Summer Session 2

July 5, 2013

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 8:30 on a Saturday 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 Wednesday and Friday 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 Sunday 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.

Salsa lessons with our adult English students

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

Over the past two weeks I have been the fortunate recipient of Spanish lessons three times a week in the mornings.  Before attending, I was sure my language skills were passable and I would catch on in no time.  Little did I know that I could barely hold a 3 second conversation!  It turns out my previous classes had only prepared me to write and read, not talk and listen!  This is one of the downfalls of required language in the U.S.
Hana, another intern, and I were placed in class from 8 a.m. - 11 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday with the most wonderful instructor, Ruth.  Though Hana was more advanced than I, she never made me feel inferior and Ruth set the pace for the course at a level where we both felt comfortable.

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.

Our last class, this previous Thursday, held a change: instead of sitting in the classroom, the four students (there were two levels of Spanish) were going on a hike with Ruth!  After a painfully bumpy ride to the entrance, we spent the next 2 hours exploring Rumibosque.  There were waterfalls, jungle, wild horses and a crazy tour guide who completed the whole experience.  It was a nice break from the monotony of the classroom setting, and we still practiced our Spanish and learned more about Ruth and Ecuadorian culture.  It was the best way to end lessons!


June 20, 2013

This past weekend, the Manna Ecuador interns and a few program directors took a trip North of Quito to the Equator and then to the mountain town of Mindo. Early Sunday morning, we boarded a bus to el Mitad del Mundo (the middle of the world). When we arrived, the first thing we saw was a giant monument supposedly erected by the French to mark the Equator; however, we learned that they actually miscalculated its location. A short walk later we reached the real Equator, where we learned about indigenous tribes of Ecuador and participated in science experiments only possible where the Northern and Southern hemispheres converge. No one in our group managed to balance an egg on a nail head, nor could anyone walk in a straight line along the equator with our eyes closed (which sounds so much easier than it proved to be), but we all enjoyed learning more about the science behind el Mitad del Mundo. We then ventured to a nearby traditional Ecuadorian restaurant for lunch, where a few brave souls sampled cow hoof soup, and then began the two hour bus ride to Mindo, a small town in the foothills of the Andes Mountains known for its ecotourism.

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. 
Everyone really enjoyed the weekend trip and is already looking forward to this weekend, when we head to Tena!


June 17, 2013

Letting Go
Before deciding to apply for Manna, I took some time to soul search and fully examine my strengths and weaknesses to determine if an extended international volunteer program was the right choice for me.  While ultimately the answer was yes, I also discovered that I have a hard time letting go, and knew I would have to work on that before, during, and after my time in Ecuador.

Though I take offense to the words "need to be in control", they apply to my life in almost every dimension.  I like knowing what I am doing and when, and having the ability to plan and decide my own life.  This week has stretched my capacity for flexibility, and exposed me to and entirely new way of living my life.

Working with Manna demands pliancy, not only within the programs but also with life in Sangolqui in general.  My first test involved transportation: I am used to having a car and driving when and where I want.  Obviously having a car here is out of the question, and I have to learn to travel by bus several times a day.  At first I resented being cooped in by someone else's schedule, but I've learned to love the rides and embrace them as a time for reflection and conversation.  I have gotten to know several members of the team better on the bus; the jarring, narrow streets and haphazard turns seem to prompt in depth conversation.  I now look forward to the time spent in transition.

This attitude allowed me the patience to survive hours of bus time this weekend as our group headed for the Equator and a touristy-adventure town called Mindo.  It was completely worth the wait though!  We all straddled the border of North and South and witnessed some feats of nature such as balancing a raw egg on its end and water draining without a spin!  After that, we arrived in Mindo where I'm sure we can all agree we had a delicious dinner and slept on some of the comfiest mattresses we'd seen in a week!  The next morning it was off to an adventure: we went zipling through the tree tops!

