Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Bittersweet 'Despedida'

          The time has come to say goodbye to the program directors of 2010-2011 and transition into the new group of volunteers for the upcoming year, which always makes for a difficult yet exciting change.  Two nights ago in El Farito we held our annual despedida party, formally presenting the new volunteers to the community and giving the old ones a chance to say goodbye.  This year was unique in that we had the opportunity to introduce the new program director, Katie Messick, to the community as well.  Even though this happens every year, it still was no easy task for the program directors to bid farewell to all of the people they had become so close with this past 10-13 months.
          So the evening began with a trivia game that required the community to investigate into the lives of the new program directors, trying to discover which of the volunteers paired up with the list of trivia facts given.  Then after Amira introduced Katie and the new program directors, a handful of girls from the community performed both folklore and reggaetown dances.  Along with the help of program directors Steph and Carly, the girls were all dressed up for the occasion, wearing traditional Nicaraguan skirts and tops with makeup and hair to along with it; they all looked beautiful and danced wonderfully.  It was then time for each of the program directors of 2010-2011 to say their own special goodbye, which lead into the final and probably most anticipated event, the photo slideshow.  The slideshow was a brief five minute video of pictures that captured just a handful of the many memories and experiences that took place this past year.  The rest of the night was then spent eating cake and hanging out with the community members.  There were tears and there was laughter and of course photos being snapped in every which direction, making the entire evening absolutely awesome but definitely bittersweet as well.
A snapshot of the community members present.
Dayana dressed up in her traditional Nicaraguan folklore outfit.
The new program directors of 2011-12.
Steph and Carly dancing with some of the community members.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Community Spotlight

Laura Zelaya 

“I wouldn’t have this store today if it wasn’t for Manna Project,” says Laura Zelaya as she begins to tell the story of her nearly eight year long relationship with MPI.  “Manna Project gave me confidence. They showed me that I could do something besides cooking and cleaning, that I could run a business.”

Laura Zelaya awakes at 5:30 every morning to prepare breakfast for her husband and daughter as they get ready for work and school, and often does not rest her head until 11 at night.  In certain ways, her days are similar to those of many Nicaraguan women – full of cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, and taking care of her family.  But unlike most of her peers, Laura’s daily life includes very welcome interruptions:  calls of “Buenas!” from a steady stream of neighbors coming to buy soda, snacks, and toilet paper from the small store (venta) that Laura runs out of her house.

Laura first became acquainted with the organization through Kathy and Halle August, independent missionaries who own the two community centers in Chiquilistagua and Cedro Galan in which MPI holds programs.  She had petitioned fiercely (and successfully) to get her only daughter, Laurita, into the Augusts’ preschool, even though Laurita was a few months shy of the minimum age.   Lori Scharffenberg, one of the founders and current executive director of MPI, was a preschool teacher at the time, and developed a strong bond with Laurita. Despite her family’s close relationship with Lori and the successful children’s programs MPI ran in the community, Laura was a bit skeptical of the help that MPI could provide to help lift families out of poverty.  At the time, her family lived in a tiny, one-room house, and survived solely on Laura’s income as a housekeeper, as her husband was unable to find work in construction.  So, a few years later, when MPI started a microfinance and business development program, Laura made the life-changing decision to attend the first class.

In the microfinance program, Laura learned the structure of a sound business plan, the basics of accounting, and the expectations of loan repayment.   She won a loan to start selling clothes within the community, and her career business took off.  As the sole breadwinner in her family, she kept her daughter well nourished and clothed, and she still beams when talking about her proudest moment: the day that she was able to buy a new door for her house.  Laura also became part of an initiative developed  by two MPI Program Directors that encouraged local women to become seamstresses.  

She and her sister-in-law sewed aprons and bags, which they sold to visiting volunteer groups for a profit of $5 apiece.   Laura went to work in a local store when this program ended, but eventually felt she was not receiving enough pay for her work.   She began selling helados (homemade ice cream) and enchiladas out of her house in order to supplement her income.  Very slowly, she started saving money and developing a business plan for her own store.  Over the past year, Laura’s store has flourished.  Combined with her husband’s income from construction, the family has been able to expand their house.  Although the organization did not provide a loan for her current business, Laura credits MPI with giving her the knowledge, inspiration and drive to start her own store.  She also thanks MPI for instilling a love of learning in her now 10 year-old daughter, who has taken literacy and math classes with MPI and is one of the most dedicated students in its English program.

Laura, an outgoing and patient woman, constantly shows her gratitude to MPI by helping new Program Directors learn Spanish and welcoming them into her home.  As her store grows, she hopes to give back to the community by serving as an example of success for others who are starting businesses.

Final Retreat

The three week mark has come for us program directors of the year 2010-2011and so as one of our last little hoorahs before we leave we went on our final retreat this past week with Amira.  Throughout the year we go on about three of four retreats that give us an opportunity to catch up with each other and discuss how things are going.  So Wednesday morning everyone packed into the micro and headed out towards Granada.  After a yummy and pleasantly filling breakfast at Kathy’s waffle house, we then piled into a boat and headed out towards the isletas, which was where we were to stay.  The isla that was ours for the night was a quaint little house with a giant pool, lots a hammocks and sitting areas to read and rest, and lots of beautiful trees and flowers.  In between the rain we went canoeing, swam, read in the many hammocks spread around the property, played cards, and then just spent time resting and relaxing.
Then for dinner we shared a deliciously big Mexican potluck and talked about our past year here; what was good, what was most memorable and what we have learned.  Despite most of our resistance to talk initially, I think that we all appreciated the chance to reflect with each other.  I think it is safe to say that none of us are the exact same person we were when we arrived, and so to be able to share that with the people we are closest with here was great.  And it wasn't all sad talk either.  Some of our most memorable moments where actually pretty comical, such as stories about getting the car stuck or trying to deal with the crazy weather or traffic.  Overall it was a great trip, and now we are back in Managua to finish out our time.  We now also have the next few weeks to look forward to getting to know the new program directors, who arrive back from language school this Friday.  

In the boat heading out towards the isletas.
The guys enjoying their down time.
The house on the isleta where we stayed.
Will and Dane throwing the frisbee.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Community Art Show

          This past week was the last for the summer volunteers of session two and so as sort of a farewell to them we hosted a community get-together in El Farito.  It was focused around the recently switched kid's art program and was a time were they could display the crafts they had made.  Up until recently program director Katie Hathaway had been teaching a music class in which she taught the kids basic information about rhythm and reading music.  Well after her concert a few weeks back she decided to change the program into an art class because there were more people who seemed interested and skilled in that area, especially from the summer volunteers.  Two girls in particular stepped up to the plate to lead it, Baylee and Priyanca, and had the kids do a variety of creative and different projects.  For example they made masks, noise makers, painted their favorite places and things they loved, and then painted a mural as well.  So on Wednesday night they presented all of their hardwork on tables in El Farito so that everyone could walk around and see.  It turned out to be a super fun night filled with goodbyes but then a lot of laughter as well.  Dayana even performed a surprise dance for the summer volunteers that they all loved and in which she danced to traditional Nicaraguan folklore.  
          This weekend we also welcomed our new program directors for the year 2011-2012.  So exciting!  These first two weeks they are going to be in language school and participating in homestays with families in downtown Managua, meaning we won't really have the chance to see them.  The two weeks following are when we actually get to work and train with them.  As sad as it is to have to think about leaving, I and all of the other program directors are certainly looking forward to getting to know the new program directors and work in helping them get acquainted with this huge new life transition.
Summer Volunteers Priyanca and Baylee with their art class.
Mural made by the kids in the art class.
Dayana dressed to dance. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Women's Exercise Gets Creative

        Having the summer volunteers here had been a huge blessing and help in more ways than one, and the energy and creativity that they bring to all of the Manna programs has been truly beneficial.  One of the programs that has specifically been helped for the better is women's health and exercise.  I, Megan, am the teacher/leader of this program, and I often time have trouble finding new music or thinking of new routines or activities to keep the women engaged and on their toes.  Well all of the girls have been more than willing and excited to help, and the program has in my opinion progressed for the better.  
         During the first summer session one of the volunteers, Maddy, taught a Zumba class which the women absolutely loved because they all naturally love to dance.  For those who do not know Zumba is a dance class that mixes Latin American music and modern pop; so much fun.  Then this past week one of the current summer volunteers taught a Bollywood dance routine, which is something that the women and many of us have ever seen before, and was also super fun.  Along with dancing, the girls have helped me lead yoga and strength classes as well as a water aerobics class here at the Manna house pool. Even though most of the women did not know how to swim, it didn't prevent them from getting in and getting involved.  Another thing that I  wanted to incorporate into the program was a bit more focus on health and how to have a healthy lifestyle, and one of the summer volunteers was a nutrition major at school.  So she helped me gather some really informative and helpful resources to give the women about eating right and having a healthy diet and living a healthy life.  With all of the wonderful help at my fingertips now I am definitely going to miss all of this summer help. They are, however, leaving me with some great ideas that I hope to be able to use in the future.   
Summer volunteer Priyanca leading Bollywood.  
More bollywood.
Water aerobics at the Manna house.  
Summer volunteer Maddy leading Zumba class.