Blog Swap Week!

Exciting news readers! While talking to a few Program Directors we came up with the brilliant (if I do say so myself) idea of doing a blog swap. Manna Project is an international organization with two other sites, one in Guatemala and one in Nicaragua. Guatemala's site was started just 7 months ago and we here in Ecuador wanted to share a little about what they have been doing since their founding. Hope you enjoy!

Ecuador Readers,

My name´s Hudson and I man the blog up in Guatemala for our newest MPI site. Hannah´s writing a post for us this week about the amazing work her team´s done in Ecuador this year and she invited me to share an update on how we’ve filled our time since we started in July.

Just eight months ago, MPI Guatemala was only a ten page proposal and a tentative job for the six of us who walked out of the airport in Guatemala City. We had three weeks to attend language school, find a house, and start a round of classes that would begin
to introduce us to the community.

A month later, we were assembling furniture between hurried meetings about our first classes. A local elementary school had invited us to teach fourth through sixth grade English, and we were overwhelmed in equal parts with excitement and apprehension. The classes were a huge success.

Jared and Ginny teaching English classes!

Through the school we were able to secure relationships with the teachers and gain valuable confianza in the community. We learned that the kids had no constructive opportunities in the summer (October – January), and started an education camp to help meet this need. Over 120 children attended.

Kat and Dana (Country Directors) give a charla to the kids.

At the same time, we laid the groundwork for a community recycling program that will eventually turn plastic bottles and chip wrappers into the bricks for a new addition to the school.

Then Christmas came, and we stopped to catch our breath. Our first forays had served over 150 students and given us valuable time to become friends with community leaders and learn where else we could help. Then it was back to work.

We launched a student health program focusing on clean habits and reproductive education.

On the English side, we revamped our curriculum so it was written entirely in Spanish, allowing us lesson plan with each grade´s teacher. That means next year they´ll already have the lessons and the curriculum – a key first step in moving towards long-term sustainability. We also expanded our English classes to a second elementary school. There, we have a teacher´s English class and offer an after school program for interested fifth and sixth graders. Plans are also in the works to start a small business program, to sell Mayan products back at Vanderbilt, and to introduce a women´s exercise class.

Overall, the pace has been daunting and the progress consistent and rewarding. We´ve hit dozens of roadblocks and reevaluated our expectations and programs at a couple junctures, but we feel we´re proving that Manna is an organization worthy of trust, one with the community´s best interests at heart. We look forward to further growth and future progress, and we´re proud to have been able to draw on the insights and models from Ecuador and Nicaragua.

If you´re ever in Guatemala, we´d love for you to drop in to see where we work, and until then, drop by the MPI Guatemala blog for weekly updates.

All the Best,

Hudson and the MPI Guatemala team

One small step for man, one giant leap for MANNA-kind

This week's edition of the guest blog comes from none other than our esteemed guest and compañera for the past week, Miss Dana Zichlin. In such a short period of time Dana won over our hearts through her deep love of crosswords and high tolerance for library games. We wish you all of the best in Guatemala and hope to see you soon, whether it's back here in Ecuador because you can't get enough of us, in Guatemala as 2nd year PDs, or back in Jersey (yes, that Jersey) for holidays. We love you!!

"It's been a whirlwind of a week here with team Ecuador. It seems like months ago that I was deciding whether to hug or handshake my soon-to-be new friends. Since then, I've really come to appreciate the time and effort that goes into running the library and its everyday activities.

Dana and Sonia bonding atop Pasachoa

I thought I would write the remainder of this guest blog in High Fidelity format...

