Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Give Happiness, Give Health, Give Life.

It is appropriate that we opened our second health clinic right before #GivingTuesday, the international day of giving that follows Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The new clinic in Villa Guadalupe has been approved by the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health, so we are good to go! The clinic will provide free health consults to all community members who would not have access to health care otherwise. I'm so blessed to be a part of it! To support the clinic by giving to our #GivingTuesday campaign, click here.

Giving Tuesday

My Giving Tuesday photo is about giving kids a safe space to learn and play.  Through my time at Manna, I've come to see what an important resource our building in Cedro Galan, "El Farito," is for our community.  It's a space where we run everything from our English classes, to our clinic, to our exercise classes, to our camp JAM classes. Most importantly, it is safe and clean, unlike most other parts of the community that are littered with trash, glass and even needles.  

I often think about all the times I grew up going to the local community center for swim classes or day camp at the YMCA. Spaces like these are important and meaningful to a happy childhood.  The kids in Cedro Galan would not have access to a safe space within their community without "El Farito," and I'm constantly grateful to be able to run our programs from there.  As Manna grows, we may be able to offer even more safe space to our community in the future!

Click here to give to read more about #GivingTuesday and contribute to this great work!

By Erica Crosley

Monday, November 17, 2014

Generation Health

The past week in Nicaragua has been an exciting one for Cedro Health.  We've started a new round of our Generation class, with 18 new students present for the first lesson. Generation is an education and mentorship program for adolescents wanting to enter the medical field.  We teach classes on everything from major body systems to how to take blood pressure.  

During the first lesson on Wednesday night, our new students were broken up into small groups and learned how to properly find a pulse and calculate a heart rate.  We then segued into our lesson on the cardiovascular system.  During the next lesson on Monday night, we focused focused on the flow of blood from the heart to the body and lungs.  We finally learned how and why doctors use a stethoscope.  Their homework is to take the pulse of five people in their family.  

Generation class is something that never fails to warm my heart.  It's amazing to see a group of eager students give up a weeknight just to learn more about medicine.  As all of us "profes" climbed into the micro full of students to go to class, and they greeted us with huge smiles and hugs as they talked about how excited they were to learn.  As we dropped them off at the end of the night, they said they couldn't wait for the next lesson.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Camino Nuevo

As someone who’s principal role on the jewelry team is behind the scenes, I found it challenging to establish relationships with the women in the cooperative at first. I help manage Camino Nuevo inventory, and my role mainly deals with material preparation and collection rather than direct interaction with the women. In addition to our primary roles, each PD on jewelry has been assigned one or two different cities in Nicaragua where they visit once a month and investigate potential vendors and different opportunities for selling Camino Nuevo Jewelry on a national level. We are strongly encouraged to take one of the cooperative women with us on our “market surveys” (when we visit our respective cities). Initially, I was somewhat apprehensive about taking a woman with me, especially because my market, Matagalpa, is one of the farthest markets we have, and the trip there and back is a whole day affair.
Jenny, the woman who volunteered to accompany me, and I met near the bus station at 6:00 a.m. and did not return until 8:30 p.m. that night. Needless to say, it was a very long initial hangout! However, it was also one of my favorite days in Nicaragua. Jenny had only left the city limits of Managua a couple of times, and this trip was her first time to venture this far around herown country. Both of us spent the bus ride marveling at the change in topography, and Jenny continually pointed to the mountains and greenery outside saying, “Mira Katy, WOW!!” After our morning sales-stops, we ate lunch at a quaint Italian restaurant, a cuisine she had never tried before. After lunch we continued visiting different hotels in the city center, and Jenny became increasingly vocal and confident with each new hostel owner we interacted with. Jenny is soft-spoken and can be timid at first, but by the end of the day, I felt like she could be a one-woman show!
It was a privilege to see Jenny experience so much newness, excitement, and challenge in one day, but it was an even greater privilege to get to know Jenny on a personal level. We spent the bus ride back to Managua reminiscing about humorous events of the day, showing each other pictures of our loved ones, and talking about our families, pasts, and hopes for the future. We did not stop talking for three hours, and even at the end of a very long day, I was sad to see it come to an end because I did not want to say bye to Jenny. Since my first trip to Matagalpa, I have enjoyed our jewelry program and other programs in Villa Guadalupe exponentially more. Now for me, VG is not only the community that I work in, it is a place where one of my dear friends resides. now see Jenny every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and I am grateful that Manna not only espouses relationship-building as one of their core tenets, but that they also grant usactual opportunities to make this happen.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

EYE Love Arts and Crafts.

