Your Spanish-speaking ability should NOT be a concern

By: Kate Clendenen

At Manna Project, we believe that everyone should have the opportunity to volunteer in Latin America, regardless of one’s Spanish proficiency. Volunteers of all levels of Spanish language abilities have worked and thrived at our sites. You will be able to experience all Manna Project has to offer no matter where you are in your Spanish, as long as you are willing to step outside your comfort zone and practice. We understand that a concern for potential or incoming volunteers may be speaking Spanish. We also realize that those who are already skilled Spanish speakers may not understand how coming to Ecuador could positively impact their Spanish. Therefore, as an effort to address these considerations, I’ve interviewed some of our Program Directors to give you the chance to learn from their experiences.

Gaby - Starting Level: Beginner

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1. What was your Spanish like when you arrived?

I would definitely use the term “nonexistent”. I had never taken a formal Spanish class in school before or anything.

2. How did it feel to use your Spanish during the first week of being here?

It was really stressful at first because I didn’t know how to speak and couldn’t understand a single person. There was a really big learning curve--I relied on my fellow Program Directors a lot!

3. What was the biggest obstacle you faced, with regard to your Spanish use, during your first few weeks in Ecuador?

I mean, pretty much everything presented some sort of obstacle or challenge because I didn’t have any Spanish skills!

4. Can you share any funny or embarrassing Spanish fail moments?

In the beginning of the semester, when I was teaching my first kids’ English class, I learned the phrase “ojos por aca” which means “eyes over here”, but when I tried to use it for the first time I accidentally said “hojas por aca” which means “papers over here”. Right after I said the words, suddenly all the kids started walking up to me and handing me their papers. I was so confused.

5. How long did it take you to start feeling more confident in your Spanish?

It definitely took me a good few months. If I had to guess, I would say it took me more than 4 months to feel confident. However, it took me less time to start having a little fun with it. It stopped stressing me out a couple months in because I just came to accept where my Spanish was.

6. How would you describe your Spanish now?

I would say I’m probably at an intermediate level. I have high hopes for continuing to improve, but I’m still pretty proud of where I am now when I consider that I started out knowing NOTHING.

7. Can you describe a moment in which you remember recognizing how greatly your Spanish improved?

When I first started teaching my kids class I felt so bad because I couldn’t understand their questions so it was really a struggle. But by the middle of the quarter, I was finally able to understand and answer the questions with relative ease.

8. What advice do you have for people that plan to come to Ecuador with regard to their Spanish usage?

The only way to improve is to put yourself out there and really spend time with Ecuadorians. That is truly the only way that my Spanish improved. You also have to realize that people here want to learn English just as much as you want to learn Spanish. Our community members also really love helping you improve, so there is no reason to feel embarrassed. It helps a lot once you start to really keep that in mind.

9. What is the Spanish phrase you say the most often?

Chuta! It is the Ecuadorian version of “shoot” and it also usually gets a laugh out of the locals when they hear me using it.

Kelly - Starting Level: Intermediate

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1. What was your Spanish like when you arrived?

It had been about 7 years since I had taken my last Spanish class, but my Spanish was fine. It was mainly my confidence that held me back.

2. How did it feel to use your Spanish during the first week of being here?

I actually enjoyed knowing that I would have ample opportunity to practice my Spanish. I chose to live in a Spanish-speaking country for a reason. However, I will admit that I still got nervous, especially in one-on-one Spanish conversations.

3. What was the biggest obstacle you faced, with regard to your Spanish use, during your first few weeks in Ecuador?

I was at a level of Spanish where I was constantly aware of the mistakes that I was making but, at the same time, there was nothing I could do in the moment to correct it--I just didn’t know those rules. Still, it was nice because I quickly came to realize the gaps in my knowledge which gave me the chance focus on improving those areas specifically.

4. Can you share any funny or embarrassing Spanish fail moments?

Often times, I won’t understand what someone is saying to me in Spanish. Then they’ll ask me a question in the middle of the conversation and it isn’t a yes or no question but my default is just to say “Uh-huh sí”--I always get a funny look back.

5. How long did it take you to start feeling more confident in your Spanish?

I would estimate two months to three months max.

6. How would you describe your Spanish now?

I would say that I am approaching a more advanced level. I also know what I need to do to take it to the next level, it’s just a matter of prioritization.

