This past Saturday, June 29, MPI Ecuador held its second annual race (carrera) to promote health and a healthy lifestyle. The race was a 5K that began near the field (cancha) across from the public library where we run all of our programs. The turnout was great and it was wonderful to see so many of our library regulars come out at on a morning. Participants were grouped into three different age categories, and the first three finishers of each gender in each category received a prize. The first-place finisher crossed the finish line after a little over 15 minutes, at a great pace! After the 5K was over, two smaller kids' races were held. Younger kids ran one lap around the cancha while older kids ran three. Everyone seemed to really enjoy it! The race was a great way to promote exercise and a healthy lifestyle, especially in an area of the world that doesn't always stress these values. PDs and vols alike enjoyed the event just as much as the participants! Everyone was bustling around to set things up, recording times, giving out prizes, and congratulating runners, all to the upbeat tunes of a DJ resounding through the streets. After months of hard work, planning, advertising, endless phone calls, and of course a few glitches, the event went off wonderfully, and I think it's safe to say that everyone enjoyed themselves!
July 3, 2013
After living in Ecuador for nearly two months, I find myself in the most pensive mood this afternoon as we only have three days left. As I reflect on my experience, I find it difficult to list the tangible things that I have left here or will be taking away. However, I am flooded by infinite memories, feelings, and thought-provoking ideas that have contributed to my growth during these past eight weeks.
As I sit at the kitchen table writing this, countless families dinners come to mind of our entire group laughing in good company without the distraction of text messages, emails, or Facebook notifications. As I look out the window to our neighbor Cesar’s house, I am reminded of his daily greeting as I walk out the front door each morning, and how I have come to genuinely appreciate the warm and friendly nature of the Ecuadorian people. I cannot give you a specific number of new Spanish vocabulary words I learned, but I can assure you that I have found the confidence to converse with my Ecuadorian intercambio partner, Martha, about my political beliefs, religious views, fears, and dreams. There is not a statistic in chickens, pigs, or greenhouses that I can give to present the progress that my presence in the Small Business Development program has fostered, but I can paint you a perfect picture of how our loan candidates’ eyes widen every and morning when they grasp a new concept in class, as well as the smiles that beam on their faces when they speak of the profits they hope to glean. I cannot promise that all of my adult English students received A’s on their midterms due to my phenomenal teaching abilities, because that is simply untrue. I have no doubt, however, that their diligence and efforts in learning a new language have sparked a drive in myself to work equally as hard to perfect my Spanish.
So no, as I board my plane bound for St. Louis early morning, I will not have a plethora of concrete mementos that I will be bringing back from Ecuador, nor will I be leaving any physical mark on this beautiful country. More importantly, the things that I leave will be unseen, like the opportunities of children being able to dance after Alyssa and I started a ballet program, or the cross-hemisphere friendship that Martha and I have created. I consider myself the lucky one, though, as I will be venturing home carrying a greater dose of confidence, a heightened sense of responsibility for helping others, and a hunger to learn more about those things unknown to me- new places, cultures, and people that make up this vast, inviting world.
I would like to take this blog post to talk about some of the highlights of my trip thus far apart from the weekends spent with my fellow volunteers and the resident PDs.
First, I would like to talk about Amigos Guias. On Wednesdays, Amigos Guias is a small after school program for children who need help with their homework. Valerie, Melissa, and I have gone to Amigos Guias to help, and it has certainly grown on us. From the hugs we receive when we walk in to the help the children ask of us, we certainly feel that we have connected with the children there, and it has been a rewarding time. My favorite parts are always helping children do math problems and talking to the children about their live. It will be hard to say goodbye to the kids.
Second, I would like to touch on the English classes. I assist with Jenni´s Super Advanced Children´s English Class and Joey´s Advanced English Class. In Jenni´s class, I work with a group of three tweens called Nicolas, Marcelo, and Josue. They come from different places, and they have different personalities. It makes for an interesting teaching experience. I have found that the most successful lessons come from just conversing with the kids or making them move. To teach them comparatives and superlatives, I took them outside, made them run a sprint, and tell me who was faster or the fastest. To teach them first and second conditionals, I asked them questions about what their dream jobs are or about whom they would want to win in the upcoming Barcelona game. They know English. They just need to use it. Just like I need to speak Spanish more to remember it. During the party for all children´s English classes about a week ago, pictured below, I had the honor of playing my students in a match of futbol, and I would like to note that the kids are impressive athletes as well.