Made crazy glasses with the kids in Camp JAM this week! It was tons of fun and they all looked pretty great in their final creations! 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Home Stays: Learning and Living in the Moment

My first home stay was in Costa Rica in 2009. It was a 2 day home stay, nothing long, and nothing too extreme. I had my own bed in a nice middle-class family’s house and was surrounded by those in my travel group. They all stayed in houses next to mine. However, I remember being humbled, inspired, and affected by my experience… an experience that later led me to take a Gap Year. I found a passion for getting to know other peoples and cultures. I loved speaking Spanish and being pushed out of my comfort zone; I found it to be scary, exhilarating, fun, exciting, different.
After graduating high school, I set out to Bolivia in Peru, chasing those exact emotions. I quickly found myself out of my comfort zone in Bolivia, which at the time was Latin America’s second poorest country. I traveled in a Gap Year group of 12, called Where There Be Dragons, where we strayed off the normal, beaten path and trekked through rural parts of Bolivia, getting to know new cultures. I was able to witness poor conditions in all social sectors: health, education, the environment… a lack of infrastructure, corruption, you name it. Although I witness poverty around me, I was infatuated with the amount of hospitality, love, and happiness the Bolivians showed me. I stayed in some of the poorest conditions - sleeping on a pile of potatoes in a closet of an adobe brick house, going to the bathroom wherever I could find a discrete place within the community, taking cold, cold bucket baths, eating on the dirt floor sharing scraps with guinea pigs… while at first these things seemed extreme and shocking conditions (especially when that cold bucket hit your back), I eventually became accustomed to it. I actually enjoyed it. It was such a simple way of living. There were no material goods, objects or anything else that got in the way of my enjoyment of the company that surrounded me. We were happy with what we had and what we had were each others stories, jokes, laughs, smiles, and joy. By building relationships with my home stay family and community members, I was able to get a better understanding of the needs within the community, but also of their strengths. One learns how resilient people are. How strong and determined they are. Traveling is one thing, and living and communicating within a community is another— I learned the importance of building trustworthy relationships as it is the key to the hearts of the community and the key to change. My home stay experiences are always invaluable ones, ones to learn and grow from those you are exchanging with.

My home stay in Cedro Galan this past week was just that. I was able to spend time in the community getting to know a family of 6 (same number as mine). I slept in a room with the 4 children — I was on a mattress on the floor with one of the younger girls, while the boy Juan was on his own little board in the corner and the other 2 girls sharing a bed right next to mine. On the other side of the tin sheet wall were the parents sharing a twin sized bed. If you stepped right outside our rooms was the living room, which consisted of 2 metal chairs, a few boxes to sit on, a small fridge, and a tiny TV in the corner. If you walked outside and to the other small tin room you found the kitchen, which consisted of a wood “counter” and a fire pit to do the cooking…. no stove, no oven, no fancy steel appliances. But the food was good. I mean really good! Jessenia, my host mom and BFF, is one mean cook. The food usually consisted of rice and beans but she was always able to add amazing flavors and twists to the Nica diet.

During our time together (waking up at 5am, going to bed between 8-11pm) we discussed community needs, her visions for a business and for the community, brainstormed ideas for the clinic and for a trash collection system. When we weren’t busy dreaming we played card games after card games. They taught me a new version of poker that kept us occupied for hours upon hours. Might I add, I had no electronics with me all week, just one backpack filled with a few pairs of clothing, a deck of cards, and a notebook. Another simplicity. By removing technology, which at times can be toxic, I found myself living far more in the moment. No Snapchat, no Instagram, no Facebook— no need to let other people know what I was doing — the only worry I had was whether I was going to win that hand of cards. It truly is liberating and peaceful, yet exhilarating to be able to live in the moment and not worry about what other people were doing, or feel the need to tell everyone in the world via Snapchat. Truly, living in the moment. Enjoying each moment. Each laugh. Each exchange.

I will always continue to learn from people. It is my passion. I love living outside my comfort zone. Listening to the experiences, histories, and ideas of others. I believe it is our way to true social change and the key to a better world. We all need to listen, live in the moment, and learn from one another.

