An Interview with Ecuador Country Director Carolyn Engel

Welcome to the team, Carolyn! We are so happy to have you on board.  Can you tell us a little about your background and experience with nonprofits in South America?

  Carolyn Engle, MPI Ecuador country director

Carolyn Engle, MPI Ecuador country director

I’m from Evansville, Indiana and went to Mount Holyoke College in Western Massachusetts.  After graduating college, I moved to Trujillo, Peru and taught English there for a year.  I then moved to Olmué, Chile and worked on a farm as part of the World Organization of Organic Farming for a few months.  Shortly after I began working for The Experiment in International Living, leading high school study abroad trips to Spain and Peru.  I moved to back to the states to Washington to work on the sister farm of the farm I had worked on in Chile, before I realized that I really wanted to move back to South America. 

With that in mind, I came to Ecuador and lived in Palta Cocha, deep in the jungle.  I taught English and Spanish in a Kichwa community with an organization called Selva Kids. In addition to teaching languages, I also worked on community development projects, including a women’s jewelry cooperative. We were able to take the money earned from the jewelry cooperative to develop a community bank that gave out micro loans.  After my time with Selva Kids, I moved to Tena, Ecuador to work for Runa, a social enterprise that focuses on exporting Guayusa tea, an Amazonian tree leaf.  

At Runa, I managed fair trade certifications and relationships with farmers, as well as all of Runa’s volunteers, interns and investor visits. By 2014, I was ready to act on my long-time dream of starting my own business, so I opened my own restaurant, The Guayusa Lounge, in Tena.  

Through the Lounge, I hoped to create a culture shift in Tena, because at the time there was nothing like it in the community. I wanted an open and comfortable space for the expat community of Tena to hang out. We’ve had tango dancers and a bluegrass band perform, photographers hang their art, and travelers paint the walls.

It’s truly an international space, and I’m really happy I was able to follow through with it.  Now I’m starting a new chapter with Manna Project!

What aspects of your background have prepared you to lead the Ecuador team?

First of all, I really love Ecuador! I connect well with everyone I meet, which is why serving this community is right up my alley. I have a lot of experience with volunteers and interns and all the facets of international and intercultural exchange. Owning a restaurant has given me invaluable knowledge about managing a business in Ecuador and handling things like banking, permits, taxes, budgets and finances. I’ve spent a lot of time working with nonprofits in South America, and definitely understand the cultural aspects that come along with community development. Though my background is unique and varied, it has prepared me to lead an international team through the ins-and-outs of development work in Ecuador! 

What excites you about Manna Project? 

I was most interested in MPI’s community center in Sangolqui and its strong commitment to the community. I like that our community center is a mix of our own programs and those of partner organizations, serving community members of all ages. In the United States, we have centers such as the YMCA, but it’s very unique to find a center like this in Ecuador.

What visions do you have for the future of Manna Project Ecuador? 

I’d like to create more community engagement at our center and would love to see more older students and adults utilizing the space. I hope to hold events such as workshops, conferences, community meetings, and anything else that would strengthen the community in general. I’m also very passionate about E-GAP, our entrepreneurial program, because of my own experience in owning a business.

Tell us about your first few weeks on site

My first few weeks have been great! I’m thrilled to be working in nonprofits again, because I know that’s really where my heart lies. I’ve been learning a lot in a short amount of time, but I appreciate the good vibes from the Program Directors and am eager to develop more programs and improve our existing ones.  

Tell us some fun things about you!

To start, I have an obsession with big earrings. You’ll rarely ever see me without a pair on. Because of my time in Tena, I’ve also grown to love Amazonian river swimming and jungle hiking. Finally, I’m an avid horseback rider. I rode horses as a child, but picked it back up since moving back to Ecuador and it’s now one of my favorite hobbies. 

Welcome, Carolyn!