by Ben Folkmann, Spanish and International Studies major, 2015 graduate
What is Manna Project International (MPI)?
Manna Project International is a non-profit organization that was founded in 2004 by students from Vanderbilt University, with the intention of helping underprivileged communities in Latin America using holistic practices. Since the organizations’ inception, it has developed in three different sites in Latin America: Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Guatemala. My internship with Manna Project International took place this summer from May 9 through June 6 in Sangolquí, Ecuador, which is located about 20 miles southeast of Quito, Ecuador’s capital.
What does MPI offer?
In the neighborhood of Rumiloma, Manna has a community center that houses its many programs. The backbone at this center is their library, which houses a collection of books in both English and Spanish, covering wide topics, such as children’s literature, healthcare and disease prevention, magazines, and resource materials. The library also includes a teen center, which has computers, games, and sports equipment available to borrow. A preventative health center (PHC) is also present at the Manna Center, which offers resources on various health topics that can be checked out. The PHC is the pillar of our health and wellness programs. The Manna Center houses four classrooms as well, which are used to provide additional sources of education to the Rumiloma neighborhood. Our classes include four levels of children’s English and five levels of adult’s English, all ranging from basic to super advanced. Along with these classes, we also offer children’s and adult’s English clubs, which are for anyone of any language level. We would talk about any topics in English of interest to the participants, including culture, grammar, and any other topics. Cooking and nutrition classes for children and adults are also offered to promote healthy eating habits, as well as knowledge about the nutritional content of foods. Yoga and dance classes are offered to our members as well. These classes are used to promote healthy, fun forms of exercise for both children and adults. Our weekly environmental class utilizes the greenhouse on top of our library roof to educate students about basic environmental education. This class also includes simple, healthy recipes that are made and enjoyed by those in the class. Finally, we offer a class to the women of the Rumiloma neighborhood, which covers a variety of topics, such as empowering women and women’s rights. In the near future, a course about small business development will be offered, which is currently being established.
As interns with Manna, our responsibilities were to help with running the Manna Center and helping with classes. We also worked at the Center to help improve it and to do this, we helped with a large painting project. The roof of the Center is used partly as a greenhouse and partly as a place to spend time with others to learn and socialize. The roof, however, was a bit plain, so we decided to paint it to spruce it up a bit. We did some cleaning and wanted to paint the walls surrounding the roof. They were originally a dingy white color, but we brought them to life with mountain scenery and dedicated one wall to a special event that we were planning later during our internship.
Manna also works with many different partner organizations throughout the Los Chillos Valley. First is with the United Nations Peacekeepers. With this organization, we visited with the UN Peacekeepers about current global issues, such as ISIS. Participants ate lunch and discussed in English topics of interest, which helped the Peacekeepers practice their English conversational skills. Next is Fundación Aliñambi, which is a local organization that works with at-risk youth and also has an organic farm. We currently assist with the duties on the farm, including helping with their two new calves! Next is Antorcha de la Vida, which is a rehabilitation and education center for children with special needs. With Antorcha de la Vida, we have the opportunity to assist with maintaining their gardens and those with interest in the health field have the opportunity to shadow a doctor at the center and learn about water therapy. Hogar de la Madre Soltera is our next partner organization, which is a shelter for teenage mothers. Manna provides weekly tutoring sessions to help the young mothers stay focused on their education and livelihood. Colegio Chaupitena is an elementary and high school, which serves the communities surrounding the Manna Center. We offer weekly nutrition classes to students, discussing healthy eating habits and the role that food plays in our overall health. Gotitas del Saber is a preschool in the Los Chillos Valley. At Gotitas del Saber, we provide weekly English lessons, which provide a foundation for their future studies of the English language. Finally, we work with La Universidad de las Fuerzas Armadas (ESPE), a local university in the valley. We provide biweekly English conversation and grammar classes to students that also teach them about the American culture.
With Manna, I was mainly involved in English classes. Children’s English meets twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays for an hour and a half each class. I shadowed multiple English teachers and found out I really enjoyed teaching children’s basic level English. Cat, the program director that teaches children’s basic English, was happy to have me help out in her class. The students were between the ages of seven and twelve, so they were sometimes a handful! In Cat’s class, I started by helping teach some lessons, such as shapes and animals, and help lead activities, like games. She really helped me learn how to teach students of such a young age and after getting a little teaching experience, I got to teach the entire class while she was gone on vacation. On my own, I got to teach the students about adjectives and clothes, as well as play games with them to practice the vocabulary. The students really like playing Pictionary, so we formed two teams and played it using clothing vocabulary. They had a lot of fun! In my next class, I was to give them a quiz to see how they were doing on their vocabulary that they learned throughout the previous classes. Of course, they objected to the idea, but they took it anyway and some did very well.