Top 5 things I'm going to miss:
1. Family dinners over candelight
2. Bibi's where's waldo sunglasses (see below)
3. galapagitos (aka animal crackers version 2.0)
4. Riding in the back of a camioneta
5. The 'woo woo' hand snap (that I will never master)

Bibi & sunglasses, per item #2 above

Top 5 things learned:
1. Always label your food in the Manna house
2. Buses are closer than they appear
3. Headbands are just as effective as showers
4. Don't let the sun fool you, it will hail at any given moment
5. No matter how many options there are, children will always repeat your example

Top 5 lessons to take with me to Guatemala:
1. Everything sounds better in Spanish
2. When in doubt, assume it's a cognate
3. Moving from tourist to community member is the most important step
4. Don't make hollow promises
5. Everyone defines development differently

Today, I'm taking off for Guatemala to start the 'feasibility' part of the feasibility trip. Stay tuned for progress updates at

Thank you to all of the Ecuador PDs and Bibi for your individual suggestions, wise words, great senses of humor, and contagious optimism. You will all be in the back of my mind throughout this great adventure.

It looks like I have a lot to live up to...

- Dana"

For more information about Guatemala, the feasibility study, and future opportunity to apply to be a Guatemala PD (!), please tune into Dana's blog and the MPI website!

On the Horizon

Since Dana spent 3 months in Tsuraku last summer, complete with travels all over the country, at first it was a little difficult to think about where we could take her that was new and exciting. Luckily, we had been discussing climbing Pasachoa since before break and found some friends to guide us. We couldn't believe that after a mere 4 days at 2,800 meters (9,189 feet) in the valley, Dana easily conquered another 900 meters in the form of two peaks at the top of Volcan Pasochoa, the breathtaking mountain most clearly visible of those that surround the valley. Other weekend activities included the continuation of the boys' playoff saga (only 3 games left!), a Manna meal in Quito, and cuddling up on couches to avoid a late Sunday afternoon rainstorm.

Some of the girls out in Quito after our Manna meal on Friday

Dana leaping between boulders on Pasochoa

Group shot at the summit before the hail storm started

Lucky duck Dana got to sit in on one of our longer-than-usual MMMs, which was partially spent trying to convince Bibi that we thought it was a good idea to invest $4,000 in an Azblan bus for sale in front of the library. After taking us seriously for about ten minutes, we all burst out laughing, and she responded with something like "I was thinking you've all been here far too long to suggest such an absurd idea." Which reminds me... TOMORROW marks the halfway point of our 13 months in Ecuador! Pretty exciting and crazy how fast time has flown, but I have a sneaky feeling the next 6.5 will be even more of a whirlwind (ie: we're already taking spring break inventory).

For now we're enjoying the end of (or at least a break from) the rainy season, looking forward to a bonfire celebration tomorrow and attempting to stream the State of the Union Address on Wednesday (cross your fingers for us!)


Guess who's here?!

We’ve been back for almost two weeks and things are more or less back to ‘normal’ (if your definition of normal is wrestling 6 pairs of hands to get watermelon out of an overflowing Tupperware container while waiting for dinner to be served and singing along to a 14-year-old US pop sensation).

There has been some fresh excitement in the Manna house and beyond since returning. Our proactive advertising strategy resulted in a serious influx of kids to the library – we’ve been averaging 18 kids per day, which I’d like to think had something to do with the interactive library tour Krysta and I gave this past Saturday. While we’re very excited about all of the new faces, especially in light of classes starting this week, 2/3 PDs in charge of that many kids can get overwhelming. Therefore we’ve adopted a new approach: take all of the kids out to the playground for 30 minutes after classed end at 5. We get some tranquility in the library and the kids get their energy out – kudos to Mike for instigating such a brilliant tactic!

We also have a very special guest in our house for the next 7 days! Dana Zichlin, Manna’s newest addition and one of my dearest jersey-raised friends, is training here with team Ecuador before she departs for her feasibility study in Guatemala next Wednesday. We’ll be showing her the ropes which includes sitting in on our elusive Monday morning meeting, going out for a monthly Manna meal in Quito, shadowing classes, sitting in on programmatic and organizational meetings, playing with kids in the library, and a bonfire-side tell all where she gets to ask us anything and everything she wants (gasp). We’re so excited to have her here!!

For more information about Dana’s project in Guatemala, please check out her blog!