Tuesday, December 8, 2009

2 Clicks and $25,000!!!

Chase Banks is putting on this competition called Chase Community Giving, in which the top 100 non-profit organizations to earn the most votes on Facebook will win $25,000. This is HUGE. As of right now, we have a definite shot of being within the top 100... but WE NEED YOUR HELP.

Here's what YOU need to do:
1. Click here to become a "fan" of the Chase Community Giving contest on Facebook.
2. Click here to vote for Manna Project International.
(3. Or you can just click that handy little button at the top of our blog)

That's all you have to do! One vote really does make a difference. (And if you want to send an e-mail out to any friends, groups, co-workers or listservs who might be willing to vote for us, that would be fabulous!) If we win the 25k, $5,000 will go directly to funding Nicaragua's programs!!

Additionally... since you can vote for up to 20 organizations, we are teaming up with a coalition of other non-profits to cross-promote and increase our chances of winning. This joint effort is sure to give us a leg up on the competition, so please vote for these organizations as well:

Thank you so much for your support... we stand a great chance of winning this competition and we can't do it without you! We appreciate your commitment to our ongoing initiatives, as well as your votes!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Xiloa Good Time

As part of the MPI Nicaragua Child Sponsorship (CS) team, one of my roles is planning the quarterly field trips for participating children and caretakers in our program. The CS program is unique in that we provide opportunities for the children of La Chureca to leave behind the perennial smoke and trash of their neighborhood for an afternoon of recreation and relaxation with their families in a safe, clean place. Earlier this year in late July, we joined the former PDs in hosting a trip to El Salero, the Community Center land on which we run our programs in Kid’s English, Library, Baseball, and Soccer. The day was an undeniable success, allowing the children plenty of time and space to enjoy the great outdoors. I decided to repeat another popular field trip idea last Friday when we brought our children and their mothers to Laguna Xiloa. Last year’s group did the same with summer volunteers, and in light of the MPI Nicaragua 5-year anniversary celebration in which PDs of ages past reunited this weekend in Managua, I thought they might join us in the fun of hosting a trip to enjoy the waters of Xiloa.

Laguna Xiloa (pronounced "Hee-Low-Wah"), site of our field trip last Friday

We arrived at the side entrance of Chureca to meet the mothers and children at 12:45 on Friday, where we awaited the arrival of a big yellow school bus that would take us all to Xiloa, about a 30 minute drive away. Ian and I road up front, took attendance, and chatted with families on the way. When we got to the laguna, we were delighted to see the beautiful open space with little covered areas for benches and picnic-ing. Some of the children and mothers took to the water fairly quickly, while others preferred the grass and the shade. Some of the children had little bathing suits, others swam in their clothing, others half naked. Whatever their manner of taking to the water, the smiles and laughter were abundant. We waded right in with the kids...from the shallow end with the toddlers looking at the minnows rush by to the deeper areas with the more adventurous kids. Mothers swam and lounged in the cool water, where they stayed talking away the afternoon. We were already in the midst of playing with children and visiting with mothers when the PDs of the past arrived to join our festivities. Some of these PDs were acquainted with certain families from years past, and others were members of the board and staff who were able to visit and see one small aspect of what we do on Child Sponsorship. We were all able to learn from the afternoon at Xiloa, and we all had a grand time! I learned that children play tag in Spanish by saying “la landa” and that sometimes it just takes a handhold to get a timid child to enter the water. I found out that everyone needs time to just be - be with family, be refreshed, be safe and relaxed, be a kid, be a mother. On last Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, I gave thanks for the ability to join these mothers and children in an afternoon away from La Chureca. Reflecting on the day, I am thankful for the relationships I’ve been able to establish through Child Sponsorship, how I’ve seen these children begin to grow, and how the mothers have entrusted us with their health concerns and needs.

To put this day into perspective, these children and their families do not have access to complete immersion in clean water. They bathe with buckets and hoses or in sinks (for the children who are small enough). Moreover, I oftentimes walk around Chureca and find recently washed children already dirty from playing outside without their shoes on or from the dust and smoke that fills the air. And although they live next to a huge lake (Lake Managua/Lake Xolotlán), the runoff from La Chureca has polluted it to the point that swimming and fishing these waters is highly dangerous. Many have fallen sick from mercury laden fish, and the pollution is visible as trash and sewage line the banks. The Laguna Xiloa, on the other hand, is a local getaway where the waters thrill and awe visitors. I say ‘awe’ because my limited experience has taught me that some Nicaraguan people I have met who have never had access to a pool or natural body of water (and thus have never learned how to swim) have a healthy fear of water.