Until next home stay- Paz y Amor,
Naty Pelota

By Natalie Ball

Sam's Homestay Home Run!

Oscar (aka Benny 'the jet' Rodriguez)

This is Sam checking in. Just came off a crazy, at times intense, but an overall rewarding six-day home stay with Oscar and his family in Cedro Galan. We spent most of our days outside playing, devouring Heydi’s (Oscar’s aunt) delicious cooking, and watching movies with Oscar’s mom at night. Immersing myself in the community allowed me to escape the comforts of the Manna House and see how day-to-day life was for Oscar and his family. Hand washing clothes and taking bucket showers were the norm. I had some serious conversations with Oscar’s uncle, Allam, about the United States, family life, working, and the meaning of happiness. We were mesmerized at the news to see coverage of mudslide at Barrio 18 in Managua.  The devastating event took the lives of some of the children in their community. As with most Nicaraguans, I was very much welcomed into their home. I plan on going back to their house as often as possible. Ever see the movie the Sandlot? Well, pictured above is Oscar (aka Benny ‘the Jet’ Rodriguez) about to crush a home run, Nica style… until next time! Home stays are the best!

By Sam Schadt

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Camp J.A.M (Juegas, Artes, Musica)

Camp J.A.M. is in full swing and the kids are loving the variety of activities we provide. Tuesday we made drums and let the children loose to express themselves in a musical way. Here you can see the kids participating in our quick lesson about what a crescendo is... or in put more plainly, a race to see who can play the loudest. It is so wonderful to see the kids engaged in fun and safe play!

By Julie Sawyer

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Home-stays in Cedro Galán!

For the next three weeks, the Program Directors of the Nicaragua are be on a rotating schedule of week-long home-stays in the community of Cedro Galán. This week, Juliene, Brittny, and myself find ourselves completely immersed in Nicaraguan culture as we start off our home-stay experiences. 

I have been fortunate enough to be welcomed into the home of a woman who is regarded as of one of the best cooks in the community. Aside from the delicious food, I have been enjoying spending time with the whole family and improving my Spanish. Despite the fact that three generations are living together in one house, everyone was more than happy to make space for me.

Thus far, I have been blown away by the hospitality and generosity and I am beyond grateful to my new Nicaraguan family for making me feel so at home. Despite the fact that life here is very different from that of the United States, this home-stay experience has reminded me that home is always where the heart is!

By Gretchen Heine

Saturday, September 27, 2014

HOLA! from all our amigos.

Quarterly Retreat: The Manna Movement

Hola from Laguna de Apoyo!

Team MPI Nicaragua is enjoying our quarterly retreat at a lovely house in Laguna de Apoyo. Set up lakeside, we have had a productive, reflective, and exciting retreat where we have set up some important yearly goals. By stepping outside the hustle and bustle of Managua, we were able to find our zen and really reflect as a program, finding our strengths and weaknesses, and figuring out how we can maintain and improve what we like to call the "Manna Movement." With this, we have established some important goals for the year. These points include:

Active Communication



Spanish Tuesdays

Support the Team

Fortify Relationships

Manna Movement

Overall, we have enjoyed the luxury of the A/C for two nights, the company of each other, and the shared passion and determination we have at improving ourselves as a group and Manna as an organization. This year will be exciting and we hope to leave with a large impact on the Manna Movement. 

Reviewing goals as a team
Laguna de Apoyo 

 Left to right: Erica, Sam, Brittny, Connor, Julienne

Beautiful end to a productive day! 

By Natalie Ball 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Click the link to watch MPI's 10 year reunion video! 

First Nicaragua Blogpost - SO FAR, VERY GOOD!!!

First Nicaragua Blogpost - SO FAR, VERY GOOD!!!

Hi Everyone!

I am so pleased to announce that I have received a $10,000 grant from the Christianson InterExchange Grant, which is truly a blessing. I was at first reluctant to take a year off after graduating to volunteer but this is a sure sign of a successful move. I have been down here in Managua for about 3 weeks now and everyday I wake up feeling more and more at home. As I get to know the community members, and the other volunteers I am working with, I feel more situated and inspired to improve the health, education, financial and social hurdles many of these people face. While many of you think I might just be working as a nurse, I am actually working on a lot of different programs, which is super fun and diverse! Here they are:

  • English Level 2: MPI runs five English classes spanning five levels that serve adults, teenagers and children, and I teach English level 2. All English programs meet at the community center in Cedro Galan. Holding theseclasses in the late afternoon/evening provides opportunities for individuals to further their education following school or work. I have found this to be a lot more challenging than I thought since I am teaching 98% of it in Spanish (and I am working on my Spanish skills myself!). I know sometimes the students get frustrated with me because I can’t explain all the grammar clearly, but it is definitely a skill I am hoping to work on. I have most definitely have a new found respect for all my teachers!!  
  • Child Sponsorship: MPI has developed a child sponsorship program to address undernourishment in children ages 0-5 who live outside the city dump. Working in Villa Guadalupe, MPI seeks out and matches each child with a financial sponsor in the U.S. MPI currently has 50 children in the program that receive milk formula, vitamins, and oatmeal/cereal on a monthly basis at Milk Day. PDs are responsible for visiting families in their homes throughout the month to address any health/family concerns. Other PD responsibilities include building trust and maintaining relationships, writing to sponsors, and organizing monthly Milk Day. I have had a really great time working on establishing my relationships with the children/families I visit each week. With such vulnerable population that faces many financial, health and social issues (domestic abuse being a large one), I have been working on creating a trusting and supportive relationship. Once I develop that, I believe I can be more valuable to the families and hopefully aid them in some health and social concerns. *We are currently looking for more child sponsors if you are interested. It is $20 a month and truly makes a difference in a child’s life! E-mail me at natalie.ball@mannaproject.org if you are!

  • Women’s Exercise and Nutrition: This program works to increase the physical, mental, and emotional health in the women of Cedro Galan. It uses a mix of cardio, weight and strength exercises to increase fitness and promote a healthy, active lifestyle. PDs also address poor nutrition through lessons and cooking classes. PDs are responsible for developing exercise routines, planning nutrition lessons, and other activities outside.

  • Girls’ Health: Our health programs target pre-teen and teenage students at the local public school. We hold classes for both boys and girls on a variety of topics ranging from goal setting to human development sexual health to basic nutrition. The goal of this program is to give students a safe place to talk openly about sensitive issues that affect them on a daily basis. PDs are responsible for developing curriculum, administering classes, and working in conduction with school administration and faculty to further the program.

  • Jewelry Cooperative: The jewelry cooperative began in the summer of 2012 after MPI received a grant from Walmart to begin a women’s empowerment program targeted at financial independence. Throughout the fall of 2012, the cooperative took shape a s legalized Nicaraguan cooperative with a governing board and core of approximately 20 women. The coop received full legal status in June 2013. There are currently 17 women working in the coop, and we are in the process of welcoming 8 more women. The current president of the coop is a local Nicaraguan woman. PDs are responsible for working with the women to run a success coop by organizing orders, purchasing supplies, managing payments, organizing materials, managing different markets, and a collection of other oddJOBS. Currently, we give the women materials to make jewelry every Wednesday. They have space to work in at our MPI house, but they do a lot of jewelry making at home. Each woman can make up to $100USD monthly.
  • Business Development: The business development program has recently been redesigned and now targets community members within Cedro Galan. PDs approach already established businesses, such as ventas (small home-based stores), as well as members with solid business ideas. PDs help members establish a business plan an teach the members important principles to follow. Small loans are then distributed and are expected to be paid back following an agreed upon timeline. PDs are expected to provide guidance to loan recipients, collect payments, and look for new potential loan recipients.
  • Cedro Health: The Cedro Health Clinic opened in October 2013. The clinic provides affordable primary care to our community for only 20 cordobas (less than $1.00 USD) for a consultation and medication. Our Doctor, Wendy, and Nurse, Selma, work for the clinic three days a week. Selma also works as our community health promotor. The Cedro Health program also includes a Generation class, where youth 12-18 interested in a career in health progressions are able to learn about healthcare and different biological and medical topics. PDs who take part in this program are expected to work in the clinic conducting intakes or basic vital signs, accompany the nurse on community walks, and plan lessons for the Generation class. Furthermore, I will be helping launch a health promotion and education project, focusing on preventative health measure and community outreach. 
  • I am also working with Lacrosse The Nations (LTN), a program for children in these underserved communities. LTN is a great way to run around with kids, but to also provide them with a real curriculum that focuses on respect and etiquette on and off the field.