7. Can you describe a moment in which you remember recognizing how greatly your Spanish improved?

A mother of a child taking our English classes would hang out at our Community Center to chat with me while she waited for her daughter’s class to end. She was really interested in getting to know me so our conversations would run pretty long. When we first started having these conversations, I used to get pretty nervous because it took a lot of effort on my part to string together the right words. After a while, though, I remember there was this one time where I was speaking much more quickly and the words were coming out with a lot less effort. Even the mother made a point to tell me that she noticed my Spanish was really improving!

8. What advice do you have for people that plan to come to Ecuador with regard to their Spanish usage?

When you’re out in public--on the bus or in the grocery store, for example--it’s easy to tune out the Spanish because understanding it doesn’t come easily. I would highly recommend fighting this habit to take the easy route. It really helps to consciously make an effort to understand what people are saying--take notice of the tone and pronunciation. Think outside the box in terms of learning opportunities because there are way more than you would expect that present themselves every day.  

9. What is the Spanish phrase you say the most often?

Nos vemos! It means “see you later”. It is always handy to have a nice way of saying goodbye.

Abigale - Starting Level: Advanced

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1. What was your Spanish like when you arrived?

It was actually pretty good! I took Spanish classes in high school and undergrad. When I arrived to Ecuador, I had just finished a 5-month trip in Mexico where I took college-level classes that were taken by local Mexican college students and taught entirely in Spanish. I’d had a lot of practice.

2. How did it feel to use your Spanish during the first week of being here?

I felt fine, but it was a little rocky at first because I was familiar with a different dialect of Spanish.

3. What was the biggest obstacle you faced, with regard to your Spanish use, during your first few weeks in Ecuador?

A lot of the words I used were incorrect because Spanish dialects vary a lot more than I expected! Even with my level of experience with Spanish, I still found myself saying quite a few things slightly incorrectly.

4. Can you share any funny or embarrassing Spanish fail moments?

I would say my most common, recurring fail moment is calling kids “usted”. For those of you who are not familiar, there are two ways of saying “you” in Spanish: “Tu” is the informal way and that’s how you refer to friends or people who are younger than you. “Usted” is how you refer to elders or to strangers who you want to be polite to.  Sometimes when I am trying to reprimand a kid in class I will accidentally call them usted, which immediately causes my words to land less effectively.

5. How long did it take you to start feeling more confident in your Spanish?

A couple weeks because, like I said, I’d been in Mexico for 5 months prior to my role with Manna so I mainly just had to adjust my dialect.

6. How would you describe your Spanish now?

It’s great! I’m really happy with how things are progressing! It’s really cool to be familiar with two different dialects.

7. Can you describe a moment in which you remember recognizing how greatly your Spanish improved?

Well, when I was in Mexico, I got really good at formal Spanish because that was the kind of Spanish we used in the college classes I was taking. Since being here, I have greatly improved in my more casual Spanish. I think a moment when I realized this was one night when I was out with friends in Quito and I had a long conversation with a native Ecuadorian friend. The slang and informal sentence structures were were coming to me pretty effortlessly. I remember noticing that I was able enjoy the conversation more because I felt like my Spanish was at the right level which allowed my friend and I to connect more naturally.

8. What advice do you have for people that plan to come to Ecuador with regard to their Spanish usage?

Take notice of the phrases that are common and practice using them yourself. This will enable you to connect with community members in a language style that they actually use rather than something you got from a book.  

9. What is the Spanish phrase you say the most often?

Mande? This is the Ecuadorian version of saying “Excuse me?” or “What was that?” It has saved me a lot when I don’t quite understand what someone is saying to me! It is also cool because a lot of Spanish-speaking countries use “Como?” but “mande” is more unique to Ecuador.

Fundraising 101 from a current Program Director

By: Kelly Teshima-McCormick, 13-month Ecuador Program Director, 2018-2019

The task of raising money can be daunting. Throw in a lack of experience and the goal of $9,100 and it can feel impossible. But with the right mindset, determination and a little creativity, attacking this task can be a little easier than you might expect.

I am by no means an expert or even a “good” fundraiser, but sharing my experience thus far with raising money for myself and for Manna Project might help those who are struggling with where to even start. Please keep in mind that the following steps, challenges, successes and suggestions are all from my personal experience with fundraising as a newbie.

Step 1

First, I created a fundraising page using the platform Mightycause, as suggested by Manna Project because it is the platform that Manna Project itself uses. Plus, by linking my page with that of Manna Project’s, I was able to show and tell potential donors that their money would be directed towards Manna Project, versus to a personal account of mine.

Step 2

I then shared my fundraising page with friends and family via email, text, phone calls, and Facebook. I chose not to share in a post to my Instagram account because that is not how I use that form of social media (although I did utilize the “story” option for another fundraiser).