Milton views the laguna

It was that healthy respect for water that helped us have a safe day at the laguna. And with a provided snack of fiber cookies, bananas, and juice, the day ended with many smiles and lots of wet clothing!

Jose Manual enjoys the water and a few extra bananas

From Nicaragua to America, Happy Thanksgiving!

Jan Margaret
Program Director

Monday, November 23, 2009

Home Stays, Part II - Reflection on Life at "13.5"

For four days I went nowhere without being encompassed by a tangled mass of arms and legs and hugs and kisses and shouts of children ranging from 3 to 14 years old. Welcome to 13.5! I stayed with Tatiana, Gerald, and Maycol, three precious children from my English class. Everyday, they play with their extended family members who happen to ALL live in barrio 13.5, so my homestay brought back memories of growing up around my very large and noisy and wonderful extended family. Every morning the children walked to the local Catholic school while I stayed home with their mothers. In the afternoons, madness ensued upon the chavalos return. These children play with an unmatched enthusiasm.

From tree-climbing and mandarina-picking to pickup games of baseball and soccer, these kids don't stop. I was especially touched when they wanted to play Memory with Spanish and English words, something we often do in Kid’s English to practice vocabulary. Tatiana cut out squares of paper and wrote the spanish vocabulary while I wrote the english...pretty soon, all the cousins were learning how to say gecko, shark, dog, and duck (we're studying animals in kid's english). I can't claim that keeping the pace with such a lively bunch of youngsters didn't absolutely wear me out, but I will say that being around so much joy and energy perked up my mood and helped me focus on the good in life. For a week, it was like I could go back to being a kid again, surrounded by family and laughter and silly arguments and lots of gallo pinto.

In addition to taking me back, this week was a chance to get an inner look into the daily life of members of the local community. From sunrise to bedtime, I experienced life through the eyes of 13.5, a life which entailed cousins, playtime, clothes washing on the pila, singing our respective national anthems, and very cold bucket showers when the water ran low.

Jan Margaret Rogers
Program Director

Friday, November 20, 2009

Home Stays, Part II - Reflection

Sometimes we whine about the Manna House, which is actually palatial compared to the way most people live. We miss hot water, air conditioning, bug-free living, dryers, dish-washers, TV, and our own rooms. We spent the last week sharing houses the size of our rooms… much of our community lives with dirt floors, latrines shared by twenty people, bucket showers, and cooks over fires. I think homestays have been the best thing we have done yet, we solidified already close and solid relationships and also just had a really good time. The people in the community have become family and friends over the past few months.

We really were challenged by much of the homestay, the dichotomy between how we live and how they live is impossible to convey. As we discussed and wrestled with this I think we came to the ultimate realization that the critical difference between me living a more sparse life and the lives of our community members: For me, it’s a choice. For me, I choose whether or not to buy a new dress in order to save more money for sponsorship funds. For me, I choose whether or not to go to dinner out or eat more cheaply in my house. For these families, such a choice does not exist. No matter how much I restrict myself I will never understand what it is to live like these families. No matter how long we stay we will never fully understand the reality.

It was a great week, for many of us the end of homestays came too soon. I really do believe both we and our homestay families enjoyed the experience. It was great to spend day-in and day-out with the people who have become our families here.

Lauren Page Black
Program Director

Monday, November 9, 2009

Highlight: Chureca - Nica HOPE

Manna Project is proud to have built and to continue strong relationships with other non-profits active in La Chureca. These partnerships increase MPI's awareness of needs in the community and allow us to refer community members and interest to the appropriate organization. Love Light & Melody once again gives a view of life in Chureca and area NGOs with a number of videos highlighting the activities of a few of those organizations. The following video highlights Nica HOPE, an organization founded by former Manna Program Director Deanna Ford, which supports education and runs vocational training initiatives for women and children living in La Chureca.