I also gained experience teaching the adult’s English class, which meets once a week on Saturday mornings for three hours. I taught level three, which is intermediate, and it offered a very different environment than that of children’s English. In children’s basic level, vocabulary is the main thing taught with little emphasis on grammar, which is saved for level two, as to build a strong foundation of preliminary vocabulary. In intermediate adult’s level, I taught different parts of speech, as well as the difference between the present simple and present progressive verb tenses. The rules are hard for native English speakers to talk about because normally, we don’t know what they are; we just know when to use which tense. To prepare for this lesson, I did some research about the rules and it now makes much more sense to me, and the students now (hopefully!) will understand the differences as well. Not knowing the rules has given me an interest in learning more about the English language, so I’m now taking an online course about it. So far, it is fun and interesting to me.
Along with these two English classes, there are corresponding English clubs for whoever is interested. In these clubs, we discuss whatever the students want to talk about. Sometimes it would be simple vocabulary, and other times it would be grammar rules that were learned in English classes. Children’s English club meets weekly on Saturdays for one hour. I got to lead two children’s club meetings while in Ecuador. My first club meeting had four kids, and two of them had lived and gone to school in the United States for a couple years, so they spoke perfect English. The other two spoke a very high level of English as well. They really wanted to talk about horses, so we talked about horses (my knowledge is very limited on this subject, so it was fun to hear what they had to say). My next meeting was with a basic level student. He knew some basic vocabulary and grammar, but he wanted to learn more. He wanted to learn about different animals, so I taught him a bunch of animals in English, and then we played Pictionary to practice. He even taught me some new animal vocabulary!
In adult’s English club, they were more focused on learning grammar and conversational phrases. This club meets once a week on Wednesday evenings. The adults that came to my two meetings were both at a very basic level, so we started by learning greetings and basic questions when meeting new people, as well as present simple verb conjugation. In my second meeting, we discussed more verb conjugation, greetings, and pronunciation.
Another program I was involved with was with the partner organization, ESPE. This is an English conversation class with local military personnel and college students. In our first meeting, we took an article about Latinos in the United States and their culture. We had the students take turns reading out loud and then we discussed the differences between Latino culture in the U.S., Ecuadorian culture, and American culture. I think they really enjoyed this discussion because they learned a lot about us and our culture. (We also learned a lot about them). Our next class was pretty small, so we played conversation games to practice descriptions. There were also a few people with birthdays, so the students took us out to a local pizza place and bought food for us all. This was really fun because we talked about what we like to read, watch, and listen to, so it was a great cultural experience. In the next class, we showed some American TV clips, as well as American music videos. The topic we wanted to talk about was machismo, which is very strong male pride, many times associated with male supremacy. Our TV and music examples had examples of machismo in them, as well as objectification of women, so these lead our discussion with them about the treatment of women. I think this was a good class because it got them thinking about their culture, because machismo is very common in Ecuador. Our final class was less serious and we discussed the differences between American and Ecuadorian TV comedies. We play clips from the popular show Friends, as well as from an Ecuadorian sitcom. They really enjoyed this discussion because they learned about American comedies, and we learned about how bad Ecuadorian comedies are.
During our internship with MPI, we helped plan and organize a couple different events. The first event was called a hornado solidario, which is a common way to raise funds down in Ecuador. A hornado solidario is a large gathering where people get together to play games, socialize, and eat delicious hornado, which is a whole roasted pig. This hornado is served with mote, an Ecuadorian corn side dish; tortillas de papas, a type of potato pancakes; and a small salad. This type of food is very common in Ecuador and can be found in many restaurants on weekends. Our hornado solidario event took place on May 23rd and we had many games and activities for both children and adults. This event was very successful for the Manna Center, as we had both a great time with the locals and we raised funds for our programs and library.
The next event we organized was for the kids of the Manna Center. Día de los Niños, or Kid’s Day, is a pretty important holiday to the Ecuadorians, and the other interns and I had the opportunity to organize the event all by ourselves. Our event was held on June 2nd at the Manna Center and was a great turn out. Many of our English class students came to celebrate with food, arts and crafts, games, and other fun activities. Earlier, I mentioned a wall we painted for a special event that was being planned, and that wall was for our Día de los Niños event. We prepared this wall for the kids to put their handprints on it because we wanted it to represent the collaboration that Manna is with the community. The kids (and the interns!) especially enjoyed this activity because it brought us all together to improve a place that gives so much to the community of Rumiloma. Now, the roof is much more inviting for all to enjoy. This event was one of the highlights of my time interning with Manna.
