¡Bienvenida, Darcy; Hasta la Vista, Bibi!

Since I was out of town in the States this weekend and had to miss this momentous event, Becky is here to fill you in on our official change of directors in the eyes of the community where we work, Rumiloma:

This past Saturday, Manna Ecuador hosted a Bienvenida/Despedida in honor of Bibi leaving her position as Country Director in Ecuador and welcoming Darcy Phillips as the new Country Director of the Ecuador site.  Following the adult English classes on Saturday morning, we headed up to the third floor women’s exercise room where the celebration began.  In addition to the adult English students, many of the kid’s who visit our centro on a regular basis brought their parents to join in the festivities.  Even though the circumstances of saying goodbye to Bibi were sad, we were exciting to officially welcome Darcy to the team. 

Before the party got started, we began getting the room ready with tables, chairs, and food.  On the white board, we wrote a note for Bibi and Darcy in which many of the kids added their own parting words as well as expressed their excitement for a new director.  After the community members filed in, Zoë began the event with a short speech that shared our sadness and excitement for the change of country director position.  Bibi then address our community member explaining that she is not leaving the community, but when she returns, she will return as a friend and member of the community rather than the director of Manna.  She also expressed how proud she was of everything the community has accomplished in her time with Manna and how her work in Rumiloma and the surrounding areas has aided in her own personal growth.  Bibi ended her speech by introducing the community to Darcy, who proclaimed her excitement to be working with Manna and to officially meet the community.
Lucía and Carlos, our business development partner.
Luke with some regulars to the library.
Jack and Paola, a longtime friend of MPI Ecuador.
Bibi and Wendy, one of Manna's biggest fans.
Brock and one of his English students, Walter. 
Zoë and Vinicio.
Vinicio and his mom, Jenny, presenting Bibi with a farewell bouquet. 
During the Bienvenida/Despedida, the program directors and summer volunteers mingled with the community members, who were having a blast taking pictures with all of us.  Some individuals in the community brought gifts for both Bibi and Darcy, to express their own feelings of gratitude and excitement for a new face in the centro.  One child, whose mom is in the English class, presented Bibi and Darcy with bouquets of roses.  It was great to see how our relationship with the community members is truly appreciated.

While this event was very successful and cheerful, I couldn’t help but think with sadness of the upcoming Bienvenida/Despedida that my fellow Program Directors and I will be participating in when we turn the organization over to a new set of volunteers in early August.

As always, keep up with our summer volunteers on their page of the blog!

You say goodbye, and I say hello!

We have some big news to announce here at MPI Ecuador.   Right now MPI Executive Director Lori Scharffenberg is visiting Manna’s site in the Valle de los Chillos for the first time during this year’s Program Directors’ tenure.  This means that Tuesday, when she arrived at the house, was the first time I’d seen her since our Miami orientation last July and the first time she’s seen Manna’s new Ecuador digs!  She was duly impressed, but checking out the house was in fact not her primary reason for visiting.  She is staying for two weeks largely to help transition in MPI Ecuador’s new Country Director, Darcy Phillips.

That’s right, our beloved Bibi Al-Ebrahim, who has been Country Director since the summer of 2009, is leaving us.  Thankfully, she is not leaving the area altogether and will merely be moving up the pista to Quito in a couple of weeks to be closer to her new job with the Peace Corps.  Bibi, it just can’t be enough to say we will miss you!!

Our next two weeks are thus filled with meetings and tours and the orientations.  We are very excited not only to orient Darcy to programs and daily life in Ecuador, but also to bring Lori up to speed on how Manna is running on the ground these days.  Welcome, Darcy!

Bibi is not the only member of this year’s team who we are having to say goodbye to.  A few weeks ago my partner blogger, Hannah, packed up and headed back to the States for good in pursuit of educational opportunities that required her to leave before the rest of us.  Before she left, we spent some quality time together as the 2010-2011 Manna Ecuador team.  We decided to make our third retreat a laid back one after starting it with a Saturday night joint celebration of Hannah and Jack’s birthday, the last birthdays of the year, with a cookout on our patio, a piñata (ok, so this is Mexican, not Ecuadorian, but we figured getting it in the shape of the national beer of Ecuador was enough), and a throwback to our first days in Ecuador last July: a chivas bus!  

