El día de la Tierra

Happy Earth Day!

It probably comes as no surprise to hear that Earth Day in Ecuador isn't quite as big of a deal as it is in the states; but just because there isn't a glorified holiday doesn't mean that Ecuadorians don't take their natural resources seriously. I have found that people here are extremely proud of their country's every landscape; one of the first questions I'm asked when meeting people is where I've traveled to and what I think of such a beautiful country.

People are also serious about issues such as water conservation, as a high percentage of the drinking water in the Quito metropolitan area comes from the diminishing glacier of Cotopaxi. In fact, I was told that thanks to FONAG, Quito has one of the best water conservation policies in the world, taking 1% of each household water bill (higher percentages from bigger companies and industries) to fund conservation projects.

We've noticed implications of climate change here in the valley, including increased droughts and an untimely rainy season; which pretty much just started, rather than running its usual course from October through February. Because of these issues and more, we have decided to use this international holiday to raise some awareness about human implications on the environment and what we all can do here in Ecuador to make a difference.

Last week, for our monthly 20-minute radio segment in Sangolqui, Bibi and I performed a little skit that defined Earth Day, climate change, and local environmental issues and solutions - for example trash incineration, dirty public transportation, and unreliable energy sources. We focused on advocating for change, something that isn't practiced very widely here but is definitely possible; most local town governments hold public meetings devoted entirely to hearing its residents' opinions about community projects such as trash collection. It was received very well by the radio station's employees and we can only hope that listeners out there took it to heart as well.

Today in the centro we'll be distributing pamphlets about climate change and tips about how to help combat it and protect the priceless resources of this country. We'll also be giving our earth day coloring sheets and activities to the kids.

I hope that you're all celebrating Earth Day out there in style; you can rest assured knowing that the PDs in this house are continuing their lack of showering, composting our food waste, eating very locally-grown produce and of course taking public transportation everywhere (really, it's not just because we have to...)

Sustainably yours,

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!


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

Fossilized Fun

Have you ever tried to make a homemade fossil? Because that's just what we did this afternoon in natural science class (insert inquisitive stare about when we started this class). I apologize for not mentioning this educational addition earlier, so let me back up a little. Krysta and I really wanted to start a natural science class for kids in our community to combine our respective loves of science and the environment. We were conflicted when trying to decide when to hold it with two other very successful twice a week classes and eventually decided to make it an extension of Children's English for two major reasons: it's easier to retain foreign language vocabulary when it revolves around a theme and the most direct application of English here in Ecuador is eco-tourism, one of the fastest growing industries in the country.

Every Friday we combine the younger and older children's English classes into one large experimental hour of fun, and English vocabulary. Previous class topics have been mixing oil and water, focussing on how this affects our environment in terms of oil spills and other pollution, and a lesson on food chains and evolutionary adaptations. Today, our third lesson, was learning about how fossils are formed and making our own!

We spent the better part of last night (during bouts of procrastination towards writing quarterly reports) boiling partially rotting chicken carcasses to retrieve bones and making "clay" which consisted of flour, salt, cold coffee, and used coffee grinds. During this process we had to convince a few housemates, who will remain nameless, to refrain from eating our mixture and that it was not in fact crushed up Oreos.

We started the lesson by asking the kids to tell us what they know about fossils and helping us label fossil pictures with what kind of animal/plant/insect they thought it was. Afterwards we hid chicken bones, leaves and twigs in two tupperware containers of dirt for the kids to come up, find and dust off with paint brushes to provide an archeological feel. We then showed the kids how to make our artificial soil/clay and rolled out pieces for the kids for them to imprint their findings. Though some of the kids were a little grossed out by our artificial soil (one kid legitimately said "tengo ganas de vomitar") overall it was a big hit.

Future archeologists Kevin and Evelyn dig for fossils

Alejandra imprints her leaf carefully

Me and the kids showing off our masterpieces on the roof

Los fósiles left on the roof to transform into "rocks" in the sun

Krysta and I are really excited to continue developing this class as the year goes on. Though we like having our class attached to English, we hope to begin attracting other kids as well. We hope to build upon this foundation of interest in natural science to branch out into other environmental awareness projects. We also love the idea of introducing these children to ideas and experiments that they most likely aren't exposed to in school.

If you have any experiments or science lessons from your childhood that you remember being particularly fond of (ie: making tornadoes out of soda bottles...we're working on that, don't worry!) please feel free to comment or send me your suggestions!

Mil gracias,

Minga de Limpieza Comunitaria

This past Saturday marked our first Minga of the year.  (Minga |meen-gah|noun: an Ecuadorian word for people coming together to do a community service project)  

Nine PDs awoke at 6:45 a.m. to the smell of brewing coffee and a scramble to collect brooms, gloves, and as many trash bags as we could find.  Though we sleepily commuted into Rumiloma, we perked right up as we stepped off of the bus to find a dozen kids and parents already gathered in front of the library, ready to clean up their community.  As we split into groups to tackle the various neighborhood streets and sidewalks, we found many residents cleaning streets and sidewalks by their homes as well, asking us to borrow supplies.

Our neighbors, brushing up garbage from the drain pipes 

We spent the better part of 3 hours cleaning up around Rumiloma; my main job was to run around making sure everyone had enough trash bags, haul full bags back to the library, label them with kids' names and then weigh them to keep track of which kid collected the most, by volume.  By 11a.m. we had run out of bags (something I never thought would happen given the amount we stole from the house and wiped out of the library stash) and rounded up all of the kids in the library to tally the weight results, which are the following:

Total Combined Kids' Weight: 376.5 lbs 
Total Combined Profe's Weight: 70 lbs (plus Sarah's 2 tires)
Total Weight: 446.5 lbs 

Team Iori proudly showing off their loot 

A few notes about the weights: the profes had significantly less weight because we mostly helped the kids (we're not lazy, don't worry) and there was an estimate of 60-70 lbs not weighed that were left on street corners, where other residents were instructed to put their trash for pick up.  Though there were only 4 kids who got our grande sopresa, we dolled out lollipops to the other kids who answered our environmental quiz questions correctly and provided other refreshments for the families.  

Mike and Dana haul kids (and trash) from the plaza to the library

Lucia, Shawn, Erik and Bibi weighing the trash

The whole group in front of 450lbs. of collected trash!

Everyone helps throw trash bags into the truck

Some people question the sustainability of such an event, wondering if the streets will simply become riddled with garbage again a week later.  While that reality is more likely than not, clean-ups are a powerful tool for a number of reasons: they bring people together, engage them in a service dedicated to the area where they live, and quite frankly, after participating in something like picking up trash for house, you tend to think twice about dropping a candy wrapper onto the street.  

The event also opens the door for bigger projects.  There are two major trash issues in Rumiloma: burning household trash, mostly out of habit since there are reliable waste haulers now, and water contamination as a result of excessive litter and agricultural/livestock practices.  It is a priority of our environmental program here in Ecuador to tackle both issues in collaboration with USAID, FONAG (El Fondo de protección del agua), and most importantly, local leaders and organizations.   But I'm getting ahead of myself.. you'll have to wait to hear more about that in future posts!

Litter-less and feeling free (not really because quarterly reports are due next week!),