Friends and Family

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. 

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Parent Series: Exploring Nicaraguan Cuisine

After his son, Dan Lewis, came to Nicaragua as a 13-month Program Director, Dr. Fred Lewis and his wife, Dr. Liz Herr, came down to visit - twice! In addition to participating in many of MPI's programs, they also had the chance to travel throughout Nicaragua and experience much of what this beautiful country has to offer. In this blog, Dr. Lewis shares some of his favorite Nicaraguan foods and restaurants. Bon appetit!

Exploring Nicaraguan Food

Nicaraguan food has Spanish, Creole and indigenous influences. It is simple, fresh and, a bit to our surprise, we found it to be fantastic. We enjoyed a number of traditional dishes.  


photo source: Wikipedia

photo source: Wikipedia

Plantains are found just about everywhere in Nicaragua. Dan introduced us to the three different ways plantains can be prepared. Very ripe plantains are sweet and can be sautéed into maduros. Tajadas are “potato chip”-like plantains. You will find them packaged and sold in grocery stores, gas stations and sometimes as street food. My favorite were tostones, especially tostones con queso. Green plantain slices are fried then topped with a slightly salty queso or Nicaraguan cheese.

Gallo Pinto

Gallo pinto is a staple in Nicaragua. Beans and rice are cooked separately then combined, sometimes with onion or garlic. Gallo pinto is hearty, cheap, and really delicious. Just about everyone (including the Manna Project Program Directors) has gallo pinto for, or with, all three meals.


Corn is also a staple and used for everything from tortillas to a sweet drink called chichi de maiz. Our driver introduced us to quesillos—the very best ones found in a roadside shop in Nagarote—a blend of cheese, cream, picked onion, and vinegar wrapped in a corn tortilla. Traditionally, quesillos are served in a plastic bag and consumed by biting off the corner of the bag and eating/drinking the contents.

Fresh Fruit

Fresh fruit is abundant and delicious, including bananas, mango, pineapple, papaya, and some others we didn’t recognize. Dragon fruit is pink and spiny and jocotes look a little like cherry tomatoes.


Nicaragua is also very well-known for its coffee. Here I am standing on a mound of coffee beans at Finca Magdalena on Isla de Ometepe.


Nicaragua is encouraging tourism in the hope of joining its wealthier neighbor Costa Rica as a travel destination. If you are lucky enough to visit, here is a little restaurant advice:

Favorite Dishes

Although not a part of most Nicaraguan’s daily diet, we found the beef in restaurants to be extremely good. Churrasco, a spicy grilled steak, would be worth going out of your way for.  Fresh fish is abundant and fantastic. We enjoyed many of our meals accompanied by Tona, the local beer, which is kept ultra-ice-cold, a wonderful contrast on very hot days.

In León

In León don’t miss El Sesteo, known, among other things, for the fact that Mick Jagger ate there in the 1960s. It’s right on the Cathedral Square (the rooftop view from the cathedral itself also a highlight). We also had a great meal at Al Carbon; the best sandwiches and can be found at Pan y Paz.

In Granada

In Granada, there are also many good restaurants, our favorites being Bistro Estrada and The Garden Café. The town of San Juan del Sur even has it’s own brewpub, San Juan del Sur Cerveceria, started by three ex-pats from the University of Denver. Breakfast at El Gato Negro is fantastic.

In Managua

We stayed near the metrocentro mall in Managua. There are a number of good restaurants in the surrounding neighborhood, the “new downtown." We had a wonderful dinner at Don Candido, a short walk from our hotel. Some of our favorite dinners though were at Chik Chak, which is near the Manna Project house in the outskirts of Managua. A group of the MPI Program Directors joined us, so we had great company and food!

Food Safety

Before our visit, we were given various recommendations about how cautious to be when eating and drinking in Nicaragua. We generally drank bottled water, rather than tap water, and ate in restaurants rather than buying food from street vendors. Otherwise, we enjoyed fresh fruit and everything else on the menu, and we had no difficulties at all.

