Sonia Patel

Preguntas para Sonia

Next week I get to interview Sonia Patel! Although I'm not sure we can get her to sing "Milkshake" on the internet, I'm certain that you readers can come up with some (almost as) entertaining questions. And some thought-provoking ones too!

Bibi messing with Sonia on a retreat

Topics can include anything from:
  • "what is your favorite color?" (a question she posed to all of the summer volunteers last weekend in Quilotoa)
  • what she would do if any form of feces touched her
  • what it's like to be a vegetarian in Ecuador
  • how many episodes of Lost she's watched in the past week
  • her inspirations for Art Class
  • participating in the Alimentate nutrition classes
  • all of the awesome things she's going to do in med school in DC next year
Please post question as a comment to this entry, or e-mail me ( by next MONDAY June 28th!

thanks and happy summer!
- Jackie

Dr. Patel on the PHC

(Today's Guest Blog comes from Senorita Sonia "Pricing" Patel. Sonia spends her time coming up with wildly creative art projects for the kiddos every Friday, pricing any and every object you can think of - from bookshelves to blenders, making sure the library is functioning smoothly, and being co-in charge of the up-and-coming Preventive Health Center. Her contagious laughter can be heard pretty much anywhere in the house... and sometimes we're even lucky enough to sneak a listen to a Sonia's renditions of 90s pop hits. Be jealous.)

Sonia and the smallest orito banana ever

"In some ways Ecuador’s healthcare system is years ahead of the United States’. Here a visit to a public hospital entitles free x-rays, emergency care, vaccinations, and anti-diabetic medication, and although some services require out of pocket pay, the fee is minimal - $4 for a pap smear. In the United States on the other hand, state elected officials, say from (cough cough) Georgia, are still arguing over the constitutionality of the passed healthcare reform. While people continue to lose their houses over medical bills and take on thousands of dollars in debt after a few nights in the emergency room, these state officials are standing on podiums bellowing out succession rhetoric.

This isn’t to say that Ecuador’s healthcare system is ideal. In my opinion, the implementation of Ecuador’s universal healthcare system began before economic theories were ever seriously considered. Because of the absence of economic incentives - short hours, high wages, and benefits - there is a lack of medical personnel in the public hospitals and subcentros (free health clinics). This combined with the fact that members in our community have to travel at least 30 minutes by bus to receive free care have led many to utilize physicians as a last resort, only when they experience physical and/or severely debilitating symptoms.

Since August, Shawn, Sarah, and I have been working to broaden our community members’ definitions and understandings of prevention. Our goal was/is to carry out Serena’s, a 2008/2009 PD, idea to open a preventative health center (PHC) in the fourth floor of the Centro. Through a series of focus groups that began with Serena and ended with us, we saw that community members were eager to take charge of their health but felt like they lacked the tools and knowledge to do so. We envisioned a resource center that hosts health book and a computer with internet for research, a health promoter to answer basic health questions, monthly charlas, cooking classes, and a resource manual that lists where free health services can be accessed. We have spent the past 10 months fulfilling this mission.

Through a series of connections and meetings with the MOH, we solicited the help of an already trained health promoter. He has helped us write a health questionnaire (that will give us an overview of our communities’ physical and mental wellbeing as well as help us understand how to best equip the PHC), work towards the completion of 100 questionnaires, and made us aware of a nutrition organization called Alimentate Ecuador.

Alimentate first visited Rumiloma at the end of April. Since then they have been training 10 dedicated women as nutrition promoters. This Wednesday will be the culmination of the program and hopefully the start of their nutrition campaigns in our communities. In April we also initiated cooking classes. Each week, Sarah and Erik teach students how to make healthy meals with local ingredients in our newly installed fourth-floor kitchen.

The summer volunteers have brought more helping hands. As they shadow in hospitals, they will gather information about the locations of free health services for the resource manual. In their remaining time, they will utilize the fertility beads Serena left us for a reproductive health charla.

Until recently, our efforts have been less about opening a center and more about creating a health-focused atmosphere. We have reached a critical point now that necessitates the consolidation of all those efforts into a small purple room upstairs. We have purchased 34 health books, a laptop, and a desk. On June 1st we will have a physical space that our communities can use to access resources, learn how to care for their health before getting (and while being) sick, and lower the cost that Ecuador spends on preventable illnesses.


The weekly Alimentate Ecuador nutrition charla

Presenters from Alimentate discuss various nutrition topics

Time flies when you're with Tulane

We rang in the first week of April with an enthustiastic group of spring breakers from New Orleans (hence the neglecting of the blog). I could go on and on about how delightful and hardworking they were, but I'll leave the explaining to their co-group leader, Sonia...

"As I sit down pondering my time spent with Tulane, a few adjectives come to mind: eventful, gleeful, and priceless. Here’s why - we spent mornings sightseeing Quito and afternoons rotating through programs. We learned of Karington’s slight narcolepsy and how to eat the peels of kiwis. We saw that money can magically disappear and reappear in underwear and we admired the result of Tulane’s artistic abilities, a spectacular mural on a wall in the library. Let’s start at the beginning...

