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!

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!