Apoyo Escolar

King of the Apes

Apoyo Escolar has started up again (as has Adult English and Women's Exercise), and with it comes a whole new season of hilarious quotes from our overly excitable students. Today, a glimpse into a typical exchange in our Ecuadorian afternoons.

A little background characterization first:

Dylan: 12 years old, hyper-active, extremely high voice, always brings an intricate lunch to Apoyo (rice, chicken, potatoes...the kid is NOT lacking starch), likes to have full conversations with himself in the cave, a bit of a trouble student who has a difficult time focusing.

Mafe: 12 years old, the angel of Apoyo, absolutely darling and so smart, has everyone in the Manna house convinced she'll be Mayor of the town in 5 years, always smiling, her dogs love her so much they follow her to Apoyo every day.

Scenario: As Dylan and Mafe work diligently on their homework (ok, Dylan is actually singing the Ecuadorian national anthem and pretending to do fractions), one of Mafe's dogs decides to explore the inside of the Casa Barrial instead of waiting for her outside. Dylan immediately falls in love with the big German Shephard mix...the following dialogue happens.

Mafe: He's mine, Dylan.
Dylan: Wow! What's his NAME?!
Mafe: Tarzan.
Dylan: (silent for a few seconds...) Umm...Mafe...? I hate to say this, but Tarzan is actually the "King of the Apes", and THAT is a DOG."
Mafe: Ummm...(looks at Dana pleading for help.)
Dana: ...(Can't respond, laughing too hard)
Holly: ...(Can't respond, laughing too hard)

Amazing. Tune in tomorrow for the first guest blog of the new year, written by the ever lovely Jocelyn Lancaster!

(The kids find my weakness; being tickled. Mafe is in front with pink sleeves, Dylan is in back with the too-big blue hat)

A Day in the Daily Life, Pt. 2

(Today's guest blog comes from Eliah, who purposefully switched with Dana so he could make us all feel like crap about attending the annual bull fights. Thanks, E.)

"To lead off today´s blog entry, I´d like to talk about about Ecuador´s culture of animal cruelty. It starts with the dogs. Come to most any town in Ecuador and you´ll invariably cross paths with dozens of street dogs, some strays, some permitted to roam by their owners. You´ll also notice that they´re annoying. They carry disease, they bark, they make you watch where you step on the sidewalk. And they´re mean—Dunc was bitten twice in one week and I won´t walk home from English at night without a handful of rocks. It´s enough to make dog catchers sympathetic figures. But it´s not their fault. The way this society approaches its canine companions is practically designed to produce unfortunate conditions.
A partly understandable component of this approach is that Ecuadorians don´t own dogs as pets but to guard their homes. And while this may come at the expense of a few pounds of gringo flesh, at least the bureaucracy here is cumbersome enough to dissuade us from suing. Because they have utility, however, doesn´t mean dogs are well treated. Quite the opposite, many cower at almost any motion in their direction while the best way to halt a menacing Ecuadorian dog is bend to the ground. They´re so used to this action being followed by a hail of lithic pain that most instantly turn and run. In a not uncommon instance, I recently saw one of the neighborhood kids throw a wrench as hard as he could at the head of a dog on the other side of the street. The dog, which was not causing any kind of trouble, could have easily been killed and the act seemed to be more out of boredom than malice. Meanwhile, the government does almost nothing to help the situation. Without any system of animal shelters, dogs are left to roam and reproduce, with, I´m told, the exception in Quito of the annual random distribution of poisoned meat, a practice that in the US is most commonly used by creepy antisocial neighbors but has yet to be adopted by the Humane Society.

Of course this disregard for the well being of the country´s non-human inhabitants is not exclusive to dogs; as is often the case, what sparked today´s focus on animal cruelty was my fellow PDs. The past couple weeks almost all other members of Manna have attended the popular bull fights here, which I view as paying for and taking pleasure from watching the torture and execution of a bewildered animal, and which they tell me is justified because it´s "artistic." Unable to keeping them from attending the event, I can only hope, as any good environmentalist does, that I at least take some of the joy out of it. That and use this space to rant about it. Which is why no one likes to live with an environmentalist.

But on to my day. Today´s daily life actually began yesterday, in a conversation with Marilyn, the mother of Ximena, one of the Apoyo Escolar students. Like all our programs, Apoyo is an outlet for us to help the people in the communities where we work, but which at times, reminds us of the complexity of the problems they face and our own limited ability to impact them. Marilyn came to pay the monthly $2.50 fee we use as an incentive for parents to make their kids come, but also to ask about Ximena´s behavior. Ximena is one of the more troubled kids at Apoyo—she routinely refuses to talk to us or do her homework and once told us her parents would beat her if she had unfinished work at the end of Apoyo—and Marilyn said she is aware that she should probably see some kind of expert. Like most Ecuadorian children in need of special help, however, Ximena has never been evaluated by any kind of professional, and Marilyn told me she doesn´t have time to take her. Since we live near a branch of the National Institute of Childhood and the Family (INNFA), an organization that employs such experts, I suggested we could take Ximena for her, and she agreed.
So today, I headed over to the INNFA building and sat down with Dr. Ibarra, a child psychologist, to discuss Ximena. Dr. Ibarra was skeptical of talking to a child without her parents present due to the frequency with which behavioral issues in Ecuador stem from parental abuse. Under the circumstances, however, she agreed to schedule an appointment for the next week, though the price of $4 per session worried me that Ximena´s parents wouldn´t want to pay for her to go more than once. That might not matter, however, Dr. Ibarra told me, as she only had time for three visits—in January, the government is taking INNFA over and along with most of the other workers there, she will be fired.
INNFA, she went on to explain, is the largest NGO in Ecuador, with over 1400 employees across the country doing work with street children, battered women, troubled children, health issues, and agricultural education, and making access to high level specialists affordable in under-served communities. However, part of its funding comes from the federal government, something which recently resulted in an executive order, allowed for by the new Ecuadorian constitution, nationalizing it along with all other NGOs receiving public funding. Most of INNFA´s employees will be fired and it will be run, she told me, like an Ecuadorian public hospital. In other words, poorly.
Which brings us back to Ximena. When you consider her problems through the prism of INNFA and what we know about her from Apoyo, things look bleak. Her schools are inadequate for a special needs student, her parents are likely abusive, her culture doesn´t expect her parents to take her to a specialist, her economy likely precludes them from doing so anyway, and her government is removing what little civil society exists to help her. Perhaps worst of all, her own circumstances are not exceptional enough to draw attention or outside help.
Meanwhile, in the Manna house, we live in a Third World country, we speak Spanish, and we are confined to the same two types of tasteless cheese as everyone else here, but thanks to our advanced schooling, caring parents, protective culture, First World economy, and benevolent government, we are immune from the long term side effects of normally accompany living in this place. So in very many ways, it´s like we never left the US at all. And that´s the way it should be, for us, Ximena, and everyone.