Apart from the energetic Children´s English class, there is Joey´s relaxed, conversational English class. I love sitting in the back of class with a couple of adults and responding to Joey´s witty, entertaining lessons. The most valuable experience from the Adult class is meeting with them afterwards to talk to them about Ecuadorian culture and their upbringing. I get to talk to Walter, an awesome resident of Rumiloma, and we talk about everything from religion to futbol to dancing. One of the most rewarding parts of the Manna experience is moments like this. Speaking of these moments, we had an adult English party at the Manna House (pictured below). I was able to sit down and just ask questions to many of the adults who come to the library, and they were able to ask me about my Indian culture and my experiences as a student in the States. That was awesome and deserves its due notice.
Anyways, days are slowly winding down. Race coming up. Get ready, get set. Abhi Shah out.
June 27, 2013
The majority of my life growing up revolved around dance. It served not only as a great form of exercise but also as a sort of self-therapy for me. Once I heard that interns were able to implement their own programs, my immediate thought was to start a kids' ballet class. When I arrived in Ecuador, I was overjoyed to learn that a fellow intern (Sarah) and PD (Lucy) are also dancers. Together, we collaborated to form a ballet class open to all levels that meets for one hour twice a week. The turnout for our first class was fantastic and the response was overwhelming! The kids seemed to really enjoy it, and we are now working on making the class a bit harder to suit the needs of the naturally talented students. As a former dancer who is no longer able to dance herself, I feel I have come full-circle by passing on what I have learned throughout the years. I like to think that Sarah, Lucy, and I have helped inspire the next generation of prima ballerinas by introducing them to this unique form of art and self-expression!
June 22, 2013
I expected her classes to run similarly to the ones in the U.S. (I guess I should stop expecting things at this point!) but to my surprise and pleasure, the 3 hours were held mostly in conversation, with small breaks to explain concepts and grammar on the board. We were told to write in Spanish everyday and practice, practice, practice our verbal and listening skills. Even after the first day I could feel myself improving. I was recognizing more words and felt more comfortable talking with native speakers.
June 20, 2013
The bus ride itself was breathtaking as we wound our way through lush mountains. Our hostel in Mindo resembled a tree house more than anything, and upon arriving, we rested in hammocks and explored the surrounding rainforest. We then walked to El Quetzal, a restaurant that also produces chocolate. It was started by an American couple who moved to Mindo and began selling brownies to locals but realized the cocoa powder they were importing from the US was actually from Ecuador. They decided to begin producing their own, and we all really enjoyed the tour of their facilities (not to mention the samples!). The next morning we piled into a truck to go zip-lining. The views from the mountaintops were incredible, with green hills on every side. Some of the bravest interns even chose to go across some lines upside down or in superman or butterfly poses. Climbing through the mountains was exhausting, but zip lining back down was worth it.
June 17, 2013
Ecuador is my first venture into South America, so before arriving I had no idea what to expect. I did the cliched Google search and skimmed a few travel books, but there was no chapter entitled: “The Daily Life in Sangolquí: Surviving in a House of 17 people”. Prepared for the worst, what I encountered what actually quite the opposite. What surprised me most about Manna, and Ecuador itself, was not the packs of stray dogs wandering the streets, or the odd school hours for the local children, or even the occasional cow and horse that passed by. Nor was it the whole pigs roasting on the streets, or the way the faucets turn on and off backwards from the U.S., or the bunk beds that threaten to collapse with each ear splitting creak.
_______________ Summer Session 2 (Last Year)__________________
July 1, 2012
I am alive, that much is obvious- but if I have ever lived, it was in Cotopaxi, Ecuador. It is every traveler’s dream. We left for Cotopaxi on Sunday afternoon, and the two hour bus ride somehow didn’t seem like two hours at all. I couldn’t take my eyes off the beautiful rolling hills of golden grass and the distant mountains that was our destination. The ride there promised us that even more beauty awaits us. In no time, we drove up to a small, red eco-lodge. The lodge was surrounded by hills and mountains. It was gorgeous. I looked at the sun and knew that I didn’t have much time to enjoy the outdoors so I quickly threw my duffle bag onto my bed, swung a poncho on, and took a walk with my friend Omega. We were searching for a trail along a creek but ended up jumping through a wire fence and into a pasture full of cows and their respective cow pies. So the two of us, poncho-ed and ready for an adventure walked through the hills, around horses, and over cow pies. We had no destination, we just had admiration for the nature that surrounded us, engulfed us.