Lastly,  I am very happy to announce that we are opening another clinic in Villa Guadalupe (formerly known as La Chureca). The people living in this area face many heath concerns, namely respiratory and parasite issues, as their community is just aside the municipal dump. I am really excited to get involved with health promotion projects in the community with the local health promotor. 

Overall, I have been challenged so far by balancing all the different projects, yet I know all of them are vital to holistic community development and all support each other in special ways. It is important for the community to be well educated, healthy, and financially stable. By addressing the triple bottom line the MPI Program Directors and I are challenging the status quo and hoping to create true change in the lives of many. This is going to be a great year and I am very excited to see how the year will progress. While I face many challenges, all in a foreign language, my heart is in the right place and with that passion and inspiration from those around me, I hope to be apart of the change that so desperately needs to come. 

Paz y amor for now and be sure to tune in for more updates!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Investment Lessons

by Justin J. Pearson, Summer 2 Intern

Your journey of a thousand miles may begin with one step, but who you are travelling with helps you reach your destination. I am fortunate to be on a journey of self-awareness and evaluation with my Mannamily. I am challenged to think creatively when making Camp J.A.M. plan. Analytically, when helping create Business Development strategy and introspectively while walking in the communities where we serve.

Our service is only part of the experience, but how the community serve us is the other part. I continue to learn that service is understanding that the people you work with/ serve are giving of themselves and their stories to help you grow. The communities we work have strengthened me. I only hope I can help some in theirs.  Our shared vision is culminated when sitting with a community member in her home and listening to her tell about her hopes for the future. These moments define holistic community development by understanding the community.

Here, I grow. I have learned how to evaluate the community without imposing preconceived beliefs or ideals. I understand the investment that Manna has in this community and the investment of the community in Manna. I have learned more Spanish, met more people and engaged in the Nica experience. I work with my Mannamily and work in the community.

The meals we share and our travels strengthen our bonds with one another. The homestays, the classes, and the work we do strengthen our bonds to a wider net of humanity. There are few experience that have challenged the way I think more than my time here in Nicaragua.

Each step strengthens me. Each conversation I discover more of who I am. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

English: The Golden Ticket

by Shani Bennett, Summer 2 Intern

There are a wide variety of community members who attend Manna’s English classes each week. They range in age from 7 to 65. Many of the students realize that English is a tool that can broaden their horizons and open doors for numerous job opportunities.  Attending several of the English classes has granted me the opportunity to meet some of the most dedicated individuals I have ever met. 

Jimmy attends the level three classes faithfully each week. He told me he heard about Manna’s English Classes while eating at a local restaurant and decided to attend. Although Jimmy had taken out a loan to study English at a local school in Managua, he still wanted to gain more experience before he applied for a job at the call center. When I met him, we spoke in English for an hour. He told me he was in the final stages of his interview process at the call center. Jimmy carried a notebook filled with practice phrases he could use when conversing with customers.  He told me that he also spent nights rehearsing his English on YouTube. “The internet is a great tool,” said Jimmy. 

Before class ended, Jimmy expressed how happy he was to sit and talk with me because he didn't get the opportunity to converse with North Americans often. I smiled and told him I was glad that I was able to help. A few days later, I received a friend request from Jimmy via Facebook. A message followed shortly after. Jimmy had gotten the job at the call center! I was so happy for him. He would now be able to pay off the loan he had taken out to learn English as well as help support his family financially.

Although Jimmy probably won’t be attending English classes any more, I am glad that I got a chance to meet him. Jimmy and I live separate lives but we are both finding ways to better ourselves. Even if that means taking out loans to study something that we know will benefit us in the end. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Active Learning

by Evan Tiffany, Summer 2 Intern

I have been here for just over a week now, and some things about Nica life still surprise me. 

Brendan and I meant to take the bus to get to Lacrosse the Nations (LtN) at Club Hope this morning, but the bus was so packed that there was no chance we could get on. I shouldn't say no chance though. Upon arrival, 20 people or so managed to pack into the bus, already standing room only, shoulder to shoulder. We took the next one, which didn't have people hanging out the back door when we left. 

I am more and more impressed with LtN. This morning, the kids learned about the importance of listening. They are all under 14 years old, mostly probably under 10. We played a game of telephone, and simply sat still and listened to the things around us for 5 straight minutes. No talking, just listening. The kids took it seriously. We listed the things we heard, birds singing, people walking, cars passing by. Afterwards we did an exercise where we passed the ball in teams, and had to listen for a signal to change directions. 

