¡Capitán Mineral! ...and other tales of healthy living

As MPI Ecuador team 2010-2011 heads into its final couple of months (I’m sorry, it’s June?!  Where are the long days and warm nights to alert us to summer??  Oh, yes: we left them at higher latitudes.), we are finding it hard to believe it’s been nearly a year since we arrived.  Many of our programs have undergone several incarnations as classes stopped and started again with each quarter or we made changes to meet the apparently changing landscape of our community in the Valley.  However, one program that has followed a steady track since we sat down to meet in August has been the nutrition program at Fundación Aliñambi.

The curriculum we planned for the sixth grade class at Aliñambi is an ambitious one including three components: the garden, the kitchen, and the classroom, interwoven to bring a practical, hands-on element to the theory.  We began in January with the five themes that have governed the class: the cycle connecting food in the earth and its preparation to health in the body, hygiene in the kitchen and food preparation, the food pyramid (which is slightly different in Ecuador from the one that until recently existed in the US), macro- and micronutrients, and foods of Ecuador.  Our Tuesday classes have consisted either of a charla (lecture) or a portfolio entry with which we reinforce the unit we’re in.  Our macro-/micronutrient charla (and subsequent lessons) introduced each nutrient as a superhero or personage that does various things for the body.  The classroom now features a big poster of the food pyramid with colored pictures of food pasted in each category, and each child has in his or her portfolio a personal food pyramid that contains that child’s favorite foods peppered with images of characters like Capitán Mineral, el Rey Carbohidrato, and el Gato Gordo. 

Being able to work with one consistent group of kids over the course of the year has been great for the nutrition team.  I feel like I’ve grown close to them, and it’s been amazing to watch them learn throughout the year.  It will be really hard to say goodbye in July!
Me with our nutrition class on a field trip to Añamisi, our partner agricultural organization, in January.

Nutrition gets underway full force at Aliñambi

Our first guest blog of 2011 comes from Zoë, with news on our Nutrition program.  Aliñambi, the school in which we work, does not allow us to take pictures of their students, so please forgive the lack of photos for this week’s blog!

Hello blog-readers! Thank you for coming back to us after our break for the holidays. Most of us traveled back to the U.S. to visit our respective hometowns for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. While the three-week break was much enjoyed by all, we are excited to be back to work.

One of the most thrilling parts of being back in the community is that the Nutrition program is now being fully implemented. Becky, Noel, Brock, Luke and I are all part of the Nutrition team, and we are all excited to bring the nutrition charlas and cooking class to the Nutrition program starting this month.  Charlas are essentially informational talks or lectures.  Up until December, the Nutrition program was just made up of the garden, which Becky blogged about a few months back. Now the garden has made excellent progress and the whole program is growing along with it!

Every week, Noel, Becky and I present a charla to the 6th graders at Aliñambi school. We will be covering topics such as why nutrition is important, the food pyramid, micro- and macronutrients, and different types of Ecuadorian products. Using these concepts as well as some of the crops from the garden, Becky and I teach the students how to prepare a healthy dish using economical and accessible Ecuadorian ingredients. All of the recipes have been provided to us by María Luisa, the wife of the Principal of Aliñambi—so she could be sure to include culturally appropriate ingredients.

Today was our first cooking class. We prepared a mixture of rice and quinoa with a topping of swiss chard. We also prepared steamed vegetables with garlic and Naranjilla juice. It ran smoothly, but I do have to admit that the children are going to have to acquire a taste for certain ingredients- such as the Swiss chard María Luisa included in the recipe for today. When I asked one student if he wanted more, he shook his head in an absolute panic! Juan Carlos, their teacher, was threatening extra homework to the last one to finish their food.

Despite the somewhat unfamiliar tastes, all in all, the students really enjoyed being in the kitchen. Many of them help their mothers cook at home, and were teaching Becky and I new kitchen tricks. For example, one girl told me to soak the onion before I started cutting it so it wouldn’t hurt my eyes as much.

We have been preparing and planning the curriculum for Nutrition since about September, and so we are all eager to get it off the ground. Thanks for tuning in!

Manna Manna, How Does Your Garden Grow?

Please welcome our next guest blog from Becky! She will be working this year on the Preventive Health Center, teaching Women's Exercise and Children's English, and with our Nutrition program at a local school in Rumiloma. As Becky describes below, the last few weeks in Nutrition have been busy!

Hey everyone! My name is Becky and I’m excited to be a part of the 2010-2011 MPI Program Director team in Ecuador. I’m from Dallas, TX, but travelled to Nashville, TN to attend Vanderbilt University where I studied Human and Organization Development with a focus on international community development. After this year, I plan to return to Vanderbilt and begin my Master’s in Accountancy, after which I hope to continue working with non-profits.

One of the programs that I am working on is our nutrition program, along with Brock, Luke, Zoë, and Noel. Last year, we began working with an elementary school called Aliñambi that is very close to our Centro. We have created a curriculum that includes giving informational talks or charlas, growing fruits and vegetables in the garden, and cooking healthy dishes in the kitchen. While the actual class does not begin until January, this past week, we have begun preparing the garden, so that we can begin planting our crops to eventually be used in our cooking class.

Recently, we have been meeting with the school and Juan Carlos, the teacher whom we will be working closely with. We went over some of the specifics of the course and how it needs to change from last year. One change is that we want our classes to be more consistent with what Juan Carlos is teaching in his natural science class. We will also be working with a local Ecuadorian in the kitchen to make sure that the recipes we make contain ingredients and use cooking methods that the students have access to.

