water into the air. Over time, these indigenous customs were incorporated into the Ecuadorian Carnaval to create an experience unlike any other.

Nowadays, the indigenous practice of tossing up flowers, flour and water has transformed into an all out water war amongst friends, family and pretty much anyone you see on the street. But the battle doesn’t end with water. In some regions, as in Amaguaña, a farming community just outside of Quito, people douse each other with water, flour, foam, paint and even eggs! For many years, there were no rules about “playing Carnaval.” You could get completely soaked walking down the street, at work, on the bus, anywhere. However, in recent years, new regulations prevent people from playing Carnaval in buildings or on public transportation and from soaking strangers. In fact, to conserve water, local authorities encourage the people to use carioca, essentially shaving cream, instead of water (but, as with most laws, the further away you get from the city, the less the regulations are followed!)

Carnaval in Ecuador varies from city to city. One of the most famous Carnavals is in Guaranda, located in the Bolivar province, which is about four hours from Quito. People travel from all around the country to enjoy the colorful, lively parades of this Andean city. In Guaranda, one can experience the unique combination of indigenous and mestizo folk music, art and dance, drink the traditional “pájaro azul” liquor, and take part in one of the most fun street parties of the entire country. A different style of carnaval celebration takes place in Ambato, a nearby town in la Sierra. Here, the people call the celebration, “La Fiesta de las Flores y de las Frutas.” because the floats of the parade are exclusively decorated with flowers and fruit. On the coast, like in Esmeraldes, Carnaval displays the beauty of the Ecuador’s African American heritage. The parades, food, music, and dancing all reflect the country’s afro-indigenous customs and traditions.

In order to escape the cold of the sierra, we decided to travel to the small beach town of Montañita for our vacation. Little did we know, but what seemed like all of Ecuador was also vacationing in Montañita that weekend as well! Needless to say, the beaches were absolutely packed! For a good chunk of the weekend we squeezed our towels between our fellow beach goers, soaked up the sun and cooled off in the refreshing waves of the Pacific. In town, we found about every type of local and foreign cuisine that you can think of. Street venders sold tons of Ecuadorian food such as tortillas, menestras, pinchos, ceviche, sopas de mariscos, empanadas, juices and smoothies. 

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During the day, Montañita appeared to be a chill, little surf town on the coast, but, at night, it transformed altogether. The streets were packed with people of all ages buying food from vendors, shopping at the artisanal art stands, and, of course, playing Carnaval. The first night, we were completely unarmed and unprepared. Only one of us had carioca (the foam spray) and, as foreigners, we were even greater targets. So, not surprisingly, we all got completely soaked with water and carioca (luckily flour and paint are not as widely used on the coast). We learned our lesson that night and from then on came armed and ready for battle. Every night, we sprayed each other and random strangers on the beach, in the streets and even in the clubs. All in all it was a great, cultural experience. Plus, as a prankster at heart, I had so much fun sneak attacking people with carioca! All in all, it was a fun, relaxing weekend celebrating Carnaval at the beach in Ecuador!


To experience the fun of traveling in another country and learning about holidays and customs, apply to be a Program Director today! 

Judging an English Theatre Competition in Ecuador

Have you ever wanted to be Simon Cowell from American Idol? Or maybe you lean more Adam Levine from The Voice? Well fans, you’re in luck. I’m about to share with you the inner details of how it feels to be a judge in a real-life competition. How did I end up so lucky and famous you might ask? I speak English. That’s how.

Here in Ecuador, we work with a University called the Universidad de las Fuerzas Armadas, or ESPE for short. Each week, as Program Directors we assist in English classes, giving advice on pronunciation and how to study English. This relationship has been active for years and it is a fun way for Program Directors to make friends in the community that are of a similar age range. That being said, ESPE often asks us to help them with extracurricular activities, one of which recently was a theatre competition.

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Each English class from the three ESPE campuses across Ecuador worked for weeks on preparing a play to be presented at a country-wide competition. These plays were of childhood fairy-tales or stories, adapted in English. This activity helped students learn how to think creatively in another language, while also encouraging fun participation! After weeks of practicing, came the final competition! Seeing as though the volunteers at Manna are native English speakers, we were asked to participate as judges for the final competition. Due to scheduling conflicts, I was the only one able to attend- and boy was it an experience!

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I arrived on site and was greeted by the guards of the military base where it was being held. I was brought to the theatre, and escorted to the front row where I saw with the panel of two other judges- an English teacher from Quito and native Canadian, and an Ecuadorian actor. We were given padfolios with voting ballots and introduced formally to what we would be doing. After being given a grading cheat sheet, we sat and waited…and waited…and waited… for the plays to start. After the slight delay due to technical difficulties, the first play began. It was the tale of Beauty and the Beast, a fan favorite and household classic. The beast costume was phenomenal, and Belle (also known as simply Beauty in this rendition) truly let her voice be heard. Although this tale was certainly as old as time, there was no Emma Watson and therefore, was a slight letdown. Despite this, as judges we could clearly see how much work had been put into the execution of these plays. The backdrops, musical effects, and memorized lines (in English) were impressive and kept our attention!

As the night continued, I felt the pressure starting to mount- choosing first, second, and third places was not just a game! As a matter of fact, these kids really really cared about winning! With various intermissions from Professors singing their favorite karaoke jams (one even belted Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”), the battle of the plays continued.

While my favorite, a tale entitled “The White Falcon” took home the prize, I’d love to give honorable mention to “Scooby Doo and the Gang” who not only one-upped my incredible (not so humbly bragging) Daphne costume, but also used a REAL DOG to be Scooby doo! What a night it was!

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In conclusion, in a few short hours my childhood dream of playing Paula Abdul as a judge for American Idol came to fruition. I was able to support an incredibly important community group we work with, while also experiencing all of my favorite childhood stories- just slightly modified-and in broken English. Nonetheless, it was an experience I will remember forever, and the free ESPE Padfolio I was gifted helps!

 

 

 

If you want to have the opportunity to get involved with community partners, apply to be a Program Director today!