  • Challenge #1- At first, I received positive support from friends and family, but didn’t see much of that support in the form of a donation. How could I turn friends’ “likes” and comments into dollars and cents on my fundraising page? I understand that many of my friends are just getting into their careers or are figuring it out, so they don’t have a lot of extra cash lying around. Some approaches included asking friends to share my posts with their network on Facebook, granting a “Tokyo experience” for each donation over $25 and reminding friends that literally any dollar amount makes a difference. (At the time, I was living in Tokyo, Japan and gave people the option of sending three “experiences,” such as eating a certain food, visiting a certain place, etc., and for each donation over $25, I promised to complete one of their requests. This was not successful, but worth a shot.) 

  • Challenge #2- With emailing family members, I was nervous because I felt a bit awkward asking for money from people I may not have seen or talked to in a while. Add to that some family friends who are part of the family listserv, and it can feel even more awkward. But raising money and awareness for Manna Project, as well as fulfilling the financial obligation as a Program Director, is more important than a slight feeling of uneasiness.

  • Success #1- Casting such a wide net was helpful because even though I didn’t get responses from everyone, I still reached several family members (and friends whom I have yet to meet). You never know who is willing to donate and who is interested in learning about Manna Project. Now, I am focusing on following up with those who donated, keeping them engaged with what I am doing. I have a blog that talks about my time in Ecuador and with Manna Project, but I would like to explore different ways to maintain their interest and support.  

Step 3

Aside from direct donations, I hosted two events and sold t-shirts.

  • Success #2- My first event actually took place in Tokyo, where I was living until I came to Ecuador. I hosted a bake sale outside of the language school I volunteered at. Bake sales are not common in Japan and the school was not in a high-traffic area, but I created a flyer with information in both English and Japanese, cards with links to my blog and fundraising page, and sold sweets at both language school locations. I also left a donation box at one of the sites that had information about me, Manna, and why this work is important. I was incredibly lucky to have such a supportive staff at the language school, to provide me the space and advertisement that I needed. Several parents told me that they were interested in me and the cause because volunteering abroad is not something that they would even think about; it’s not a common thought in Japan. They liked having the opportunity to talk to their children about the challenges that other kids and communities in the world are facing.

  • Challenge #3- Next, I organized a happy hour fundraising event in Oakland, California. The main challenge with this event was finding food and prize donations. After moving out of Japan, I only had three weeks back in the United States before I had to leave for Ecuador and just a week and a half before my event. Organizing an event while in another country is not easy, as securing donations from local restaurants and businesses is much easier (and sometimes only done) in person.

    With little time to go to places in person, finding a restaurant to donate food to the event was very difficult. I ended up buying food myself. So my suggestion for hosting an event is to contact businesses early. I found that a few restaurants were interested in donating food, as it is something they often do, but they needed more notice than a week.

  • Success #3- But securing prize donations went well! I created and printed a sheet with information about me, Manna Project, and the event and handed it out to several local businesses. Going into places in person is key; it is the reason why I was able to secure donations, such as free movie tickets and restaurant gift certificates.

  • Success #4 -At my event, I also held a trivia game with categories such as Oakland, sports and Ecuador. Participants paid to play and the winner received a prize. I also had a raffle at the event, which allowed me to raise more money during the event. These were simple, low-cost ways to further raise money outside of the ticket sales to the happy hour itself (which is why securing prize donations was extremely helpful).

  • Success #5- At the event, I also promoted at t-shirt that a friend had designed. We used Custom Ink’s fundraising option, which was great because there are no costs lost to the fundraiser if shirts aren’t sold. Once you sell a certain number of t-shirts, you start to earn money. This means that you don’t have to worry about purchasing the t-shirts yourself and hoping to sell them all in order to make money. Everything is done online, so getting the link out to people is very important. But this was also a challenge. 

  • Challenge #4- Several friends expressed interest in buying the t-shirt, but because they needed to buy online, they weren’t always ready with their credit card when I’d send a reminder text about the buying window closing (I chose to have the t-shirt available for four weeks, the maximum). Easily fixed by getting up and grabbing their wallet, this challenge is common among young people, so figuring out a way to get people to the virtual checkout line without being pushy will lead to more success in this kind of effort. Despite a lower-than-expected turnout, I think the t-shirt sale was a success and I hope to design and sell another product soon.

The bottom line

Overall, my main suggestion for fundraising is to start early. Ask local businesses, friends, and family members for support and donations as soon as you can! If I was able to find some success with my short amount of time back in the United States, I’m sure you will also find success in your fundraising efforts.