It was here that I came to a full understanding of what letting go actually means.  Halfway through the canopies, I mustered the courage to follow in some of my braver friends footsteps and attempt a trick while flying through the sky.  Heart thudding, suspended by only my waist, I closed my eyes, opened my arms and soared through the air in a pose called "Butterfly" or "Mariposa". The freedom of losing control, as ironic as that sounds, was one of the most amazing feelings I've experienced, and I now know that letting go is definitely a positive thing.


June 15, 2013

When I first arrived in Ecuador for MPI I was pretty nervous.  I hadn't taken Spanish in a year and didn't know if I was up to par.  The people I've encountered so far in Ecuador are so welcoming though!  Although I'm nowhere near fluent in the language, I've been blown away by how understanding and accommodating everyone has been in my conversations with them.  Even more so, I've been so incredibly touched by how open and inviting everyone seems to be.  Although I've only been here for a week so far, I've already been invited to a woman's house for a meal, to 3 salsa dancing lessons and many people have asked to friend me on Facebook.
When all of the summer interns first arrived, we each picked several programs that we wanted to be a part of.  AS someone who loves kids, I chose many childrens' programs.  However, I also also wanted to expose myself to different things, so I also chose the adult English club.  Surprisingly, this has turned out to be my favorite thing so far!  My conversations with Ecuadorian adults have been so eye-opening, and the mutual give-and-take as I help them with their English while they simultaneously help me with my Spanish has been so rewarding!  By throwing myself into the culture and community, I swear I've learned more in a week than I did in 7 years of taking Spanish classes.  I came here expecting to be teaching classes, but I have realized I can learn just as much, if not more, from the people I'm surrounded by here! 


June 14, 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.

No, what surprised me the most was the sense of community I felt immediately on the car ride from Quito to Sangolquí.  I stepped into the house and was enveloped in their sense of “home away from home”, their little slice of comfort in an otherwise strange country. I can’t speak for the other interns, but I was calling it “our house” after the second day here.  As volunteers, especially international volunteers, I knew we would always have something in common, but once again I was surprised at how quickly we all fell into a routine, and it seems like we’ve been friends for much longer than 5 days.  Time has a strange way of passing here.

This feeling of belonging extends outside the house as well.  At first I was hesitant to strike up a conversation with anyone, because I was unfamiliar with their customs and my Spanish conversation skills are strongly lacking.  No matter how many times I told myself "it's not that hard, just say hello in passing", I had a mental block when it came to initiation.  Yesterday in the library changed that, however.  One of the PDs, Joey, invited me to chat with a teenager named Allison, and after the first few awkward minutes, we were chatting in a mixture of broken Spanish (on my end) with the scattered English word thrown in for good measure.  She read me a poem, we talked about our favorite foods and she told me what I absolutely needed to eat before I left Ecuador.  We ended on an even higher note: she told me I had to come back and hang out with her soon and we parted with the traditional kiss on the cheek.  Though she was only 13, she gave me the confidence to enter into my "Intercambio" with grace and an open mind.  There, I met Dalia and her brother, and exchanged email addresses and Facebook information with the promise of keeping in touch once I returned to the U.S.

I know our weekend trips will leave an imprint on me, but I'm positive I'll be more affected by the small, personal, exchanges that I have every day.  They bridge the language and cultural barrier, and make Ecuador feel a little more like home. 


_______________ Summer Session 2 (Last Year)__________________

 Priyanca, Amanda, Kenzie, Ana, Omega

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!


Amanda, Taylor and Ana at Rose Cottage in Otavalo

Kathryn, Omega, Kenzie and Priyanca on a boat ride in Cuicocha

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.


Kenzie, Ana and Priyanca at the finish line 

Kathryn doing inscriptions 

Kenzie and Jonathan 

Omega and Priyanca handing out PowerAde

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

This weekend we traveled to a city nestled in the heart of Amazonia: Tena! What’s a month in Ecuador without a little Amazonian action? We had an absolute blast exploring the area and luckily for us, not a single anaconda was to be found.