Everything is "Farm to Table"

In the U.S., trendy restaurants may promote the “farm to table” concept—local foods produced nearby. In Nicaragua, we realized the cuisine is, and has always been, by nature, local, simple, and fresh. If you are going to visit, though, go soon, as we did see a McDonald’s going in across the street from the Cathedral in León.

Thank you, Fred!

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Parent Series: Traveling to Nicaragua

In the second installment of our Parent Experience Series, Fred Lewis shares how his son Dan's passion for Nicaragua inspired him to learn more about the country and its person! 

Our First Trip to Nicaragua

When our son Dan first decided to volunteer with Manna Project International, I knew only a few things about Nicaragua. I could vaguely recall that it was in Central America, possibly politically unstable and potentially not a safe place to visit. As months went by, we couldn’t help but be caught up in Dan’s passion for the MPI mission and his love of Nicaragua. We wanted to learn more about the country and see what Dan’s life there was like, so we planned a visit.

Getting Around

Getting around Nicaragua is easy, but it took a little time to figure it out. On our first trip we chose to rent a car. The highways are great and the car gave us a lot of flexibility to go wherever we wanted, whenever we wanted. It did carry a few practical challenges.

In Managua, there are no street signs or addresses, so navigating the city can be a little challenging. Also, we encountered some unexpected traffic hazards, including motorcycles driving between lanes, pedestrians crossing wherever a break in traffic allowed, horse-drawn carts, carts pulled by men, potholes, road construction without any warning signs, and the infamous traffic circles. 

On The Road

The Nicaraguan police are notorious for issuing traffic tickets, and we got two for lane changes within thirty meters of an intersection (although my wife maintains those were my fault). On our second visit, we used a car service (, which we were able to book by email before our visit. Our driver, Luis Payan, calmly and safely negotiated the hazards for us and was happy to accommodate us whenever our plans changed. In our experience, this wasn’t any more expensive than renting a car, but much more relaxing, although it did require advance planning.

Planning Your Own Trip

If you are looking for active pursuits, Nicaragua has plenty to offer—hiking, surfing, climbing volcanoes, volcano boarding, and we even found a stand-up paddleboard tour on the Rio Tamarindo. We relaxed on more than a few beautiful beaches and watched the sunset at the most distant spot on Punta Jesus Maria.

A couple of my favorite tours were the historical tours in León (Sandino Tours) and Managua (Gerald Duran,  Visiting the local markets in Granada and León were highlights, and the Huembes Market in Managua is amazing. Ometepe Island in Lake Nicaragua is a jewel not to be missed. Dan suggested we rent scooters, and this great suggestion allowed us to see the whole island, including a fascinating tour of the coffee plantation and ancient petroglyphs.

Pictured: Fred and his wife Liz in Nicaragua

Pictured: Fred and his wife Liz in Nicaragua

Booking Your Hotel

Booking hotels over the internet worked well for us. Compared to the Program Directors who (I hear) spend less than $10 per night for a hostel, we were looking for somewhat more upscale accommodations. Most business websites lacked an automatic reservation function, but with a few emails it was easy to set up reservations for hotels and tours. We found small hotels in Granada and León to be first-rate and friendly, unexpectedly reasonable in price, and as much fun to stay in as any we’ve been to. 

Warm Hospitality

During our time in Nicaragua we were cautious, as we would normally be in any big city in the U.S., but we never felt unsafe. On the contrary, we found the country and people warm and inviting. It’s hard to miss the contrasts and contradictions which are so much a part of Nicaragua. The country has great beauty, natural resources, and we met so many friendly, warm, hospitable people; yet the poverty is striking as well. Recent Nicaraguan political history sheds some light on this.

Book Recommendations

I would highly recommend a couple of books —Blood of Brothers by Stephen Kinzer and The Country Under My Skin by Giacomo Belli. Learning a little Nicaraguan history, and a little about the relationship between the United States and Nicaragua, left me with a new understanding Nicaragua and of my own country as well.