We looked at the time and realized dinner was going to be served soon so we hurried back into the lodge where a warm fire, warm company, and warm food awaited us. After dinner, I began talking to the other traveler’s at the lodge. Although we were from different countries, with different backgrounds and experiences; one thing united us- our love for travel. It was exhilarating listening to everyone’s story and more importantly how everyone had taken vastly different roads in life but ended up at this one destination in Cotopaxi, Ecuador.
After dinner, a few of us took our mugs of wine and walked to the hot tub that gave us a clear view of the mountains, hills, stars, and moon. We talked for hours, about everything and nothing.
The next morning was an early one, but a welcomed one since French crepes were being made for breakfast. After wolfing our crepes, our group split in two and some went horseback riding and I went caving. It was a difficult decision to make, but I felt that I wanted to get downright dirty. I wanted to hike and to jump into unknown caves.
A 25 minute truck ride later, we arrive at a field that looked like every other field. We all hopped out of the truck and began walking. The hike was easy at first- you just walk straight, but then things got a little tricky. We began hiking in a decline, then an incline, then a decline in thick foliage. Branches slapped us in the face and quills from plants lodged themselves in our legs and arms. We kept trekking.
We passed small creeks, a waterfall, and soon enough we were looking up at a wall of dirt, stone, and plants. These were the caves! We climbed up the wall and entered a window into the cave. It was dark and mud seeped our boots. In the distance, we heard “whish whish whish” and yes, those were bats. We spent the rest of our day on our elbows and knees- making our way through caves that were narrow and low. We came out of the caves caked with dirt, mud, and bat guano. It was awesome.
Cotopaxi was time to think, to find yourself in the company of nature and others. It was also a time to physically challenge yourself- whether it was horseback riding or caving. I will never forget Cotopaxi.
June 30, 2012
Saturday morning started off super bright and early with Rachel’s yoga class at 8 am with Omega. Props to us summer volunteers for actually making it this time around. The first week here we were still adjusting to our early schedules, and waking up at 7 was not something we were accustomed to. After almost three weeks here it was without complication that we got up and attended the class. I soon found out that I was about as flexible as a wooden pencil but I still enjoyed the class nonetheless. There was a newcomer Ecuadorian woman in the class so we both struggled together but she said that she really liked it and would be back so that was great. Afterwards the Adult English classes had their midterms, and all finished in a decent time. Hopefully they did well! In Emily’s Super Advanced English class, her dad, who was visiting for a week, gave a lecture on both formal and informal letter writing, after they finished their exams. Then they watched Hatchet, the book that they have spent the first half of their semester reading, on Emily’s computer before calling it a day at 12. The library closed early that day because we were hosting the Adult English Party in the Manna house in Sangolqui. We all came back to a few of the adults and some of their children already there, helping out in the kitchen by making delicious salsa dips and snacks. After about an hour the house was pretty packed, with most people either hanging out in the kitchen (I, for example, spent a considerable amount of time near the snack table) or outside on the patio. The food was phenomenal and the company was even better. There was a huge circle outside mixed with the English students and the Manna workers. Everyone was gathered in the chairs playing a variety of fun group games in Spanish, and no matter where you were in the house, the gales and whoops of laughter could be heard. It was a very successful afternoon, and even when some of us summer volunteers left around 5 to go to Quito, there were still a few English students milling around mingling. The Adult English students are such great and warm people, some quiet and shy, while others loud and hilarious. It has been awesome seeing their progress in English class, even
if just for the three weeks that I have been here. The look of understanding when they comprehend something in class, and their willingness to ask questions showed me the kind of determined people they were to want to learn English. A kind of determination to learn that is not often seen in the States where access to such kinds of things and opportunities are often taken for granted, even amongst adults. I wish the Adult English Students the best of luck and hope that I cross paths with those who have promised to visit in the U.S. They truly are a wonderful bunch and I have been so lucky to have met some of them.