You Are Invited to the Quarterly Impact Call

Who: You!

What: Quarterly Impact Call

Where: On your phone, tablet, or computer

Why: The Quarterly Impact Call is an opportunity to hear updates on the programs and people
that mean the most to you. Connect with in-country and U.S. staff as we answer your questions
and share MPI's strategic vision for the upcoming quarter. 

When: February 16 @ 8:00 PM EST
Sign up:

Name *
Phone *

Thank you!

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year from everyone at MPI!

important Dates in 2017:

January 25: Summer Internship application deadline

February 1: Program Director application deadline

February 16 @ 8:00 PM EST: Quarterly Impact Call
The Quarterly Impact Call is a chance for you to hear the latest site updates from in-country staff and receive updates on the programs and communities that mean the most to you. Staff will be available to answer your questions and share strategic plans for the upcoming quarter. 

Sign up to receive call details:

Name *
Phone *

Thank you!

The 12 Gifts of 2016

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you!

Starting today, families across Latin America will celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas. The season will conclude on January 6th, Three Kings’ Day, when children will jump from their beds in search of a special gift.

In honor of this tradition, you are invited to join Manna Project in remembering the 12 most meaningful gifts of 2016. What are these incredible gifts? Hint: you are one of them! 

Today we begin a journey through “The Twelve Days of Manna." Each day, you'll find a "gift" posted here. The final gift will be posted the morning of January 6th, just as families are waking up to celebrate Three Kings' Day. 

You are the reason 2016 was so amazing - thank you for serving with Manna Project!

Thank you!

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Carissa Chen
Nicaragua Program Director, 2015-2016

The first gift of 2016 is...

The Power of Love on #GivingTuesday

What is the real power of love?

We asked Huey Lewis and The News:


Did you press play yet? Do! (Then Come back...)

In the 4 minutes it takes to play this song, YOU have the power to send love straight to the heart of communities in need. It's #GivingTuesday, an international day of giving back. When you give today, your donation will be DOUBLED. There are two ways to send love today:

Manna Project volunteers are hosting Facebook fundraisers today on behalf of the projects that are close to their hearts. You can support one of these projects, or choose your own at the GivingTuesday page. All fundraisers will be eligible for matching funds.

Sending lots of love your way today and every day - 

Summer Internship Applications Due

The next summer intern application deadline is November 18th. 

Summer Interns live alongside other young leaders and community members, and are fully integrated into the daily functions of Manna Project’s work on the ground. Weeks are spent collaborating with staff to plan and facilitate programs, while weekends are for exploring. As the days progress, you will develop an understanding of long-term development goals and their implementation.

This unique internship program is designed to create the most impactful experience for you and the communities you’ll serve. Summer Interns are equipped and inspired to continue their work in a variety of career fields, including international development and the greater non-profit sector. Many Summer Interns return to Manna Project as Program Directors in following years.

Summer 2017:

  • Session 1: May - June, 4 Weeks

  • Session 2: June - July, 4 Weeks

  • Both Sessions: May - July, 8 Weeks

Begin your journey here:

Looking for a more in-depth international development experience? MPI's Program Directors spend 5, 7 or 13 months on site.

Sign Up for More Info

Name *

My time spent with Manna Project International has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I developed incredible relationships and made memories that I will cherish forever. Part of me will always be involved.
— Javier, MPI Program Director

Visiting Nicaragua During the Lacrosse the Nations Cup

Getting Involved as a Parent

Ever since her son, Dan Lewis, came to Nicaragua as a Program Director, Dr. Liz Herr has actively supported many of MPI's programs and initiatives. In this blog, she shares some of the ways that she was able to get involved as a parent and help raise awareness about the work her son was doing.

Eleven months ago, we said goodbye to our son Dan at the Denver airport as he headed out for a year as a Manna Project International (MPI) Program Director in Nicaragua. Dan also directs programs with MPI's partner organization Lacrosse the Nations (LtN).

Lacrosse the Nations uses lacrosse in PE and after school programs to teach nutrition, health, self-esteem, life skills and the value of education. Through the LtN Scholars program, students can also receive educational support, coaching opportunities, and university scholarships.

Over the next few months, as we learned more and saw Dan becoming more passionate about MPI and partner organization Lacrosse the Nations (LtN), my husband Fred and I found ourselves wanting to find ways to support the programs. One of the most fun ways we’ve done this has been to lend our support to the annual LtN Cup.