The week started off Saturday night at the airport. I was worried that we might not find them until a group walked through customs door clothed in Tulane attire with pillows and suitcases much too large for a week. After we accounted for the 10 of them maybe 100 times (don’t worry, my paranoia eased off as the week continued), we all cozied up in a snug busetta, so snug that I was sitting on Shawn’s lap. The other program directors were waiting for us at the house. What started off as a brief introduction ended in words of wisdom about toilet paper disposal etiquette.

Co-leaders Shawn and Sonia pose at the waterfalls in Mindo

The next morning we embarked for an afternoon soccer game in Quito (LDU, the house’s chosen club team versus El Nacional). On their first day, Tulaners had to face some of Ecuador’s fullest buses. They quickly learned how to maintain their balance with elbows sticking into them and little to hold onto. They ate hot dogs, bought jerseys, and sung LDU to its victory.

That Sunday night after a brief orientation, team Tulane and team Program Directors battled it out over Catch Phrase. Although Tulane lost 1-2, they put up a close fight considering that the program directors had 3.5 hours of practice time the night before.

At day 1.5 I was already in love with Tulane. Their relaxed attitudes and humorous comments made time fly. Here is my attempt to mimic how quickly it felt: we climbed the Basilica, toured colonial Old Town, visited the Guayasamin Museum, and shopped at the Artisan Market. Although it sounds like a lot of sightseeing for one week, Tulane worked as hard as they played. They leveled all of the teen books for a summer reading club; painted two rooms and two bookshelves; cleaned the Centro; and painted an unbelievable mural of Ecuador on one the library’s walls. They did this while cooking and rotating through programs: women’s exercise, children and adult English, the library, and teen center.

Eventful, right? To take a breather, we left for the cloud forest town of Mindo. There we indulged in the country’s best brownies, tasted Fanesca, the grainy soup of Semana Santa (holy week), and went zip-lining, tubing, hiking, and sliding.

The highlight of the trip was without a doubt the night the 13 of us trotted into an empty karaoke bar. Completely American (and completely un-Ecuadorian), they sang pop songs in English (usually Spanish ballads), stood in front of the room (typically seated), and danced. Twenty minutes later the bar was filled but because our teetotalism wasn't profitable enough, the owner kicked us out.

Come Sunday morning, we found ourselves once again in a snug busetta. This time not leaving but going to the airport. Seven days later much had changed. Not only did alpaca attire and Ecuadorian purses/duffle bags fill the busette but so did the exciting yet sad feeling that occurs when new friends part.

Jordan, Jess, Katherine, Lauren, and Rose out in Conocoto

Our new library mural! Isn't it amazing??

Karrington and Katherine play dominos with some children's English kids

The whole group in a camioneta in Mindo

I couldn’t have asked for a better group of individuals and I hope they take away as memories from our week together as I did.

- Sonia"

Nutrition, Art, and Everything in Between

This week's guest blog comes from Sonia Patel (or Soña as the library kids like to write), our token vegetarian. For a petite person, Sonia's laugh and/or screams can be heard all the way from the apartment. Sonia leads weekly inspirational nutrition charlas, helps run Art class, goes out of her way on a daily basis to make sure she does not step in animal feces, AND is in the process of applying for Med school. Not to mention, wrote us a guest blog during quarterly report week. For all of these reasons as more, I adore her and after reading this I know you will too!

Krysta, Sonia, Dunc and Shawn way back when in Mindo

"When I first came to Ecuador, I reveled in the beauty that surrounded me, from the geographical setting of the Andes Mountains to the colorful clothing of another culture. There was so much to observe and reflect upon that during my first couple of weeks, I found myself exhausted and ready for bed at 7:30p.m. much like a newborn baby. As time passed, I metaphorically grew up; my senses were no longer faced with a slew of new sounds, sights, and smells left time and energy for a more productive organ: my brain.

Deciding which major to pursue at the University of Virginia, was one of the most conflicting and confusing tasks I had to accomplish, precisely because there were too many options. In my biology classes, I felt as if a philosophical background would soften scientific thinking. While in the economics classes, I know that a sociological study would strengthen economic theories centered on human behavior.

I was finally absolved of the restrictive feelings and college mandate of specialization when I began working for Manna. Anything was possible and like a greedy child on Thanksgiving I piled a varied assortment on my plate: I'm working with Sarah on opening a preventative health clinic, co-teach Children's Art classes with Chet, giving nutrition presentations before Haley's yoga classes, occasionally acting as Jackie's gardening partner, shadowing the emergency room at the public Sangloqui hospital and supporting Krysta on the beginnings of a nutrition program at Aliñambi.

Such an agenda provides for constant knowledge and entertainment. For instance, I learned that doctors are required to work for a year in rural communities, most Ecuadorian meals are not balanced with enough vegetables, Jackie accidently killed (and mourned) the one worm we found for composting, and that in every art class one particular girl will cut out her drawings and hang them by a string of yarn.

However, using that productive brain doesn't completely suppress the inner child within. Whether it is indulging myself in the pleasures of a Magnum ice cream bar (America you are really missing out... a comparison to say Haagen-Dazs would only be 10% accurate) or hitting everyone's butt in the Manna house, sometimes my senses, missing that initial onrush, beg for more.

Sonia with some of her fellow health programmers

[ Side note: apologies for the list of activites. It's specifically meant for my family. It's funny how during our Skype conversations, they congratulate me more for learning how to cook (shh.. don't tell them about than for working on programs. ]

- Sonia"