Also, last year, Aliñambi gave us a very small plot of land with poor quality soil. Nothing grew in the space, which made the gardening part of the program unsuccessful. This year though, we have been given a huge plot of land measuring about 90ft by 15ft. When we began, the plot was completely covered with weeds and rogue crops from previous years. For the past week, we have been going to Aliñambe in the mornings to weed the area and to prepare the garden in order to present the space to the 6th grade class. Now that we are seeing the garden come together, we are really excited about starting the nutrition program in January.

You Are What You Eat

This week's guest blog comes from Krysta Peterson, our house walking human dictionary who has a tendency to make up words and mash-up sentences. More importantly, she is our nutrition enthusiast who has been working with a local school, Aliñambi, since August, on starting up a nutrition education program. After months of hard work, she now helps run an inclusive nutrition program. This program focuses on educating students through hands-on learning with an overall goal to raise students' self-efficacy in food consumption and decision making. Here's a glimpse into working with these enthusiastic sixth graders twice a week!

Charlas! Portfolios! Cooking Classes! School Garden! Oh my! If you think those sound fun, just imagine the excitement and enthusiasm coming from our 6th graders each week as we walk in the gates at Aliñambi to do just that. After 7 months working with Aliñambi and nutrition with little physical evidence, I am thoroughly ecstatic, to say the least, about starting this nutrition program with the kids there. I believe through these kids is where we will be able to really initiate a change towards healthy lifestyles for these communities.

Along with Profes Haley and Jackie we will be teaching nutrition through charlas (lectures), thought provoking portfolio work, and hands-on cooking classes and a class garden. Every Tuesday I will be leading the class through charlas and portfolio work based on topics from the food pyramid to macro and micronutrients to hygiene. And every Friday Chef Haley and Sous Chef Krysta will be leading the culinary trainees with watchful eyes as they learn to wash and cut vegetables and make healthy meals using all local goods. Farmer Jackie and Farmhand Bibi will be leading the apprentices in designing and building their own garden to include radishes, lettuce, broccoli, cilantro, and basil…can anyone else see delicious salads in our future?! Yum!

Today we finished our second full week of class and despite a few punishments after a dirt-throwing jaunt everything has been going great. I truly believe in these kids’ ability to succeed in this program and their capacity to realize they have control over their nutritional lives and can promote permanent change at home.

Last week we didn’t realize we were not allowed to take photos at the school, so these are a few and probably the only pictures we will have for evidence that this program actually took place. Enjoy them while they’re hot!

Krysta, Erik, Chet, Mike and Sarah lending a helping hand in the huerto (which was all grass before we started)

Two hours later...

Krysta and some of our Aliñambi students

amor + nutrition,


A Clinic Worth Fighting For

Hey ya'll,

I'm Krysta Peterson, the honored guest blogger for this week. Woohoo! To keep Chet's tradition going, go ahead and put on "Something like That" by Tim McGraw in the background.

To give a brief overview of who I am and why I'm here, I graduated from the University of Texas, Austin in May of 2008 with a BS in Kinesiology and worked at a hospital in August the following year. The real word of 8+ hour work days just wasn't where I pictured myself being after I graduated. I studied abroad in Chile in 2007 and absolutely fell in love with the culture and warmth of South America. Since then I'd been longing to return and when the opportunity to apply for Manna fell into my lap, I know it was something I couldn't pass up. So here I am writing the guest blog for MPI Ecuador on this brisk Ecuadorian Wednesday night! I am one of five lovely ladies working in health this year and have been selected to be the point person for a program with a local school/clinic named Aliñambi. I am also helping Shawn in working with the Ministry of Health, as well working with Chet and Haley on adult English classes. You'll just have to wait until my PD interview to find out the juicy stuff. ;)

Krysta being nutritious and delicious in front of her Charla poster

As Sarah mentioned earlier this week, this past weekend we ran a clinic at Aliñambi for the communities we work with. It was preceded by hours of meetings, preparation and shot nerves; Ecuador's planning style isn’t exactly what we’re used to in the US. But it all paid off and, in my opinion, the clinic went almost flawlessly. We had 3 doctors, a pharmacy that charged $1 per medication, tables full of Ecuador-specific nutrition and Manna information, and an awesome interactive dental talk where we taught kids how to properly brush and floss. We had 133 patients in total, and though we had hoped for more, we were grateful for those who came and happy to be able to aid as much of the community as we did.

The future champion flosser of Ecuador

Jens discovering the true affect of Amor cookies on children's teeth

I have participated in free clinics in Mexico in college but actually being a point person on this clinic and having the nerves about whether or not everything we had planned would turn out right made this clinic affect me differently. Living within communities here in Ecuador and seeing how people respond to the ‘gringos’ and my blonde hair everyday made me view my experience with Manna and my year down here differently. I was completely taken aback watching Ecuadorians walk into this gringo-licious clinic with immediate confidence in us. I couldn’t fathom that simply being American gave us the right to instantaneously earn the trust of Ecuadorians to the extent that they were willing to put their trust and lives in our hands. I am elated that we can come down here and help these people without question but at the same time it frustrates me to know that so few Americans realize the power we hold to make a difference.

I am so thankful for Manna for giving me the chance to be able to provide the type of aid that I could only dream of providing in the US after becoming a Physician Assistant. The clinic was a perfect opportunity for me to dive into international healthcare and jump start my programmatic goals for the year.

Chet and Jackie doling out prescriptions at the farmacia

Haley and Krysta sport the shirts that Krysta designed: Go Manna!



Ps. If anyone can name the reference for this blog's title in the comments section, Krysta will award you with una sopresa!