As part of his duties as a Program Director with Lacrosse the Nations, Dan is heavily involved in organizing the LtN Cup. The Cup is a 5 v 5 tournament held annually as a competition and way to share and connect the two LtN programs in Nicaragua - Chiquilistagua and Club Hope. It is also LtN’s biggest fundraiser of the year, supporting LtN programs and providing vital funds for MPI's Cedro Galán Medical Clinic.

Fundraising is done by posting a picture of each player on the LtN website and allowing supporters to pledge funds in one or more player’s name. The goal is to have $100 in pledges for each player by tournament time. Fred and I got into the spirit of the event. We made a pledge ourselves and we also spread the word to friends, relatives, co-workers, neighbors, the sports teams our sons had played on, local lacrosse shops and literally anybody else we could think of. We had planned to take a trip to Nicaragua during Dan’s year there, and we managed to schedule our trip to coincide with the tournament. So, as added incentive, I was able to promise any of my friends who would donate that I would take an action shot of the player they had supported email it to them.

People were very receptive to hearing about the organizations and the tournament. Some donated, some didn’t, but we had fun, and in addition to drumming up sponsors it allowed us to introduce LtN and Manna Project to many of our friends and acquaintances.

Because we felt like we had a tiny part in it, it was fun to anticipate the tournament and to be excited as the coaches and players got closer to their fundraising goal. Actually being able to attend the LtN Cup last November was a wonderful bonus. It was great to meet LtN directors Javier and Norman, all the Manna Project Program Directors, and the coaches who had worked so hard on the tournament. But the highlight was watching the kids play lacrosse.  Equipment is a bit scarce and worn, and there aren’t fancy uniforms, but the players were remarkably skilled. We were impressed by their effort, determination, and teamwork. There was laughter, a few tears and to top it off the championship game was exciting until the very end!

There are many ways to support Manna Project:

  • You can help meet the needs of one of the critically undernourished children in the Child Sponsorship program.
  • Choose your favorite team in the annual Cedro Galan 5k. Women in the community head up the teams and recruit running participants, aiming to promote and celebrate health as well as raising money for the clinic.
  • If you are into lacrosse, organize a “Scoop for Loot” or “Mini-Jam."  
  • See if your company has a matching donations program.
  • Select Manna Project as your charity of choice on Amazon Smile.
  • Search the internet with GoodSearch.
  • Or come up with your own way to support Manna Project, and enjoy!

MPI Nicaragua Country Director Receives Gillings Merit Scholarship

MPI Nicaragua Country Director Christina Palazzo has received the prestigious Gillings Merit Scholarship from the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health. The Gillings Scholarship is awarded to select graduate students who show exceptional promise and potential.

The Gillings Merit Scholarship will allow me to gain up-to-date knowledge I can put into practice immediately in my work in Nicaragua.
— Christina Palazzo

Christina is currently pursuing a distance-based Masters in Public Health at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, the top public school of public health (US News & World Report, 2016). Christina is part of the Public Health Leadership Program, which prepares leaders with skills to assess community health needs and develop new policies and programs to address those needs.

Christina’s research focuses on mosquito-borne illnesses and community-based preventative initiatives in under-resourced countries in Latin America, as well as the socio-economic factors that contribute to mosquito-borne diseases. Her research is particularly relevant due to the maternal and pediatric health effects of the current Zika outbreak. “I am passionate about finding community-based solutions for health issues affecting vulnerable populations in Latin America,” Christina said. “The Gillings Merit Scholarship will allow me to gain up-to-date knowledge I can put into practice immediately in my work in Nicaragua.”

Christina Palazzo, MPI Nicaragua Country Director

Christina Palazzo, MPI Nicaragua Country Director

This research is highly relevant for MPI’s work in Nicaragua, where mosquito-borne illnesses including Dengue fever, Chikungunya virus, and Zika virus impact tens of thousands of people each year. 

Although these illnesses impact individuals from all socioeconomic backgrounds, the burden tends to be highest among poorer communities with limited access to clean water, solid waste infrastructure, and where conditions are most favorable for mosquito breeding. Due to these factors, the communities MPI serves in Nicaragua are at particularly high risk for mosquito-borne illnesses. Christina's research will help us to better equip clinic staff and further educate community members about ways they can protect themselves. Christina will graduate in December 2017.

You can read the Gilling School's announcement here.

Congratulations, Christina!

We are so grateful for your dedication to the health of at-risk communities!

The prevalence of Zika virus has led to a sharp increase in patient numbers at MPI's clinics in Nicaragua. Your donation has an immediate impact for communities in need of health care. Please donate today!