For further information on Nica HOPE visit www.nicahope.org

Monday, November 2, 2009

Community Home Stays, Part I

Though the manna house is a valuable asset, living apart from Cedro Galan does prevent the Program Directors from fully understanding daily life in the community. In an attempt to further enlighten our team regarding the intricacies of life in Cedro, each of the ten PDs will, this week or next, live as those we are here to serve. The purposes of these community home stays are as follows:
  1. To provide a cultural experience for the PDs, increasing their knowledge and understanding of life in the community.
  2. To further understand the assets and needs of the community in order to better serve them.
  3. To further connect the community of Cedro Galan and Manna Project, building deeper and more personal relationships.
  4. To give families in Cedro Galan an opportunity to support Manna Project.
In order to further these goals, the PDs will be treated as part of the family rather than as guests, complete with household chores, and will continue to prepare and run programs as usual. While the home stay will doubtless bring its challenges, we know it will be a tremendously enlightening experience.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Highlight: Kid's English

Children’s English is a bi-weekly class led by PDs Leah and Jan Margaret with a great deal of support from Anina. The attendance has remained fairly constant and catered to our neighbors from 13.5 (“thirteen-five” - the folks who live right down the road at kilometer 13.5) and Chiquilistagua, the neighborhood surrounding El Salero. The rambunctious 10-or-so year olds always bring a lot of energy and sass to every class in the El Salero library. After completing units on the City and Transportation, Children’s English courses during the month of October focused on learning Animals. From zoo creatures to common ones such as dogs, cats, and geckos, we’ve introduced the children to the wild wonderful world of animals in English. The children seem to enjoy the fun activities that accompany classes such as Bingo or Memory, while as a teacher, I enjoy the interesting things we discover such as the fact that one student can do a perfect imitation of a cow moo. Moreover, the children have taken to yelling out the names of the animals we pass every day on the way to and from class: “Dog! Dog!” “Cow!” “Horse! Horse! Horse!” Little moments like this, when we catch them using and practicing what they’ve learned in class, always bring a smile to my face.

After a few months of transitioning, Leah and I have been able to make this class our own with an established structure for each day. We begin every course with the reading of the rules. Although our chavalos continually fight over who gets to read each rule (the “última” or last one being the class favorite), it seems like the constant repetition of classroom expectations helps the children focus and know what is to be asked of them. We continue by practicing introductions, common questions, and pronunciation. After our introduction, we introduce new words and review the old. An appropriate worksheet follows, and finally, the hour concludes with a game of some sort to captivate their attentions and engage their minds and memories. Provided that each child is well behaved and participates, they receive a sticker for good attendance - a prized item counted towards the attendance party held at the end of each unit/month. This month, we are also hoping to surprise the children with a trip to the local zoo in order to practice what they have learned thus far: city, transportation, and animal vocabulary.

Jan Margaret Rogers
Program Director
MPI Nicaragua

Monday, October 12, 2009

Highlight: Creative Arts - World Tour

Literacy's (Cedro) weekly trip to the library at El Salero has brought with it exposure to a certain learning device that, while regarded as a typical school wall decoration, is sadly lacking in many Nicaraguan classrooms. That tool is... a world map. I had been very grateful for it and the other Central American and Nicaraguan maps that hang in the August's library, and smiled to see that our students often gazed at them. However, I became slightly less hopeful when at one point I walked up to two of our 14 year-old girls and asked them to show me where Nicaragua was.

After a full minute of moving through Asia, Europe, and Africa with their index fingers, glancing expectantly back at me for my withheld affirmation, I laughed and pointed to Nicaragua for them.

Manna has both Literacy and Mathematics classes to address illiteracy and innumeracy, but an oft forgotten basic functionality is map literacy. In an attempt to meet the needs presented by map illiteracy, and with the added bonus of expanding our students' exposure to world cultures, Kelly and I have incorporated a world tour into MPI's Creative Arts program in Cedro Galan. To help in this venture, Manna has purchased its own world map that now hangs in El Farito, our classroom building.

Kelly's Continent Showdown has been a hit with the kids

In an introduction into geography in which we colored our own maps by continent and made paper machê globes. Our study of art around the world first took us to France, where we painted in the styles of Van Gogh and Monet, and also built our own Eiffel Towers from marshmallows and toothpicks. Our next stop was the U.S., where we studied Native (North) Americans, making headdresses and dancing along with a pow wow video.

Ulises concentrates on painting the continents on his globe

The United States also presented the opportunity to introduce our class to abstract art, something Kelly and I had been looking forward to, because what better way to express creativity and originality? After a slide show of paintings by Rothko and Pollock, we followed the style of the latter to create our own action art.