June 28, 2012
I am still in shock to find that we have less than two weeks until all the summer volunteers are back in the U.S. This was brought to my attention when the Program Directors told us that we were going to Quito Wednesday night for probably one of the last times since we were leaving so soon. After The Manna Center closed Wednesday night at 7 pm we took a bus that took us into Quito and went to an
awesome Indian restaurant. It was my first time eating Indian food and according to Priyanca, a native Indian who lived in the States, the food was pretty authentic and everyone else definitely loved it too. A few Program Directors, Emily’s dad and boyfriend also joined us too. Afterwards we went to a Salsa bar where we danced the night away until we had to leave to be back at the Manna house by midnight. The Program Director’s Ecuadorian friends, who have been passed on for a few years from previous program directors, met up and danced with us as well. They are all really great and it’s nice to have a group of constant Ecuadorian friends who are our age nearby. The next day Omega and I woke up to go to our Horse Therapy lessons with the Special Needs kids. This time around there were more children and some of them were younger and their parents accompanied us. As usual the program never ceases to amaze me and it was with sadness that I realized after we parted we only had one more class with them. The women who help out with the program are just so inspiring and have so much patience that I really will miss our conversations with them. I need to take a leaf out of their books and hopefully one day possess the sort of kindness that they display to all others. Thursday night concluded with Kenzie and I switching library and cooking shifts. Starting off as someone who hates cooking, I have really come to enjoy it and have learned new things in my few weeks being here. But what I am really excited about is Southern Cooking Night Friday night with Omega and Amanda cooking. Having lived in Georgia my whole life I have definitely missed it while I have been abroad and can’t wait to have a little taste of home tomorrow night!
June 26, 2012
After a great night out dancing in El Triangulo Saturday night, all the Summer Volunteers and two program directors, Taylor and Watkins, rose early on Sunday morning to head off to Otavalo. I was particularly excited about making this trip, since this is where South America’s largest flea market is located, and I definitely still had friends and family back home who I needed to buy gifts for. The bus ride there was only about 2 and a half hours and before we did anything else we had to eat. Of course. So we stopped by a pizza shop manned by a single woman, and she somehow managed to make 4 of the largest and most delicious pizzas in record time. Four slices of pizza and a chocolate ice cream cone later, we were set loose in the flea market and given an hour and a half to shop. There was such a plethora of objects being sold, so many bright colors everywhere. I don’t even think I explored all of the shops. Not that that would have been healthy for my wallet If I had succeeded. After I was done I had spent almost $100, even though everything was pretty cheap. But my reasoning was that you couldn’t but these things in the state, so might as well take advantage of it here, right? It was an awesome experience and I hope to one day return. Afterwards we headed back to our hostel called Rose Cottage about 25 minutes out of the city. The view from this hostel is absolutely breathtaking. The cottages were picturesque and so cozy, while the outdoors was so naturally beautiful that the pictures we took really did not do it justice. We all gathered in one of the cottages where dinner was being made, some of us immersed in books while others sat around comfortably talking, yet we all had some of the best hot cocoa known to man. The next day after breakfast we made our way to Cuicocha Lake, which is an active crater lake, and took a boat tour around it. Located in the Andes Mountains this was bound to also be a gorgeous sight, and we were not let down. After this we had to make our way back to Sangolqui, and the way back was a little more complicated than the journey there. Before we left we stopped by a pie shop of which we had heard only positive things and each got a whopping serving that did a great job of filling us up until dinnertime. I’m so glad that we went to Otavalo, and it has been my favorite part of Ecuador thus far. I can’t wait to see what Cotapaxi has in store for us next weekend!
June 24, 2012
This past Saturday we had the Carrera. Many days of stress, rushing around, and insecurities about the turnout finally cultivated into a fantastic event! We woke up early in the morning and headed out in ‘camionetas’ to the library. I, in an attempt to get everyone animated, tried to start a few card games but most had no takers or we couldn’t get past “number 2” (a.k.a, Amanda in Big Booty). Thankfully that wasn’t a reflection of the rest of the day because, once we arrived at the library, we piled out of the truck and got down to business: tables were set up, banners hung, sweets bagged, and- thankfully!- runners were inscribed! The half hour leading up to the race, the cancha and road filled up with runners warming-up and stretching. In the ranks of runners were some professionals, some with trainers, some from the library, and then quite a few wildcards. At the starting line, the energy was high as I stood to the side videotaping… and then it began. Nearly an hour later I passed the finish line with the last runners in tow, having walked and run behind them making sure everyone finished. It was a great experience. I’ve participated in many races but never before had I helped run one… no pun intended. After the race, there was a race for children where they ran around the cancha. It might’ve been more exciting than the actual race, cheering the children on as they ran around the field. Both of the races done, the girls did demonstrations for their women’s exercise classes. I watched from up in the library as both women and men filled the street following the instructors. It looked like flash mob! All too soon, prizes were awarded, faces were painted, and we packed up. In four, brief, hours completed months of work, and we all returned home exhausted but satisfied. The first MPI Ecuador race was a “great success!” and I am happy to have been a part of it.
