Saludos de Ecuador! Our team of Program Directors arrived in-country on July 18, and it’s been a whirlwind ever since! We spent the first week exploring Ecuador’s capital city, Quito, with the help of our homestay familias and the Guayasamín Spanish school. We learned how to dance salsa, viewed Quito from 13,000 feet at the Teleférico, and got to know our new host city. 

Week two brought us to the Valle de los Chillos, where our year with Manna Project was kicked off with a bienvenida/despedida (welcome/farewell) party at Manna Project’s Centro. It seemed like the entire community came out to say goodbye to last year’s Program Directors and to meet the new team! 

The party was a great beginning to a productive week. We spent time getting to know our new neighbors, hosted a community meeting, held a fun and successful game night for kids in the community, and decided which programs we’ll be taking on this year. 

On Saturday evening, a community member invited us to his traditional Ecuadorian music and dance concert at the Casa de la Cultura in Quito, which we all thoroughly enjoyed. This week, the transition begins in earnest as the past year’s Program Directors depart for home. And so it begins!

by Kristin Sorenson, Ecuador Program Director

I Feel Just like a Child

Last Saturday while half of the PDs were showing spring breakers around historical Quito, the rest of us were field-tripping to Quito's interactive science museum. One of the goals of our agriculture and environmental program is to take kids outside of the four walls of the library for science-based paseos (field trips). We do this to expose the kids to nature, help them understand and appreciate the incredible amenities that exist in Ecuador, and to foster creativity and active learning.

Our first trip was a great success, chock full of 10 energetic minds ranging from 6 to 12 years old. The museum hosts three distinct exhibits - the sala de guaguas, the physics hall, and the Quito 2025 exhibit. The guaguas space is especially designed for younger kids, allowing them to hike through the paramo grasses, balance atop plates tectonics, follow life on the farm from soil to almuerzo plate, and dress up as their favorite Andean animals. The physics hall excited the kids with interactive acoustic and mechanics demonstrations as well as a myriad of mind games to challenge their critical-thinking skills. Kids and PDs alike we're enchanted by the space-age cocoon showing how our city will look in 2025 - including the current airport converted into a wildlife park and an enhanced public transportation system.

Leslie flies high to experience life as a Condor

Daniella balances without sight to test her other senses

Vinicio shoots down the paramo slide into the lagoon ball pit below

Some of the kids watching their shadows in the dark room (sorry the flash messed up the picture!)

Krysta and the kids learn how to separate the intertwined metal puzzle

Helping Henry levitate his ball into the top hole

Sonia, Krysta, and Shawn and Jenny with the kids

As we rounded the corner on the bus back to Rumiloma, PDs were exhausted but the kids we're ready for more, asking over and over when the next paseo would be. We're really excited to continue spending time with these kids outside of the library and hope to make next month's destination a naturalist hike through Pasochoa reserve. A special big thanks to Shawn, Sonia, and Krysta for being such fantastic chaperones!


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!)


Smells like Teen Spirit

Bright and early Saturday morning, before either of us usually gets up during the week, Krysta and I made our way into Quito to support one of our community's teens, Christian. His school, Colegio La Salle, is in a beautiful part of Quito, right across from the Basilica in the heart of the historical city. As we walked up to the school and into the main gates we could hear the crowd roaring and the principal trying to restore order to announce the school "teams." In Ecuador high school students choose concentrations, similar to college majors, and each of these concentrations made their own team equipped with uniforms, a mascot and cheerleaders. The teams ranged from Real Madrid to LIGA even to the New York Yankees (represent!).

As each team was announced, they paraded around the courtyard with homemade banners and lots of energy. After the parade, a couple of the seniors did a lap with a light torch, Olympics-style, to the tune of Eye of the Tiger. There was a homecoming queen-esque competition for the girls, all of whom were dressed in their best dresses and heels, looking older than me (although let's be honest, it isn't all that hard). All and all, it was great to spend some time with Christian outside of the teen center, witness so much school spirit, and be offered
chevichochos at 9a.m. about six different times by a guy wearing an "I spent a night in Paris, ask me about it" shirt.

View of Colegio La Salle from a tower in the Basilica

Other exciting weekend highlights include:
  • Spending some quality time with Seth who's been visiting Quito/Guayaquil for the past couple weeks = coaxing him into cooking for us and playing a couple rousing rounds of catchphrase in the dark during one of our blackouts.
  • Two epic scoreless soccer games from both the girls and guys soccer leagues.
  • Watching Sarah creep around the house/apartment/library/soccer fields with the video camera gathering footage for the Manna Reunion in Nicaragua next week (don't fret readers, you get to see the video too!)
Even though the power will be out tomorrow night, my dedicated central American correspondent Sarah will be at MPI Nica headquarters giving you some awesome information about our kitchen-building & cooking class project!


Climate Action in Quito

Last Monday I received an e-mail from Bill McKibben, an idol of mine, reminding me to attend a local event near me for the International Day of Climate Action. Thinking back to Powershift, a conference my environmental organization at the University of Delaware attended, I remembered the excitement and enthusiasm from students all over the US demonstrated towards holding their own campus events. Much to my surprise and delight after researching events abroad, I found one in Quito and convinced some of my Manna colleagues to join me.

The idea behind this event was to raise awareness and send a direct message to political leaders to put solid environmental policy into place for the upcoming UN conference in Copenhagen. Over 4,000 cities worldwide created human formations of the number 350, which represents 350 parts per million, the projected safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (right now we're at about 390 ppm). Ecuador participated in representing the zero since we're located at the equator, along with London and New Delhi, representing 5 and 3 respectively.

Overall, I thought the day was really successful with an impressive line-up of local bands playing in Plaza de San Francisco, dozens of environmental vendors, and activism to combat climate change.

An aerial shot of Quito's human-formed zero

Krysta gets her groove on in Plaza de Santo Domingo

The rest of our weekend consisted of showing Dave, Haley's boyfriend and our guest for the week a good time in Quito (after all, he did bring each one of us guilty pleasure American foods, a surefire way into our hearts: click here to find out what happens when people show up empty handed). We also performed better in our soccer games, with the boys winning 3-2 and the girls tying 3-3. This was a step up from last week for us girls, with the exception of Haley Booe, expert stopper who won herself a yellow card for accidently picking up the ball in the middle of the game.
Awesome defender Haley who sometimes forgets she's playing soccer, not basketball

What's in store for this week: Art & natural science class expos, insight into the small business certification classes that Chet and Erik are attending all week, and a guest blog from Bibi!

- Jackie