Jack's birthday card, designed by Zoë in the form of the Capelo bus, the bus we take to Rumiloma every day

Jack and his birthday Pilsener piñata
Hannah with her piñata winnings

MPI Ecuador 2010-2011!
The following Sunday we spent the first day of the retreat in Sangolquí, eating at the San Luís food court, watching a movie, and playing a personal favorite game, Bucket of Nouns.  Then Monday we took an hour and a half bus ride to the gorgeous mountain-nestled thermal baths at Papallacta, where we read books and chatted by the pools for the day.  It was a perfect weekend goodbye to Hannah, who’s put in so much time and energy into her programs and life in Ecuador this year.  Hannah, we already miss you dearly!
Jack epitomized our Sangolquí retreat day in his pajamas carrying an ice cream cone and a bucket of fried chicken (yes, it was all for him).

Pools at Papallacta
MPI Ecuador lounging in thermal baths in the Andes

Papallacta baths again
Despite losing a couple of personnel, the Manna house is about to be full again as our first session of summer volunteers arrives tomorrow.  Six volunteers from across the States will be bringing a breath of fresh air (and 12 extra hands!) to MPI Ecuador for a month. 

So many new faces in the house!  Welcome to all!    

MPI's First Benefit Event!

This past Saturday, April 30, marked a momentous occasion in MPI’s history: we held our first benefit event on an MPI site in Quito!  The event, conceived and developed largely by Ashley over the past several months, took place at C’est La Vie, the Cajun style restaurant where we also celebrated Becky’s birthday and watched the BCS championship earlier this year.  Elva, Carlos, and the staff at C’est La Vie donated their space, normally closed on Saturday nights, time, and talents to help us realize the event.  As the very first major fundraising event at a Manna international site, it was a great success!

As part of Manna’s commitment to being an organization grounded long-term in its international sites, we wanted to reach out to potential supporters in and around el Valle de los Chillos.  About 20 guests attended the dinner and multipart presentation we held from 6:30-10:00pm, which included a raffle, an informational video, a slideshow covering Manna’s history in Ecuador, and a Manna trivia quiz.  We had a choice among three New Orleans inspired dinners with main courses of shrimp etouffee, jambalaya, and gumbo, preceded by a delicious house cocktail based around fresh strawberry and passionfruit juice and rum.  After a welcoming speech by Bibi, we showed a video outlining the history of MPI in Ecuador, followed by a trivia quiz on our current programs, the winners of which received MPI t-shirts.  Our raffle prizes consisted of gift certificates and items donated by restaurants and businesses around Quito.  Our slideshow played throughout the evening when the video and quiz weren’t on C’est La Vie’s central TV screen.

The scene at C'est La Vie
Bibi and Ashley making opening remarks
Friends of Manna!
Brock and Jack expertly tending the bar
Our guests watching the MPI history video
The benefit was an incredibly collaborative event for all of us program directors.  With Ashley coordinating everything and serving as the contact between MPI and C’est La Vie as well as all of the organizations who donated to our raffle, we all chipped in to make different aspects of the night happen: Brock and Jack collected photos and video footage and wrote the script for the video, Becky and I collected photos and put together the slideshow, Jack and I made and hosted the trivia quiz, Zoë and Luke spearheaded decorations, Hannah made the invitations, Sam and Luke created the program, and Luke created a fantastic stand on which to advertise the event outside of C’est La Vie on Saturday that we intend to use for future MPI events.  Before everyone left, Jack and I performed a brief set (Jack played the guitar and I sang).  Overall, it was a tiring but extremely rewarding night from which we not only gained significant monetary support but also exposed potential friends of Manna in Ecuador to what MPI truly does in the Valley and to our mission to remain in Ecuador over the long term, a goal that requires roots, both organizational and financial, in the site itself.
The welcoming table
Zoë's lovely centerpiece on each table
The menu, all food provided by C'est La Vie
Jack and Noel performing to end the night
We are extremely excited to have executed the first MPI benefit in what we hope to be an annual tradition here in the Quito area and a model for similar events at our other international sites in Nicaragua and Guatemala.  It’s a big step toward the sustainability of Manna in Ecuador and raising our visibility – thus extending our reach and effectiveness – at this site.  Hopefully next year will be twice as successful!

Looking ahead to MPI Ecuador's first on-site benefit!

With a look at a more organizational aspect of Manna in Ecuador, Ashley today brings you some details on the planning stages of a big event we have in the works for a few months from now...

So you’ve gotten to hear about our programs - here is a look into the donor relations aspect of MPI Ecuador. In addition to sending out thank you notes and keeping track of donations, we are beginning a new adventure: expanding our network and donor base within Ecuador. At this point, most of our donations come from our supporters in the United States - and of course, we are very thankful for anything and everything we receive! However, we felt it would be a great opportunity to include local residents in the work that is going on in their own backyards.