My Spanish is getting better. I took three years in high school, which was about as effective as you would expect. However, everyone here is very understanding of people trying to learn Spanish. I've worked my way through conversations with strangers (with their patient help), which is a very cool thing. 

Walking around Villa Guadalupe with the Child Sponsorship group I have seen some very surprising things. I've never been to a place so dirty, which is understandable for a neighborhood right next to a massive dump. The kids are all skinny. The dogs are worse. The streets smell like sewage. 

But you know what? 

There is music playing from a house on every street. The kids laugh and smile and play with us. The adults have their share of trouble, yet many are still happy to chat with us. It's all very human, and in such a hard place to live, under such hard conditions, there is still a lot of happiness, which blows me away. It makes all of my problems seem very small. 

You may have guessed by now that personal growth is one of our group goals here. And it is definitely in progress. 


Monday, June 16, 2014

Lessons Learned

by Rachel Zolotarsky

Hi everyone, my name is Rachel and I’m one of the Manna summer interns for Session Two. After being only four days in, I feel as though I have been part of this mannamily (manna family) for much more than just those few days. Coming in to this experience I had several expectations, but the reality of Manna and the communities we work with exceeded any previous expectations I had. I especially feel a connection with two programs that Manna runs. The first being their English and Child Sponsorship programs. In Nica, knowing English is a gateway to an incredible amount of opportunities. The community members that take the English classes come out with great results. Of course the results vary and not everyone is a star, but most that I have encountered in the higher levels of 4 and 5 know enough English to classify it as a skill. With that skill, they can create a stable and comfortable life that brings them security and happiness. This program is evidence of how Manna and all those that volunteer, like the Program Directors and Interns, truly make a difference. 

The Child Sponsorship program quickly became near and dear to my heart. As with the English programs, I see the true impact that Manna makes in the community. When people know that there are others out there that care for their well-being, their view on life could change. Their view on life could become more positive and hopeful. I definitely see this with some families. Children’s days brighten up when Manna Program Director's visit on Tuesdays and Thursdays; it’s clear in their eyes. Parents smile seeing the people that help make the difference in their childrens lives. It’s heartwarming to see because the reality of their living conditions and their past in La Chureca must have an impact on their morale and their view on life. I think that Manna reaches their full potential with all of their programs and understands that change takes time. It’s important to be patient because nothing is instant, and that is exactly the lesson that I have learned thus far in my experiences this first week.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Top 5 Feelings

Session 1 of our Summer Internship program ended on Saturday. With that we said goodbye to our amazing interns and said hello to a new batch of energetic faces. Before leaving, Atima left us with her Top 5 Feelings from her month in Nica.

