Things that made us smile this week

Davis playing Jenga with Janice and Arexa

Maggie and Henry

This past weekend, Fiona shared her most recent blog post, titled “Things that made me smile this week.” After reading her post, several of us in the Manna House were inspired to write similar blogs and emails for our friends and family. The idea is a great one, and helps to explain what makes our work so meaningful here in the communities of Cedro Galan, Chiquilistagua, and La Chureca. Together we’ve compiled a list of experiences that made each of us smile this past week. I thought I’d save some for our next blog post, so stay tuned for more smiles to come!

Things that made us smile this week:

· Randomly running into one of our teen English students, Francisco, at the market on my way to catch a bus, and him actually being excited to see us. –Fiona

· An amazing mother helping her three year old daughter to start learning English, by attending class with her and practicing outside of class as well. –Fiona

· Hearing Lesther, a two-year-old in our child sponsorship program in La Chureca, laugh for the first time. –Fiona

· Realizing that FOIL (an acronym we learned in high school algebra) doesn’t translate to Spanish, and deciding to use a sandwich as an analogy for binomial multiplication. While finding the product of binomials, Jose Antonio, my math student, now mutters “Here is the bread, here is the lunch meat…” –Sam

· The incredible drawings that 14-year-old Samuel makes after math and literacy and lets me take home. Samuel has dropped out of school for the semester and suffers from low self-esteem, so it’s great to see him create something he’s proud of. –Sam

· When our previously unruly girls soccer team responds super well to direction, and doesn’t complain about running suicides! –Sam

· Receiving a drawing of myself and Aydel holding hands. Aydel is a mentally handicapped boy in the community who is 16-years-old and I work with him on learning the alphabet and numbers. He can understand most everything when you talk to him but has a very difficult time saying anything. –Carrie

· Watching the women in exercise class dance Zumba to Shakira’s “Waka Waka” and having the 3-year-old children imitate us! –Carrie

· Singing the weather song with my kid’s English class. (“What’s the weather? What’s the weather? What’s the weather like today? Is it sunnyyy, is it rainyyy, is it cloudyyy, out today!”) –Carrie

· Last week, Davis and I walked home with one of my Kids English students, Norlan. We realized that he walks one hour each way just to come to Farito English classes twice a week. We got a chance to meet his mom and I told her what a great student he is. He was so proud and was grinning from ear to ear. I am so thankful for students like Norlan! –Christin

· Watching Ariel from our loan program making cinderblocks using materials he bought with our loan; also meeting his family and getting to know him better. –Matt

· Hearing from Alejandro that the other students in his math class ask him for help with polynomial expressions—the subject we've been working on for the past few weeks. –Matt

Community Spotlight

Laura Zelaya 

“I wouldn’t have this store today if it wasn’t for Manna Project,” says Laura Zelaya as she begins to tell the story of her nearly eight year long relationship with MPI.  “Manna Project gave me confidence. They showed me that I could do something besides cooking and cleaning, that I could run a business.”

Laura Zelaya awakes at 5:30 every morning to prepare breakfast for her husband and daughter as they get ready for work and school, and often does not rest her head until 11 at night.  In certain ways, her days are similar to those of many Nicaraguan women – full of cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, and taking care of her family.  But unlike most of her peers, Laura’s daily life includes very welcome interruptions:  calls of “Buenas!” from a steady stream of neighbors coming to buy soda, snacks, and toilet paper from the small store (venta) that Laura runs out of her house.

Laura first became acquainted with the organization through Kathy and Halle August, independent missionaries who own the two community centers in Chiquilistagua and Cedro Galan in which MPI holds programs.  She had petitioned fiercely (and successfully) to get her only daughter, Laurita, into the Augusts’ preschool, even though Laurita was a few months shy of the minimum age.   Lori Scharffenberg, one of the founders and current executive director of MPI, was a preschool teacher at the time, and developed a strong bond with Laurita. Despite her family’s close relationship with Lori and the successful children’s programs MPI ran in the community, Laura was a bit skeptical of the help that MPI could provide to help lift families out of poverty.  At the time, her family lived in a tiny, one-room house, and survived solely on Laura’s income as a housekeeper, as her husband was unable to find work in construction.  So, a few years later, when MPI started a microfinance and business development program, Laura made the life-changing decision to attend the first class.