Thank you, Fred!

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Welcome, Parents!

Do you have a son or daughter who is interested in volunteering with Manna Project? Is your child currently on site in Nicaragua or Ecuador? Welcome!

Serving with Manna Project is a life-changing experience for our volunteers, but it can also be transformative for the whole family! You have raised a confident and adventurous young leader, and it's important that you feel connected to their journey. We are establishing a variety of resources for you, and the first is our Parent Experience Blog Series!

Over the next month, we'll be posting blogs shared by parents of past and current Program Directors. It is our hope that you will follow along, be inspired by the experience of other families, and connect with your child's work across the miles. 

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6 Months Later...

Last March, Ecuador Program Directors organized a $1,000 fundraiser for the Teen Center in Sangolqui. The amazing friends and family of our Program Directors responded, giving more than $2,000 to improve the resources we provide to a core group of teens from underprivileged communities in the Chillos Valley. 

This week, we looked back on the last 6 months to share the results of this incredible generosity. The Teen Center fundraiser allowed Manna Project to:

  • expand our special activities and events,
  • purchase new sports equipment,
  • and make many improvements to the Teen Center.

As a result, daily attendance is up by 63%! Improvements to this safe, dynamic drug- and alcohol-free zone, which is exclusively for teens, brought 113 visitors in the last quarter alone. The last six months have been packed with fun events including field trips, sports days, ping-pong tournaments, and game nights.

We are so grateful for the community supporting teens in Rumiloma - they are receiving encouragement, educational support and mentorship in a fun and safe environment. We can't thank you enough...but we will try!

P.S. In case you missed it, here is a picture of the Program Directors after being "pie-d" in the face when they hit the $2,000 mark. ;)


Why #ilikemannaproject

I am a regular attender of "Cheers with the Beers," the annual Christmas party of a friend whose last name happens to guessed it...Beers! Attendance is fairly consistent from year to year, but in 2010, I noticed a new face at the cookie table. I soon found myself talking with Lori Sharffenberg, MPI's Executive Director, who had recently moved back to the US after seven years in Nicaragua. We swapped travel stories, told jokes about culture shock, and bonded over the joys and challenges of international non-profit work (and yes – many holiday cookies were consumed that night).

Driving home from the party, I remember thinking, "Wow. That girl is impressive." As one of the original founding members of Manna Project, Lori had a dream and dedicated her life to helping it grow from an idea into a multi-national non-profit organization! You don’t meet many people with that kind of story. But rather than intimidating me, that first conversation with Lori left me encouraged and challenged in my own work and excited to have found an understanding, humble and globally-minded friend.

In the months that followed, Lori and I worked side by side on many occasions, and it dawned on me how much I also believed in the work of Manna Project.  In 2014, I had the privilege of joining Manna Project as Director of Communications and Development, and every day I like Manna Project even more. In my ten years of volunteering and working with non-profits professionally, I have never encountered a more accountable, driven and effective organization. The bar is truly set high, and I am so grateful to be part of the team working to reach it for the benefit of communities in need.

The communities we serve in Ecuador and Nicaragua are so generous with us, and our volunteers are amazing young people with a large capacity for giving and a huge desire to learn. As we searched for a way to help our Program Directors stay connected with their friends and family back at home, the Like-a-thon was born.

This week we are launching the second annual MPI Like-a-thon, a week in which incoming Program Directors will encourage their friends and family to “Like” our Facebook page. We don’t do this to attain a higher number of page likes, but because, well, we like Manna Project!

We believe that the ability to serve abroad is a gift. This gift is only possible through the encouragement and financial support of friends and family, and the best way we know to thank the community supporting our volunteers is to show the impact of our volunteers in the communities we serve. Manna Project is a community that makes it possible for dreams to become reality, and we want to share real stories of changed lives.

It is our hope that as these stories pop up in your day-to-day feed, you will know that you are making a difference by joining the story. Like me, you may also find yourself liking Manna Project more and more as the days go on!