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.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Highlight: Chureca - [Untitled]

Attempts to match my words to my deepest emotions expose that I am given to use of the phrase, "there are no words to describe." Though my affinity for hyperbole perhaps leads me to overuse the construction, there are times I will defend the appropriateness of the title "indescribable." The term has rigidly applied to relationships with loved ones, materializing in thank-you's and goodbyes. One week ago, a pile of trash shattered my understanding of that steadfast and hallowed word.

It has taken a week and three return trips to come to terms with my inability to describe Chureca. It is so bad. So bad. In a way, when I say that there are no words, I mean that there are too many; more accurately, too many to be efficient. That place is so bad. So bad. Words have incredible power, but if I may be louder I must be.

Last Tuesday we walked the long and sodden path out of the dump innear silence. The occasional glance over my shoulder revealed again the circling of those black and outsize birds. That ominous cloud fixed in Chureca's sky reminded me with renewed sorrow that what I neither dared nor desired to describe survived my wish that it had been a terrible dream.

In my room at Vanderbilt University, a small flier that once caught my eye hung just above the light switch. It read, "Compassion = Action." If I may be louder, I must be.

Ian Rountree
Program Director
MPI Nicaragua

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Shoes to Fill / A Few Lessons

As with every good-bye, those said by this past year's PDs were not far from others saying, "hello." And so we arrived, the "new blood," the "newbies," los "nuevos," we ten Program Directors who will be Manna Project's hands for the coming year. Countless e-mails, an orientation with Ecuador's new PDs in Florida, and a month of training on site has preluded the transition but regardless it is intimidating to know that we are charged to fill shoes we saw walk with such an impact. We have constantly asked ourselves if we can possibly know the hordes of names and faces that our predecessors were able to rattle off, whether the children and parents will listen to us as well, laugh as loudly, or smile as broadly as they did with Josh, Nikki, Maddie, Mary Rose, Emily, Michael, Tressa, and Christina.

While we attempt to learn the paths of love pioneered by those amazing people who have pioneered MPI's presence in Managua, there have been other lessons this new life is teaching us already. I will share a few:

How to dye your tongue with local pitaya...

... How to ride a pickup Nica-style...

... How to enjoy a surprise downpour...

... How to speak Spanish. (And forget English)...

... How to make peace with monkeys boarding your ship...

... And finally, how to handle an active volcano.

Here and eager to learn,

The New Team

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

learning & leaving

This weekend marks the end of our 13 months with Manna Project. The year has flown by in so many ways. Honestly, anticipation of final goodbyes and getting on that airplane is really scary. This place has become our home, community members our family. Relationships here have grown real and deep, not replacing those in the States but absolutely paralleling them. Nicaraguan women nag us and feed us (hi mom!), little Nica boys wrestle us to the ground like brothers, local university students have become some of our dearest friends. Although it's easy to say that we'll come back, who's to say when we'll see these precious faces again?! People that were once strangers have become a part of who we are.

When our commitment to this place ends on August 9, it will be hard to walk away. But we know we're leaving MPI programs in the capable hands of the newbies, and we're departing with loved ones in our hearts. I think we can all say with confidence that we leave here renewed and with perspectives redefined, with new ideas of how the world should be and what our role is in the face of injustice. We have fresh eyes to see what is reality and how we can serve to make it a better place.

On a lighter note, here are other things we've learned:
-How to drive stick on third world highways (kind of like a video game with pot holes, cows, and running children)
-How to survive extreme awkwardness during home visits
-What to do when your neighbor pulls a gun on you
-Proper handling of two insane rottweilers
-How to entertain yourself during nightly power outages
-How to buy groceries for 20 and oatmeal/vitamins/milk for 50
-What to do when the road turns into a river
-How to ignore (or yell back at) the catcalls of every single Nicaraguan man

The list could go on. The point is, we've learned and grown and laughed and been frustrated and homesick and sweaty and played jokes and taught classes and served and been served and planned and failed and succeeded and been embarassed and lived in shacks and walked in a dump and danced the night away and wrestled with kids and picked fruit and argued about religion and politics and the meaning of life...

That's how the year seems: a total whirlwind of emotions and thoughts. As we poured into this underserved community and got dirty alongside its members, somehow perspectives on life were challenged and redefined. On Saturday, we'll walk away different -- and excited about how to take the things we've learned and use them in the next phase, whatever that may be.