In order to begin this process, we have sent a proposal to our friends at the Louisiana-style restaurant, C’est La Vie, located in North Quito. With a great atmosphere and excellent food, we thought it would be the perfect place to introduce our friends and acquaintances to Manna. Bibi and I met with their intelligent and experienced administrator, Elva, who is an intense economist and chef, in addition to having worked in the petroleum industry for 25 years. She seemed quite excited about the idea, as it will increase both our connections as well as C’est La Vie’s clientele.
Zoë and the boys, featuring Wii bowling on C'est La Vie's big screen. 
Becky's birthday celebration from back in November taking place in front of C'est La Vie's cajun centerpiece, reading "laissez les bons temps rouler."
Manna and C'est La Vie!  We're excited for take two in April!
We are hoping that our 45-minute picture slideshow, multiple videos, several raffle items, and a guest speaker (from our centro!) will raise awareness of Manna, of our programs, our needs, and our vision for the future.

As we put together this benefit (in only about 2 months), please feel free to comment with any ideas or suggestions, especially for names of the benefit! I will be compiling all of the information into a instruction manual for next year’s PD’s, as hopefully they will be putting on our second annual benefit! 

2010 ends in adventure; 2011 begins with change

… and we’re back!

Yesterday saw the beginning of 2011 for MPI, complete with a morning meeting to debrief each other on our holidays as well as to prepare for the opening days of our new quarter. 

At the start of break, five of us flew to Peru to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, a trip Zoë (thank you!!) began planning in August.  Zoë, Becky, Jack, Ashley and I, joined by Zoë’s brother Zach and Hudson from MPI Guatemala, spent what we agreed were some of the most physically challenging days of our lives hiking 45 kilometers up and down 2000 meters through the Peruvian Andes to arrive at Machu Picchu. 
The MPI Machu Picchu team: Jack, Zoë, Ashley, Becky, me, and Hudson from Guatemala!
After Peru, everyone (including Bibi) traveled home to the States.  Except me.  Although I was sad to miss out on the Taco Bell and Chipotle everyone got to partake in over break, it was cool to spend the holidays here in Ecuador.  My family came and spent Christmas with me and saw our house in Sangolquí and our centro in Rumiloma.  We also spent several days in the jungle, which was fantastic.  After coming back to Quito, they left for the airport with somewhat unfortunate timing around 8pm on New Year’s Eve, but not too soon to see a bit of the Año Viejo in Ecuador.  Avenida Amazonas in la Mariscal was as early as the morning of New Year’s Eve blocked off from traffic and lined with monigotes, or “años viejos”: effigies of people in the Ecuadorian public eye, often political.  At midnight, the creators of the años viejos burn their monigotes, symbolizing the death of all that was undesirable about the year that’s ending and the beginning of a new year, one that will hopefully bring good to replace the bad that has now left.  It was quite a sight.
Two Años Viejos in La Mariscal on New Year's Eve
To return to the present day and MPI Ecuador’s work initiating 2011, the major change we are undertaking in the new year is one in our schedule.  In an effort to respond to requests within our community in the past, we are shifting our work week from a traditional Monday-Friday to Tuesday-Saturday.  People frequently ask us if our library is open on Saturdays or if we offer English classes Saturdays rather than during the week, and we have always had to say no.  But now we begin a grand experiment in which we can say YES to such questions!

Our first Thursday, Friday and Saturday back to work, we are doing a great deal of promoting in Rumiloma and its surrounding communities of San Francisco, Tena, Chaupitena, Santa Isabela, and Fajardo to advertise the new schedule for the library and our classes.  The revised weekly schedule will look like this:

Library hours: Tuesday-Friday 2:30-7pm; Saturday 9am-1pm
Teen Center hours: Tuesday-Friday 4-7pm; Saturday 10am-1pm
Adult English: Wednesday 6-7pm; Saturday 9am-12pm
Children’s English: Tuesday/Thursday 4-5pm
Children’s Art: Friday 4-5pm
Women’s Exercise: Tuesday/Thursday 6-7pm; Wednesday 8-9am; Friday/Saturday 9-10am
Cooking: Saturday 10:30am-12pm
Guitar lessons (individual): Tuesday 2:30-5pm

We start taking inscriptions for this quarter’s classes Tuesday.  We hope that the inclusion of Saturdays in our schedule will allow us to reach an entirely new segment of the community that has been unable to participate in Manna activities before now.  Here’s hoping for positive change in the new year!