Samuel and Geral took a particular liking to the new style of painting

Our world tour through art will next take us to Spain, which will see our Creative Arts class act our bull fighting, the running of the bulls, and bring us to draw our dreams like Dalí and our self-portraits in the cubist style of Picasso.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Highlight: Chureca - Love Light & Melody

Manna Project is relieved to know that it is not the only organization working to dampen the harsh effects of life within Chureca's grip. Among them is Love Light & Melody, an NGO seeking to spread awareness of Managua's city dump and its residents. Their most recent video showcases Dia de Luz, or "Day of Light," a March concert organized by the organization and put on in the community. The video is a telling view, or as telling as a digital stopover can provide, of one of MPI Nicaragua's focus communities.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Highlight: Chureca - in Pictures

MPI attempts to limit the number of photographs taken in Chureca by its volunteers in order to respect the privacy of the community members, and also with a desire to reduce as a spectacle what is, sadly yet certainly, a home. However, we do respect the power of visual stimulus to carry the reality of the dump beyond its confines, and the amazing work of friend of Manna Brian Shumway does exactly that:

La Chureca by Brian Shumway

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Highlight: Chureca - Joy Is Resilient

Our visitations last Thursday to families in our Child Sponsorship Program took us through the heaviest fumes my lungs have yet braved. With burning eyes and failing voices, we walked through white smoke so thick that shadows cut visible swaths of black in the milky air. Though worried for her, it was no surprise that Maudelia's two year-old daughter, who she carried at her side, carried in turn a coarse and incessant cough.

As we rounded a corner of the single-room school that services the area, I noticed a boy gazing down at us from his perch in the leafless branches of a tree that barely rose above the corrugated metal separating his house from the next. He wore only tattered shorts and splashed mud on his chest. He looked to be well past seven, the age at which Nicaraguan children begin their schooling.

After trading his name for mine I asked, "Y porque no andas en escuela?" And why are you not in school?

In the broken Nicañole that Chureca teaches its children, he patiently explained that he was not permitted the luxury of an education because the house could not be left unattended while his father worked in the trash.

Left with a piercing feeling of impotence and that now familiar loss for words, my gaze fell through the fumes to my feet and the mange-riden animal not far from them. The seconds passed, and not knowing what else to say to my new friend whose unfortunate predicament I had just reminded him of, I absent-mindedly directed my next words to the dog at my feet. "Qué nota, perro?" What's up, dog?

Laughter suddenly burst through the air. Surprised and confused, my downtrodden spirit eagerly soaked in his broad smile and careless cackles. And, in that moment, as his laughter infected the air, I knew that it was no less real than the smoke it joined.

As living conditions range, nothing that I have known has any liberty to call itself Chureca's peer. This reality in mind, I am constantly perplexed that thoughts of my mornings in that desolate place are inexorably... joyful. Though seemingly counterintuitive, I cannot ignore that each visit brings cheer with a frequency almost insultingly disproportionate to the surrounding destitution.

Nicaragua's second discourse, taught in strife witnessed and smiles wielded, has been that whether life exists in privilege or penury, whether found on marble floors or shattered glass, joy is resilient.

Ian Rountree

Program Director

MPI Nicaragua

Monday, September 7, 2009

Highlight: Women's Soccer - Bringing Chureca and Chiqui Together

Chiqui girls ready to play in their uniforms!

After many phone calls, missed turns, and false alarms, the Chiqui girl's soccer team finally played the Chureca girl's soccer team. Manna Project sponsors a team that practices once a week at the field over at El Salero. The girls who come are mostly from 13.5 and Cedro Galan near El Farito, and bonding those two groups was a main goal of the soccer program. Juntos Contigo, a Nicaraguan non-profit that works in Chureca right next to the clinic, has their own team, coached by our friends Roger and Ruben. Many of the girls on the Chureca team attend our English class and the majority of the Chiqui girls participate in at least one other Manna program.

For the game, the fearless Manna coaches, Kelly and I, recruited Daniel to be the referee, gathered all of our gear (donated uniforms, extra sneakers for girls who don't have them, balls, goalie gloves...) and somehow managed to pick up all of the girls in time for the scheduled 3:30 match. Okay, maybe we were ten minutes late, but thanks to the "hora nica" that counts as being on time.

The two teams had met three times before, twice in Chiqui and once in Chureca, and the home team won each game, so I expected our away game to be challenging. The Chureca "field" is really more of a bumpy dirt pit--there isn't a single blade of grass in sight. I wasn't just nervous about the field though, or even the dubious skills of our players. I'd spoken to girls on both sides who regaled me with stories of how dirty the opposing team played. They even told me that two of the girls, ironically each being one of the most timid on their respective teams, got into a physical fight that Michael had to separate. Some even pronounced that they would skip the game because they were afraid, although their incessant questioning about the time and date of the game tipped me off that their assertions were merely idle threats. For two weeks before the game, every time I saw the girls either in Chureca or around the community, I emphasized that the match was strictly friendly and that I expected them to play cleanly with absolutely no fighting. In addition, I read the rules (no fighting, support your teammates, respect the referee and coaches) to the team in the micro on the ride over to Chureca.