The first day we arrived, we went to a zoo near Tena and became best friends with a monkey named Jessica, saw two HUGE lions about 20 feet away (don’t worry we were really protected behind ONE chain link fence), rubbed Mariela, the warthog’s stomach, and laid eyes on the one and only, Honey Badger. Afterwards, we went spelunking (cave crawling) in the nearby Jumandy Caves and gave each other mud facials.

On Monday we arrived on the back of a pick-up truck to Mishaulli, where we met some thieving monkeys on Monkey Island (seriously, they stole water bottles and attempted sunglass thievery). After getting some awesome pictures holding monkeys (and repping some brand new monkey bites), we traveled by canoe on the Napo River to visit the Shiripuno tribe. We met numerous indigienous women who taught us all about their culture, taught us how to make chicha, painted our faces with “natural make-up” (the juice from the achiote fruit), and served us a freshly caught Tilapia lunch cooked in a banana leaf. It was an amazing experience and we are so happy to have had the chance to visit!


Just playing with monkeys

Cruzing the Amazon 

 Visiting an indigenous village near Tena

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

And another day ends here in Sangolqui… Today is day five of our month in Ecuador and, as were the rest, it was a blast. Miraculous stuff has been happening recently: I woke up- on my own!- before eight o’clock, we completed day four of Insanity (beach bods, here we come), and Priyanca is finally here! All of these things are, without a doubt, sign of a fantastic time here in Ecuador. Today was that “reality” day for me that happens on every trip. In the morning, I went with Ana to Antorcha de Vida where we worked with special needs children. It was such a great experience: getting led from place to place by the most precious kids in all of Sanloqui and dancing for an hour with those same precious kids. Later on in the afternoon, I went to work with Heather in an older lady's field- clearing it out for her. We had already heard stories about how sweet she was, and she did not fail to live up to those expectations. What was unique about her- and actually made me say that today was “reality” day- was the pain that was behind that sweet, happy, caring smile that we first saw. After we finished in her garden, she invited us in the have fresh papaya juice, “habas,” aji sauce, and queso., and it was during this conversation that she shared with us the troubles and heartache she was going through in her family. She mesmerized me and brought me to tears. It suddenly hit me that these were real people we were working with: people that have a history of their own and a life of their own that I- for one brief month- would be able to be a part of. The people that we are working with are not just available tools for us to have someone to work with and “help,” but they are like us- with desires, passions… and heartaches of their own. The old woman’s house that I had commented on as “beautiful” upon entering it had a story and history of its own that was far from perfect and not what I would, after hearing the story, still call beautiful; but it was real. That experience along with our time at the orphanage gave my reason for being here a face and a heart.


Jambo Rafiki!
 No, that’s not Spanish, despite the fact that we’re in Ecuador—one of the girls in our group was just in Zanzibar and she’s been spouting Swahili all over the place. “Jambo Rafiki,” one of her favorite phrases, means “Hello, friend,” so hello! Swahili isn’t the only thing we’ve been exposed to so far in Ecuador. Yesterday was our first full day here all together (although we’re still waiting (excitedly!) for our sixth fellow volunteer, Priyanca, to arrive). Taylor and Emily, our program directors, took us on an all-day field trip into the city of Quito. We walked around Old Town, where we saw a protest taking place outside a government building. We stopped to watch the picketers for a while, and while we were watching, Rafael Correa (Ecuador’s president) walked out onto the building’s balcony! He smiled and waved for about five minutes and then disappeared back inside, but it was totally catching a glimpse of him so unexpectedly. Afterwards, we browsed through the market and had lunch at a cute restaurant. I feel so big here—Ecuadorians are pretty short, so sitting at the table during lunch made me feel like a giant in a kindergarten classroom. After a long day of walking around Quito, we took the bus back home and had a big group dinner (homemade black bean burgers and salad) before discussing what activities and classes we’d be involved in. Today has been our first day working—we’re starting to get into our projects and are working on writing lesson plans for the English classes we’ll be teaching. Later today will be the first time we see the library and teen center where we’ll be spending a lot of time, so that’s exciting. It sounds like we’ll definitely be busy this month!