Community Meals

Each month, we at Manna Ecuador attempt to eat a 'community meal', which essentially entails us "getting ourselves invited" (ie. in most cases flat out asking for an invitation) to someone's house for dinner. Awkward is now spelled C-O-M-M-U-N-I-T-Y M-E-A-L.

October found us over at Pepita's for an impromptu meal after working with her family for 2 weekends at the river minga; score one for an actual invitation! Serena organized our November meal at Paola and Marjorie's house, a family involved in both our Apoyo Escolar and Women's Exercise classes. We brought the choclo (corn on the cob, Ecuador style), chicken breasts, and potatoes and, while Paola and her sisters cooked (and kicked us out of the kitchen) we hung out with their two huge dogs (one is actually named Hannibal Lector...great), watched X-Men 2 in Spanish, and played a mysterious 'ping-pong' game against sassy 6 year old Marjorie which was impossible to win unless you were named, well, Marjorie.

After our Apoyo families celebration dinner party last week with 14 different families, I figured we had exhausted our community meal resources for a while. Imagine my surprise when, after the last kid was shooed out of the Casa Barrial at 4:15 this afternoon, Mafe and her family surprised us all with an impromptu meal they had prepared for us. As they piled our plates high with grilled chicken, choclo, papas, and cucumber-tomatoe-onion salad, we maneuvered the tables which had moments ago hosted math homework and chess boards into a big clump in the center of the room and sat down to enjoy a meal with a kind family.

Looking around at everyone, from Mafe's mom still wearing her apron, to Lori and Amira (our Nicaraguan better-halves), to Serena and Jos fighting over who got Mark's extra chicken, I couldn't help but smile as I poured myself more Sprite. This, an unexpectedly generous meal in the middle of the afternoon, hosted in the Casa Barrial, with gringos and Ecuadorians laughing and eating, is what I've come to understand as community. And it was wonderful.


(South Quito and the Statue watching over the city)

Bienvenidos, Familias!

(Today's Guest Blog comes from Dunc Fulton, who recently had his wish for a bed in the kitchen granted. He also recently recieved the biggest package any of us has ever seen, inspiring just a little bit of jealousy as he unpacked it amidst various "ohhh"s and "no way!!"s and of course "i want that!!"s. Oh the small joys of canned pumpkin and Butterfingers)

"Although all the PDs here in Ecuador love the hour and a half spent daily working with the local kids in our Apoyo Escolar class (except when they have math homework...yeah, I might need to review fractions…), 4 PM still brings a small sense of relief. All the kids in the class are great, but seem to have a wee bit more energy than all of us…put together. Today, however, the chicos didn’t all magically disappear when class ended at 4. Instead, we had an hour to set up before the families arrived for our 'fiesta familiar', while also dealing with the craziness that is 7 – 12 year olds. “Jonathan, stop bouncing the ball against the windows”, “Jorge, don’t put your finger in the projector”, "Dilon, get your hands out of the fruit salad,” are just a few sample phrases from that hour of “set-up.”

When the families finally arrived however, everything did become a little more tranquilo. The children were suddenly better behaved (surprise, surprise) as soon as their parents walked in the door. The food (thanks Holly) was served, families were seated, and a quick game of chess between the combo teams of Dana-Carmen and Santiago-me was played (I blame Santiago for our loss).

Once everyone finally settled in, team Ecuador took the stage as we all introduced ourselves to the parents. Seth then gave a very rousing speech discussing our goals and methods of Apoyo Escolar, after which Marco expounded more on our organization in general. Finally, our friend Fabián Gualotuña, director of the local financial cooperative, talked briefly to the parents, expressing his desire to put a portion of their monthly class dues into an account at the co-op to encourage savings.

After spending the past 3 months with all their kids, it was great to finally meet the parents and see their nodding approval as we explained what it was we actually did with their kids everyday. The evening was capped off by the laughter that rang through the Casa Barrial as we ran a slide show of mostly ridiculous pictures of the kids taken by Holly, our (semi)-official MPI Ecuador photographer. Thus, we said good-bye to families, packed up everything, and began the trek home. As I write this entry, we are all finally home in the Manna abode, tired from a long day. Jocelyn’s baking a cake, the guys are contemplating playing Risk, and it is rainy. Sounds like a pretty typical evening in Conocoto.


(Mafe and Cesibel help paint the "Welcome, Families!" sign for the front door)