by Atima Huria

One of the most unique things about my experience in Nica has been the pace of life here; there’s never a sense of hurry or lack of time. But as I reflect on the last four weeks in this amazing country on my last day here, I can’t believe how quickly it’s gone by. Thinking about all of the memories I’ve made here brings back so many different feelings. So in honor of a popular game among the Manna PDs, here are my Top 5 Best Feelings, Nica version:
1.    Seeing the excited faces of all the kids. Whether it’s on the way up to Farito for Camp J.A.M. or a homevisit in Villa Guadalupe for Child Sponsorship, there’s no better feeling than seeing the children’s smiling faces run up to you and climb up for a piggy back ride. Camp Jam, a crafts and activities class for kids, has been one of my most favorite Manna programs. Though the children can get rowdy sometimes, it gives them something to do for an hour twice a week and an opportunity to express their creativity. On the other side, Child Sponsorship was more of a serious experience - ensuring that the kids enrolled in the program were receiving the nutrients and safe environment that they need to grow. I will never forget many of the kids that I met through these programs and hope to see them with the same excited faces in the near future.
2.  Being welcomed into the home of a Nica family: The willingness of so many families to open their homes is truly heartwarming. I know of no other place where you are welcome to visit someone’s home at any hour of the day and receive such good hospitality. The families in Cedro Galan are always happy to sit and talk with you, help improve your Spanish, have you over for lunch or dinner, or even invite you to spend the night with them. Forming relationships with community members has been one of the most rewarding experiences in Nica and I am so grateful for the opportunity to have met so many inspiring people.
3.     Bonding with the Mannamily: While working in the community has been amazing, getting to know the Manna Program Directors and other interns has also been an eye-opening experience. Many of my most significant memories include relaxing on the roof with everyone after a long day in the community or bonding with certain people. Everyone comes from different backgrounds and has personal stories to tell, for example, why they chose to work with Manna. But in the end we’re all here for the same purpose and I’ve learned so much from everyone in just a month.
4.     Being swarmed with patients at the clinic: Since being here in Nica, I’ve spent a significant portion of my time at the Forward Health clinic in Cedro Galan which opened in October of last year. A couple of weeks ago, we hit the 500 patient mark, which is a huge success for the clinic and is an indicator that we’re able to reach a large number of people in the community. Many times at clinic, we’ve been overwhelmed by the number of people who show up for consultas (consultations) and have to work quickly to enter patient history, symptoms, and take vital signs. While stressful, it’s also a sign that we’re able to offer affordable health care to many people and, hopefully, take a step towards improving the overall health of the community. Therefore, a busy day at clinic is always good day.
5.     Successfully teaching an English lesson: Before I arrived in Nica, I never thought that I would enjoy teaching an English class or have enough patience for it. But after assisting in three levels of English classes, I’ve learned to accept the challenge that comes with teaching. It can be really difficult to get certain grammatical points across to the students, especially for levels 1 and 2, which are taught in Spanish, but it’s a great feeling when a student finally understands and applies the lesson. English classes are also another way that I have felt connected to the community and been able to meet new people.
There are so many other memories and feelings that I have of Nica that I wish I could put into words, but these will have to do for now. While I’m sad to be leaving, I know that I’ll be back soon enough and will add to all of the unforgettable memories that I’ve made here. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have been an intern for Manna and I can’t think of a better way to have spent a month of my summer.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Never Wanting to Leave

by Sarah Jurgensmeyer

Since my arrival in Nicaragua a couple of weeks ago, my experience has been a whirlwind of Spanish-speaking children, gallo pinto, and various English classes. While I spent my spring break volunteering here with Manna, my second trip to Nica has been completely different and much more eye-opening. As summer interns, we have been given greater responsibilities and been trusted with more independence. A succinct description of my time here: I never want to leave.  

Despite being in a country where I’m not well-versed in the native language, the people of Nicaragua and Manna have made me feel like I can take on the new challenges that each day presents. The PDs have been incredibly patient with us when we inevitably have (lots of) questions for them about each of our projects, and they’ve been teaching us in a sustainable manner that sometimes takes up more of their time, but ensures that we learn how to do the tasks more independently in the future. With their guidance, I’ve gained the skills and confidence necessary to take vital signs in the clinic (thanks for letting me practice taking your blood pressures over and over), instruct my own bubble-painting Camp JAM, and help teach an English level 3 class about the future simple tense.

The people of Cedro Galán have also been amazingly welcoming, despite my apparent lack of Spanish-speaking abilities. I accepted right away that I had the worst Spanish in our group (I won’t deny it) yet in the community I have found many “teachers” who are quick to offer me patient assistance with learning their language. While I continuously make many laughable mistakes, such as accidentally telling Lorena that I had one apple left in Nicaragua instead of one week, they correct me with a smile on their face as they repeat the proper pronunciation of the word I’m struggling to say. Through their help, reading many English-Spanish dictionaries, and the assistance of my fellow summer interns my Spanish is improving slowly but surely.

My favorite memories have come from these relationships forged with the members of the communities in which we work. I have done two home-stays so far, and it’s an amazing opportunity to be invited into someone’s home to share their life for the night. They have such open hearts and it’s unreal how people I have known for only a couple of weeks can make me feel so comfortable by being so welcoming; never in the States have I been received this way. Getting to exchange stories and life experiences with my new friends is eye-opening and creates relationships that I think I will be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.

These past few weeks have presented me with challenges and occasions to step out of my comfort zone, which I have done my best to embrace. I can’t believe my time in Nica is almost up, and the thought of leaving this country and its people (as well as all of my friends in Manna) is so disheartening that I don’t think anyone should be surprised if I “accidentally” miss my flight. I know that I still have so much to learn from this place and these people; I hope (and plan) to return.