In the microfinance program, Laura learned the structure of a sound business plan, the basics of accounting, and the expectations of loan repayment.   She won a loan to start selling clothes within the community, and her career business took off.  As the sole breadwinner in her family, she kept her daughter well nourished and clothed, and she still beams when talking about her proudest moment: the day that she was able to buy a new door for her house.  Laura also became part of an initiative developed  by two MPI Program Directors that encouraged local women to become seamstresses.  

She and her sister-in-law sewed aprons and bags, which they sold to visiting volunteer groups for a profit of $5 apiece.   Laura went to work in a local store when this program ended, but eventually felt she was not receiving enough pay for her work.   She began selling helados (homemade ice cream) and enchiladas out of her house in order to supplement her income.  Very slowly, she started saving money and developing a business plan for her own store.  Over the past year, Laura’s store has flourished.  Combined with her husband’s income from construction, the family has been able to expand their house.  Although the organization did not provide a loan for her current business, Laura credits MPI with giving her the knowledge, inspiration and drive to start her own store.  She also thanks MPI for instilling a love of learning in her now 10 year-old daughter, who has taken literacy and math classes with MPI and is one of the most dedicated students in its English program.

Laura, an outgoing and patient woman, constantly shows her gratitude to MPI by helping new Program Directors learn Spanish and welcoming them into her home.  As her store grows, she hopes to give back to the community by serving as an example of success for others who are starting businesses.

maddie reports

In The Manna House-

Two new Program Directors arrived: Kyle and Josh (another Josh! Who would have thought). They're absolutely splendid and have fit into our Manna family perfectly. Both are intelligent, enthusiastic, patient, kind, and most of all…they're boys! Let me tell you, evening out the gender ratio in this house has definitely made everyone happier. Too many girls can get a little catty sometimes.

I kid you not, MILLIONS of fire ants attacked our house twice about a week and a half ago. We think the boys might have disturbed a colony while creating their "man cave" in our unused garage (don't ask, I have no idea), and as a result the ant army retaliated. If anyone is interested, you can kill them with the following: boiling water, water + bleach, or fire. I don't recommend the last option.

As I've mentioned, we have two rottweilers, mother and son. The son may or may not have gotten mumsy pregnant when she last went into heat. Another word of advice: it is pointless to try to keep rottweilers in heat apart, because they will inevitably find a way to be together. We're still waiting to find out if she's pregnant… if not, we're getting her spayed asap.

In Programs-

Microfinance: after reviewing our applications and conducting interviews, Mary Rose and I have decided to hand out five $150 loans and one $100 loan. They'll be making payments twice a month, and each date that a payment is due we will have a meeting with all the participants to discuss how their businesses are doing, offer encouragement, strengthen relationships and friendships, etc. I'm very excited about this program and hope everything will go well!

Creative Arts: Emily and I have decided to make the next 3-4 months "country" themed, and this time we are sticking to our themes! February is Nicaragua month, March is Costa Rica, and April is Ecuador (the location of our sister MPI site). Ecuador might leak into early May, but our summer volunteers are arriving May 12 and will be entrusted with planning from then on out. We're pretty excited about this date. Also, we've realized that the children behave better when doing arts and crafts as opposed to "rehearsing" skits.

Intermediate English: Kyle has come on board with me, which has been a great help. We now tend to divide the class into two groups and thus get more work done/offer more individual attention. My students are getting a little rowdy, and I might have to soon give them the "I do all this for you please respect me or don't come to class" speech… though I'll probably use nicer words. In any case, they're progressing well and have already learned 3 new vocabulary lists.

Child Sponsorship: I've decided to step down from this position, as I wasn't contributing much to the program and wanted more time to plan my other classes/catch up on other work. However, I still manage to make it to La Chureca once a week/every two weeks and maintain my relationships there. We also went to a presentation at Casa Ben Linder today, wherein several Churecan children talked about their new organization (they do radio bites) and passed around photos of their barrio. Needless to say, we MPI people new at least 70% of the people that appeared in the photos. Guess we're doing our job pretty well!

Community survey: Mary Rose and I are about to conduct a community survey on Manna and how community members view us as an organization. This is the first time that Manna has internally conducted a survey like this and we're very excited about conducting it and compiling the results.