Action shot during the game

Luckily, the repetitive lectures paid off and we finished the game without a single raised fist. We played two twenty minute halves with impeccable refereeing by Daniel. Some of the girls really surprised me with their dedication and everyone contributed to the team effort. Highlights included an end of the first half save by Norma, the time when Idalia actually answered her cell phone during the game, a kick that bounced off of the heads of three unsuspecting fans, a corner kick to header play by Flora and Jennifer on the Chureca side that narrowly missed our goal, and, of course, the final shoot out. We ended the game tied 0-0 and the coaches on both sides would have been content to leave the game a draw, but the girls unanimously protested, demanding penalty kicks. The first set of five penalty kicks resulted in another tie, 1-1, and we ended up each doing two more, and unfortunately for us, Flora placed a perfect shot in the corner of the net and the Chureca team won.

All in all, I was so proud of all of the girls on both sides. When we were entering Chureca, Kelly and I looked at each other and wondered how the Chiqui girls felt driving in through the trash. Since it was their second visit, they seemed accustomed to the surroundings so I can't speak to their first impressions. I think now they see Chureca simply as a place to play against another team, unlike many people in Managua who see Chureca as the country's dirty secret and turn down their nose at the community. I hope that the Chiqui girls have gained an awareness of both the startling reality of the dump but now, with our second visit, the humanity of the people who live within it.

Karen (Chiqui) and Jennifer (Chureca)

Many people asked me why we were having the game in Chureca instead of at the beautiful grassy field on the August family's land. It's definitely a valid question, but I think that our decision to play the away game reflects upon our commitment to respecting the residents of Chureca as equals and as a valid community in their own right. I remember the pride that I felt when playing a home game with my high school team, and the Chureca girls felt that same pride, even though their field is essentially a plot of dirt. Playing on neatly clipped grass isn't always the best for everyone--the Chureca girls have an advantage on their field since they rountinely play on the dirt and know how to navigate the bumpy ground. In addition, they had the support of a crowd of fans who clustered around the field and sat on the wall that delineated one of the sidelines cheering for the home team. I saw that the game built community in many ways--between the Chiqui girls on our team, between the Chureca girls on their team, within Chureca between the players and their supporters, and especially between the two neighborhoods. One of our Chiqui friends, Karen, has been coming to the Chureca English class for a while now and has become friends with many of the girls on the Chureca team. I think that their friendships helped to maintain the positive tone of the game. Little developments such as these make me feel that something as small as organizing a soccer game can really make a difference in connecting communities and I feel so much cariño for all of the girls that I love seeing them develop friendships with one another through the games.

Anina Hewey
Program Director
MPI Nicaragua

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Highlight: Child Sponsorship - Chureca Gets A Play Day

Child Sponsorship's quarterly field trip gave the children and mothers in our nutrition and health education program an afternoon's rest from life in Chureca. It took two buses to get everyone from Chureca to El Salero, or "The Land" in Manna jargon, and back, but it was well worth the trip for everyone. The sponsored kids received lunch and each his or her own children's book, but most importantly rare time to play in clean air and open spaces. Kathy and Halle August's sports complex was the perfect venue. The new Program Directors were particularly thankful that we had time to get to know both the children and mothers in the Child Sponsorship Program, but above all it was a day full of joy. Enabling a child to run, laugh, and play brings joy in a portion that is rarely matched. Here we share some snapshots of Chureca's play day.

Lauren Page "LP" Black attempts to help Maria Antonia simultaneously tackle her fear of swings and cameras.

Andrew Hemby, more commonly referred to as "Ands" or just "Hemby," being kept from his Gallo Pinto by Heysel and Josué Daniel. Heysel helped us hand out cookies!

Jose Manuel, rarely separated from his faithful backpack, braves the tire swing on his own.

In addition to his undying love for Spiderman, or Hombre Araña, Josué Daniel always brings a laugh when he insists on introducing himself by his full name, Josué Daniel Chávez Ortega.

Hemby gives Jefrey a boost toward the basket.

The children of Chureca are a sincere lesson in the resilience of a child's joy. I suspect that we, the new Program Directors, may find that Manna's sponsored children and students have more to teach us than we ever suspected.