The Wonder of New

Today we kicked off Summer Session Two in true MPIE style; a big morning meeting, freshly baked banana bread, and a detailed run-through of the next 4 weeks. After getting the logistical stuff out of the way (typical greetings, safety guidelines, dress code, how to work the water filter, toilet paper rules, etc.) Dana, Eliah and Dunc led the summer vols on a tour of 'downtown' (term used lightly) Conocoto. Mark, Jos and I met the crew for lunch at Sazon de la Abuela, the nicest almuerzo restaurant we can walk to, before heading out to the library space together.

After walking through the different parts of the library and giving them a crash course in it's day to day functioning, we moved couches, beanbags, and office chairs into a small circle in the teen center and got comfortable for another, less formal talk.

As led by Bibi (our new country director who arrived Monday, did I forget to mention that? Don't worry, she'll get her own SERIES of posts she's that amazing), we started digging into some big topics: the reasons we participate in service, our motivations and intentions, hang-ups and successes, and overarching feelings on the entire concept of "community development". I found myself looking around at our group, made up of students from Brown, Middlebury, Vanderbilt and Georgetown (and a few in between which I've currently forgotten) with such a sense of pride and excitement. Here we were, having just met last night, all engaged in a discussion about grass-roots community organizing, the current Ecuadorian economic situation, and different stages of development. It's exciting to have new voices to add to the dialogue. New perspectives. New ideas. New Challenges.

Good things are going to happen with this group, I can feel it in my bones.


The Grand Opening

Almost two weeks ago something big happened in the lives of us Manna Ecuadorians: the day-long music festival celebrating the unveiling of our library. Perhaps because there was no pause before our 4th spring break group came, or because I've had writer's block, or maybe because it's taken me this long to process how big of a day it actually was, I haven't written about March 14 yet. Regardless of the reason, thank you for waiting patiently and letting me get away with just posting pictures in the meantime.

I think a lot of the delay has to do with the millions of details I had at my feet, each peering up at me with big doe eyes just begging to be written about here. Do I write about how Seth Harlan's radio interviews advertising the concert have made him a b-level Ecuadorian celebrity? Or what about the 20 minute interview Dunc gave about the whole process to a hand-held video camera who's operator struggled a little with knowing proper boundaries of personal space? Of course I couldn't leave out the part where 26 children under the age of 7, stuffed in the kid's corner and spilling out into the main space, set to work dismantling every puzzle we own. And then there was the dancing, have I even mentioned the dancing? With musical acts ranging from traditional Ecuadorian Folk to hard-core rap, to say the dancing styles shifted dramatically multiple times throughout the day might be understating it.

All that said, during the past week I've been ruminating on beginnings. Because of the library space we've met new neighbors, seen an encouraging increase in interest in all of our programs, and begun to have a real presence in the community we've worked so hard to connect with.

I can remember back in October, when Mark asked me to proofread a program proposal he'd just written up. It was for a lending library, a first in the Valley, and a dream we all witnessed come to fruition on March 14. Combine Mark's bold vision, Seth's passion for a teen center and uncanny ability to make friends with every Ecuadorian he comes into contact with, Dunc's persistence in tracking down every last library and book store in Ecuador (and getting them to give us huge discounts), and Manna's organizational dedication to connecting communities, and you end up with one unbelievable grand opening.

And I even get an art studio thrown in the mix. I mean, come on. How'd they pull that one off?


Barack and Roll

(Today's guest blog comes from Jocelyn Lancaster, and is a rumination on home and hope, change and pride. Enjoy!)

"Yesterday, we at MPIE spent one of the most historic days of our country's history well outside of its borders. Not only was the first African American U.S. president being sworn in, but the event marked the first real change in U.S. leadership during our politically conscious lives. The last time George W. Bush was not our president, I was 15 and way more preoccupied with tennis practice and geometry than foreign affairs and taxes. This particular shift, however, we have been following with scrutiny, from reading daily articles online to organizing and attending debate watching parties in Quito. Yesterday was significant in that we were all extremely aware of what this shift in power meant for us and for our country.

Dunc, Serena, Dana, Eliah, Mark, and I were able to go to a gringo restaurant in the Mariscal to watch the swearing in ceremony. It was PACKED with Americans. Even though most of us didn't know each other, a sense of unity and pride pulsed throughout the room as we listened to the resonation of Aretha Franklin's "America the Beautiful" and watched politically significant figures from both parties walk the grounds of Washington together, side by side.

I thought about how there must be pockets of U.S. ex-pats literally all around the world just like us, experiencing the same thing so far from home, and that even though I had no idea who or where these people were, we all have one thing in common.

Coming from such an amazing country makes experiences abroad even more special than they would be otherwise, because we feel secure that no matter where we go or what we desire to see, America the Beautiful will still be there waiting for us when we choose to return. And that though things do change, the values that our country is built upon, and the people within it, remain steady. Because of this, the American dream stretches to all ends of the Earth as its citizens venture out to try to make a difference beyond its borders and to experience new and exciting things.

If you know where you come from, you know where you have potential to go. I know for a fact that where I come from has directly influenced the things I have been able to do here in our little community south of the equator. Our programs and projects are a direct reflection of the ideals instilled in us by the United States, and by all of our supporters back home. Yup, that means you : )


(keeping up to date with inauguration day online)

Si se puede...

Tonight, as we watched history unfold in a little bar named Mulligan's, in the middle of Quito, thousands of miles away from the places we sent our absentee ballots, none of us could hide our smiles or our tears as we joined with Ecuadorians in adding our voices to Obama's refrain, "Yes we can"... "Si, se puede."

"...we've been warned against offering people of this nation false hope. But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope."