Sunday, July 21, 2013

Final Retreat and a Few Despedidas

While the new PDs were at language school in Managua this week, we took one last chance to go on a retreat as a house. After programs on Thursday morning we loaded up the micro for a trip to Las Isletas in Lake Nicaragua. We took a boat ferry from Granada to a small island off shore from Mount Mombacho to spend a couple days preparing for our site transition.

This retreat we were able to focus on outlining the best plan for transitioning our programs over to the new PDs in the coming weeks, as well as transitioning all of Manna's on-site organizational tasks. We are looking forward to the coming month of chaos, because we know that in the end another group of PDs will be bringing their knowledge, passion, and skill sets into these communities and into our existing programs here in Nicaragua.

This retreat also marked the end of Jamison's year in Nicaragua. We drove straight from the island to the airport at 4am today, so that he could head back to Texas for law school. He has served here in Nicaragua this year by leading Level 1 English, Boys' Health, Baseball, Comedor, and Business Development. Thank you for a great year here in Nica, Jamison! Best of luck returning to your old stomping grounds at SMU for law school!

Later this week, JJ will also be returning to the States to prepare for a return to school. On Thursday, he'll fly home to Chicago before beginning medical school this fall. As you can imagine, JJ has served in several health programs this year like Boys' Health, Child Sponsorship, and the local health initiative in Cedro Galan. He's also lead our Level 2 English, Comedor, and Baseball programs. Thank you for all the energy and enthusiasm this year, JJ! You certainly kept us all moving at a faster pace and that's probably why we got so much done! Good luck at med school!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Program Updates: Business Development and Math and Literacy

Here in Nicaragua we have been working over the past several months to transition two of our programs into the local public school at Chiquilistagua. We are always working to improve our programs and our ability to impact individuals within our local communities, so recently we saw the opportunity to strengthen two of our programs by working through a local institution. We began meeting with the leadership and staff at Chiquilstagua to discuss ways we could serve students in the areas of business and education, specifically math and literacy. Per the request of the principal and teachers, we began preparing curriculum for a business development program for high school students, as well as a tutoring program for alternative education students in math and literacy.

After the semester break at the beginning of the month, we were finally able to begin teaching classes on Mondays and Wednesdays. The Business Development program is utilizing resources from the Peace Corp to teach a full semester curriculum to a class of juniors. While it is currently just a class, we hope to be able to develop the program to give loans to students who perform well and present the best business plan at the close of the semester.

We have two Program Directors working with an alternative education teacher, Angelica, to provide additional support in math and literacy to a class of 6th graders. Many of the students in this program have dropped out of school at one point or have been retained due to poor grades. The students spend an additional half an hour on mathematics and another half hour on literacy topics. The PDs are working with the teacher to reinforce concepts and ideas from class that will best serve the students in completing primary school.

We are excited to see these programs develop and we're thankful for the opportunity to partner with the local school again to serve children from Cedro Galan and Chiquilistagua. Good luck to our students for a great second semester!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Welcome Home to the Mannamily!

Yesterday we welcomed home the newest members of our family. I think I speak for most everyone who has called this Manna House home over the years when I say that it never gets old. Part of what makes this house so enchanting is that despite constant changes, there is always a constant sense of belonging. Some years it might take the new Program Directors days or weeks to settle in, but everyone eventually begins to embrace these dirt smudged walls and couches overflowing with people as their own. This group wasted no time in enjoying the pool, lounging in the hammock, and even helping to bathe the family dogs. We are hopeful for their year living life here together.

We've also already enjoyed our first family dinner together last night at Andele, which felt a lot like déjà vu since this time last year we were doing the exact same thing. This morning after breakfast everyone headed out for their first introduction to the community. So from one Mannamily to another, WELCOME HOME!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Reflections of an 8-week Summer Intern

Joan Fernandez has been living here in Nica since May and working with Manna. As he prepares for his departure later this week, he took some time to reflect on the impact this experience and this place have had on him.


When you decide to partake in the work of any organization that attempts to respond to issues of poverty, inequality, and violence, you assume the responsibility of understanding how these problems emanate, are discussed, and are perceived in the communities from which you are learning and in which you are attempting to make a contribution. For the first three weeks of my internship, the number of programs and the pace of life here overwhelmed me. It was not clear how these programs were connected to a common goal or vision. There is art class, health education, child sponsorship, exercise, the jewelry cooperative, the feeding program, English courses, lacrosse the nations, computer education, and various other very important programs in place. For every program we administer, we forgo running another one that may be more effective at responding to the difficulties identified by members of the communities in which we work. Reflection, in other words, is incredibly important for the work of Manna. However, it alone does not suffice. More important than reflection is having a space to share the thoughts we generate as we go through our day to day. Offering a point of view or perception and having it challenged is the only way an organization and, indeed, the individuals that make up that organization can flourish.
While the absence of open forums for these discussions to take place made this journey very difficult for me, I do not hold anyone accountable for this but myself. What I had witnessed in Nicaragua was unlike anything that I had ever encountered, and it appeared as though the only spaces to discuss this world that I was attempting to make sense of were in the confines of my mind and on the pages of my journal because there was simply too much work to get done on a daily basis to stop and all get together to reflect. As a result of this rapid pace of life and this lack of mediation, I lost site of much of the value that lies behind the day-to-day interactions that occur within these programs, underplaying the keystone of this organization. All the planning, organizing, and meetings were slowly losing their value to me. In this position of discomfort, I found that the only way that I could make things better is by speaking out to someone.
Once I did something as simple as that, I realized that I was not alone and that many other interns were feeling the same way that I had: confused, anxious, hopeful, afraid, and eager. We begun to discuss our thoughts on national politics, economic practices, ourselves, our roles in the communities in which we work, and I was inspired by these conversations. Indeed, they are one of the most prized possessions I have as I prepare to depart from Nicaragua. The importance of these conversations cannot be understated; it reminds us to keep things into perspective and focused on certain tangible, well-assessed goals. Challenging these ideas for the past several weeks has made this experience unforgettable and meaningful. I am more invested in my education, understand how much privilege I have, I am more aware of how the world around us conditions the things we perceive as normal and immutable, the importance of challenging these ideas, and, most importantly, I understand that these issues that we have encountered in Nicaragua and that are present in the United States do not exist in vacuums: we must understand them in relation to the context in which they are found in order to know how to best respond to them.
I will miss so many things about life here: the many children that have come to know me and that have made me part of their lives, the inspirational men and especially women with which I have interacted, the work that goes behind administering every program, the Program Directors, community dinners and homestays, the many runs into the community, our adventurous and always amazing weekend trips, and the laughter and good times that I have shared with so many people. Through this experience, I have come to the realization that despite the institutions we use to separate ourselves, we all have similar impetuses that determine how we lead our lives. Indeed, these distinctions we highlight make us seem more different than we are: people in need of love. 
A piece of my mind and heart will always belong to Nicaragua.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Summer Venta

During the year we have many generous visitors at the Manna House. They come to serve with us for a short time, but often leave many things here with us when they depart. Today we had the opportunity to use those donations to serve our home community of Cedro with a yard sale. For four hours this morning the PDs and summer interns organized and ran a store where families could buy clothing, shoes, household items, toys, etc. for anywhere from $0.20- $1. The money from this event will be used to fund our local programs that also serve this community.

Thank you to everyone that has contributed this year to make our Summer Venta a huge success!!