Aside from my time working at the Manna Center and our partner organizations, the interns were given weekends off to experience Ecuador. We took three trips during our short four weeks. Our first full weekend (May 16 – May 18) was spent in Baños, which is just over 100 miles from Sangolquí. Baños is a town famous for its natural hot springs, which are thought to have healing properties, which gives it the full name Baños de Agua Santa, Holy Water Baths. While we were in Baños, we went on a canyoning excursion, which is like rock climbing down a waterfall. We started by taking a short hike to a mountain stream and then took turns rappelling down the waterfalls. I had never done anything like this before, so it was a really exciting experience for me! The feeling of the cold, mountain water rushing all over was very exhilarating. After canyoning, we went to El Pailón del Diablo, or the Devil’s Cauldron, which is a very large waterfall. At El Pailón del Diablo, there is a large staircase that runs up the mountainside, right next to the waterfall. We climbed up this large staircase and got right up next to it. The roar of the water and the mist it created made for a very unique, thrilling experience. On our final day in Baños, we went to the famous Casa del Árbol, or the Tree House. This attraction is located on top of a mountain right outside of Baños and is home to a large tree house. What makes this an exciting place is that there is a swing that goes out over the valley below. Normally, it offers great views of the surrounding valley, mountains, and volcanoes, but it was unfortunately very cloudy when we went. It did, however, offer a very ominous feeling to be swinging out into the unknown.
Our next weekend trip (May 23 – May 25) was to the Cotopaxi Volcano. Cotopaxi, which is the highest active volcano in the world, is located 30 miles to the southwest of Sangolquí. At Cotopaxi, we participated in various excursions, such as hiking and horseback riding. Our first hike was to a small waterfall a short distance from our hostel. At this waterfall, we had the opportunity to jump into the pool about ten feet below. Some of the other interns I was with hiked up to the glacier line of Cotopaxi, which seemed like a pretty difficult hike. It was very high up and the volcano is covered in ash, which is hard to hike in. Some other interns hiked up Pasachoa, another volcano, but I decided to go horseback riding. We took the horses out for about five hours to the edge of the Cotopaxi National Park. We were able to get some great views of the volcano and surrounding mountains, as well as the open pastures. Our guide told us that wild horses roamed the area, but we unfortunately didn’t see any.
Our last full weekend trip (May 31 – June 1) was in the town of Otavalo, which is about 75 miles north of Sangolquí. Otavalo is famous for its large artisanal market, which is run by indigenous women. This market is home to many handmade goods, such as alpaca sweaters and ponchos, blankets, hats, gloves, scarves, table runners, and jewelry. This was a really fun place because the venders all want to sell you something; they will allow you to barter with them to get a good price, which was really fun! It is very easy to spend too much money at the market because there are so many interesting, unique things. I ended up leaving with an alpaca wool blanket, table runners, hats, scarves, gloves, and hand painted goods (I had to quit buying because I knew I would run out of room in my suitcase). While in Otavalo, we also took a short trip to the nearby city of Cotacachi, which is famous for its handmade leather goods.
Throughout our time in Sangolquí, we frequently traveled to Quito to visit various tourist attractions. Our first stop was at Parque La Carolina. This is a large park that offers various sports fields, running trails, and a small pond at which paddleboats can be rented.
Next we went to the botanical garden, which is inside Parque La Carolina. This botanical garden offered many different plant species native to Ecuador, including some from the Amazon Rainforest. There were multiple exhibits showing other plants brought to the New World when the Europeans initially inhabited the area. One of my favorite exhibits showed many different species of carnivorous plants.
Our next stop was to the historic district of Quito to see La Basílica del Voto Nacional, which is the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas. This basilica is very interesting because of its sculptures of animals native to the region, such as armadillos, iguanas, and Galapagos tortoises. We were able to climb up into the towers and see the surrounding city and mountains. It offered great architecture and great views!
La Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco was our next stop. This church and monastery is the largest architectural ensemble among the historical structures of colonial Latin America. It is sometimes called “El Escorial of the New World,” which is interesting to me because when I studied abroad in Spain the past two summers, I visited El Escorial.
Ecuador is named as such because of its geographical location on the equator (ecuador in Spanish means “equator”). A monument was built there, which was believed to be located exactly on the equator. The location of this monument was measured in the 1700s by a French explorer, but it was found to be about 650 feet too far to the south. Now, there is a museum called El Museo de Intiñan, which lies on the true Equator. We visited this museum, which has different exhibits showing what happens along the Equator, as well as showing some tribes indigenous to the region. Some of the exhibits include: balancing an egg on the head of a nail, water flowing straight down a drain instead of swirling like in the Northern or Southern Hemispheres, the Shuar head-shrinking tribe, and the Wuaorani tribe that uses long blowguns for hunting.
The last place we visited in Quito was the TelefériQo, which is a cable car system that takes people up to the top of Pichincha Volcano, which is almost 13,000 feet high. The TelefériQo is also one of the highest aerial lifts in the world. At the top, it is much colder than in the city, but offers amazing views of Quito and the rest of the Los Chillos valley. There are multiple hiking trails and places to go horseback riding up the Pichincha Volcano at the top. The air is also much thinner, due to the high altitude.
Overall, my experience with Manna Project International was amazing. I learned so much during my short four weeks interning with them, both on a professional and a personal level. I developed many professional skills and gained valuable career experience that will help me in the job market. I hope my experience in Ecuador working with Manna will inspire someone else to seize this wonderful learning experience. If anyone would like more information about Manna or their programs, their website is mannaproject.org. If you would like to donate to Manna and support their cause of community development in less privileged communities in Latin America, you can visit mannaproject.com/donate.