June 21, 2012
Yesterday I woke up a few hours early, around 7:30. I couldn’t help it but I was really excited to go to Antorcha de Vida, the center with Special needs kids in Sangolqui, and accompany them to go to horse therapy! The week before our session had gotten cancelled and Omega and I were really bummed, except that dancing and playing outside with the kids turned out to be just as great. This time around there were no problems and we climbed into the back of a pickup truck and made our way over to the military base where the classes were located. The military Sergeant in charge was very sweet and while Omega and I switched off doing the drills with different children he explained how the process of horse therapy works. In a simplified version he essentially said that a horse’s body temperature was 5 degrees warmer than that of humans, therefore, when the child sits on top of the horse, the latter’s heat affects the former’s spine, thereby activating the child’s blood flow in the cerebrum, increasing brain activity. It was so awesome to learn about it and to be a part of the experience and I am so excited to go back next
week. Gaby and Katy, two of the happiest and most beautiful special girls I have ever met, made themselves in charge of the photography aspect of the day, and I’m pretty sure Omega and I have more pictures of just this one day than our whole two weeks being here. That’s another crazy thing-I can’t believe we are already half way through our stay here! All of the summer volunteers have become a lot closer, as was demonstrated by our dance party in the TV room last night in which the only attendees were ourselves, but that’s a story for another time and place. Besides goofing off with the rest of the summer volunteers I have really come to love and appreciate all of the Program Directors, who dedicate a year of their lives helping others. These are people to look up to and admire, and I am so glad to be around such ordinary yet extraordinarily inspiring people.
June 20, 2012
June 16, 2012
Waking up bright and early has become customary in the house and it hasn’t even been a week yet. Long were the days were I rolled out of bed around 11 and pattered around the house for something to do. In the Manna house there is always something to do-but it’s usually pretty gratifying work. The reason for the early arousal was to go to Emily’s step class in Rumiloma at the Manna Center with Omega, a fellow summer volunteer. It always surprises me how great these exercises classes really are, and it’s nice to see the number of women there. It’s only my third exercise class and already I can put a name to a face, indicating that regulars are common here. In a place where the importance of health and fitness are not as stressed nor nearly as accessible as in the United States, it’s good to see that some women are being proactive about bettering their lives through exercise. After the workout Omega and I joined Charlie, Taylor, and Carlos, the young accountant that we work with, to check on the businesses in Miranda. Not being a huge business oriented individual myself, it’s still really cool to visit these small businesses to help them keep track of their transactions for a month, enabling them to evaluate their state of affairs and see what changes would be best so their business can augment profits and so they may be better in the future. I’m really glad I met Carlos, who is a young accounting student at a university in Quito. He has known Manna for a few years now through previous Program Directors and his assistance with the Business side that Manna helps out with is really beneficial. Sitting next to me on the bus he discussed his dreams of going to the United States, a place whose economy much interested me. He called me lucky for being able to travel the world so freely and he said he envied me, for getting a Visa in a South American country is much harder than presumed. I have seen the struggle first hand being Venezuelan and having relatives myself. It never really hit me until then how easy it was for me to travel internationally without a problem, yet many people in Ecuador and globally for that matter did not have the same luxury. Coming to Ecuador has impressed the fact that I have the resources to go out and help other people, to travel, to do so many things that others can’t, mostly for political reasons. So I highly recommend using this freedom as often as possible. Traveling not only for self - improvement but also global improvement as well; learning and interacting with all sorts of different people from different areas of the globe. I know I will certainly take advantage of this gift we as Americans receive.
June 14, 2012