Chau, Ecuador! You are in good hands.

As I write this, I am sitting in my room listening to voices in the office downstairs: the 2011-2012 Program Director team is preparing to head off to the library, where they yesterday began our annual summer camp, and suddenly we 2010-2011 PDs are obsolete.  We have been tying up final duties over the past couple of weeks, and now Manna Project International, Ecuador, is in new hands. 

New PDs introducing themselves: Charlie, Taylor, Rachel, Emily, Nicole, and Heather! 
Two Saturdays ago we held a Bienvenida / Despedida at the library to introduce the new group of PDs and to say our goodbyes to the community that has welcomed us with open arms and has truly been there for us as both an organization as well as individuals over the past year.  Now in a surreal state of departure, I am finding it hard to believe that Rumiloma is soon to be a town and a community far, far away. 

But perhaps my denial at leaving is because in many ways it won’t be far away.  All of us PDs have spent this year working in both group and individual capacities, and we will have many shared as well as many entirely personal memories that we will carry with us for the rest of our lives.  We have each gotten close to different members of this community, be it via our classes or our partner organizations or from origins much more difficult to trace (how did we meet Nelson from the ferreteria, anyway?).  Though we will scatter and no longer use our email addresses, we will carry bits and pieces of Rumiloma and our beloved Manna centro with us.  

With this final post, I turn the Open Hands, Dirty Feet blog over to Heather and Watkins for the next year.  Have fun with it, guys!  

Brock and Luke with Laura, their agriculture partner and friend.
Jack and kids who love to tease him.
Thank you to all of our readers and continued supporters over the last year!  We are deeply appreciative of you and hope you continue to support us through this blog in the year to come!  I know I will.

¡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!    

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!

the beginning after the end

Everyone keeps asking what I'm going to miss most when I go home. After a number of things come into my head - the Andes, public transportation, Magnum bars - nothing strikes me as much as how much I'm going to miss the people I've grown close to. Manna's anthem is 'communities helping communities,' the latter referring to the six communities we work in and the former, and most important to me, the community we worked hard to form amongst the ten of us.

Working in Rumiloma has shaped me in more ways than I can count: I learned how to upkeep an organic garden, how to teach someone to read in a foreign language, what it means to understand and value a culture completely different than my own. Even though I have the utmost confidence for our PD successors, it is indescribably difficult to say goodbye to MPI. What's been equally difficult is watching all of my housemates leave for the states, one by one. And so, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank them individually.

To Mike for his open-mindedness; to Erik for his daily bear hugs; to Haley for her compassion; to Sonia for her contagious humor; to Chet for his quick-wit; to Shawn for her adventurousness; to Sarah for her organizational leadership; to Krysta for her spirit, and last but absolutely not least, to Bibi for her patience, guidance, and unfailing, diplomatic leadership. Thank all of you for helping me feel comfortable in a foreign country, accomplish my personal and professional goals this year, and for helping me grow into who I am leaving Manna and moving into the future.

I also would like to thank all of you you so much for your dedication this year. Without your support, none of what we do would be possible. Since visuals do a much better job at summing up this past year than I ever could, please enjoy my version of 'the year in pictures' followed by the Despedida/Bienvenida slideshow we screened last week to say goodbye to our beloved community members.

A twilight view of our beautiful home city of Quito

All decked out for summer camp field trips

Water balloon toss at our January Celebration

Paola shows off her work during Art class

Bibi reads to Samantha and Ronny

Chester Polson, ladies man through and through

The graduates of the Alimentate Ecuador Nutrition Class

There is nothing I will miss more than family dinners...

Two of our favorite teens, Joseph and Carlos, atop Ilalo

Los Profes de MPI 2009-2010

Trying to keep it together as Bibi speaks at the Despedida

Forever in our hearts, Ecuador

Qué vive los años siguientes (to the years to come),