Adios. –Jurgs 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Feeling at Home

We have been in Nicaragua for about two weeks now and I cannot help but feeling like I am home, despite the fact that I have never been here before. After a baby peed on me during a Wednesday morning visit to the jewelry cooperative, I think I can safely say that I feel genuinely comfortable here in Managua.  The first week was all about getting the hang of things: who lives where, which children can you expect to see every Tuesday and Thursday at Camp JAM, the importance of having a spare couple of cords when going into Cedro to ensure that you can purchase a bag of ice cream. After the dust had settled from the whirlwind week of introductions, it was much easier for me to see (and probably for all of us bright-eyed and naive interns) how Manna worked and what we could do to contribute to this amazing organization and the communities with which it works.

Because we felt more comfortable walking through the community and navigating on our own, last week provided us with greater opportunities to get to know the amazing people that live in Cedro. Best exemplifying this was the trek through the community we made on Thursday morning. Three of the interns are med students at the University of South Florida, and part of the reason for their time here in Managua is the completion of a health-related project. One project is dedicated to an investigation of the respiratory health of the women in the communities. Three of us wandered off bright and early Thursday morning with the intention of talking to women in the community and measuring their peak respiratory flow. Considering that none of us are fluent in Spanish and two of us have absolutely no background in medical Spanish, the data collection process was challenging and a bit comical. We could not quite figure out the best way to explain how to blow into a peak flow meter and the women, through no fault of their own, did not really understand our poor explanations. Taking the measurements took patience but it was also the primary vehicle through which we got to know some of the women. We all laughed, and maybe one tear of exasperation was shed, but what impacted me the most was the fact that all of these women were willing and some even eager to take part in a poorly-explained survey for three girls whom they have never met. After working on political campaigns in the United States that have required me to go door-to-door, a warm welcome from a stranger was more than I could have expected.

The work we did for the health project also opened my eyes to the reality of those who do not have the good fortune of readily accessible medical care. Though we are measuring the respiratory health of the women in the community, we are not providing them with any medical diagnosis or care. That did not stop them from asking myriad questions regarding their health status, all of which we had neither license nor expertise to answer. Because I have asthma, I have a great relationship with my doctor and an even greater relationship with my albuterol inhaler, my constant companion throughout my life. However, these women have not been so fortunate. The importance of the clinic run by Manna could not have been more obvious.
On a lighter note, we spent the last weekend rolling through Nicaragua in micros and taxis and spent an awesome couple of days in San Juan del Sur, which must have the highest concentration of American surfer bros in all of Central America. Spending a weekend away with the fellow interns was a necessary bonding experience, as we are all undoubtedly much closer now than we were upon leaving Managua on Friday. I have never had a better burrito in my life than the one I inhaled while lying on the beach on Saturday afternoon, and I think I speak for all of us when I say I would return to San Juan del Sur if only to have a quick meal at the Taco Stop.

I refuse to believe that I am already halfway through my month in Managua, but I cannot wait to see the exciting opportunities that will come in the next two weeks. Adios from the Manna house!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Out of the Comfort Zone

Our Summer Interns arrived last week and spent the week settling into Nica life. Most of them will be here for four weeks working alongside us supporting our programs. We've asked them to share their experiences on our blog. Be on the lookout for weekly posts from our incredible summer interns. First up, Caroline...

Buenos días, amigos!

I am currently typing this from a hostel in Granada, Nicaragua. I got up with the sun and because I didnt bring my phone had no idea what time it was, so I crawled out of a top bunk bed next to 10 strangers and went and sat in a hammock.

Life in Nica is so different, but in the best way possible. On the first day we were here the interns all set goals for ourselves for what we wanted to accomplish during our time in Nica. I knew what mine was going into this trip: to go outside my comfort zone.

I definitely am always playing it safe and not taking risks or doing anything that puts me outside of the comfort I've built up. I knew that while I was here I wanted to do what I didn't do on my last trips: make myself uncomfortable.

This past week has been tiring, challenging, and amazing. The interns and I have all become fast friends and are learning and spending more time with each other each day. We all come from such different places and make for a fun group if you ask me! The PDs in the house have been nothing but welcoming and encouraging and helping us figure out this month along the way. It helps to be surrounded by a group of cool, unique people each day.

My favorite thing thus far was dinner at one of the family's homes in the community. Manna works in two communities and the relationships built in each are very evident. The community closest to our house is home to some of the kindest people I've ever met. One cool thing we get to do is just go visit and eat with the families. It's not like in the states where you call two months in advance and show up at a designated time but here you approach their house at any time of day and they welcome you with open arms. The community also looks nothing like the states. I haven't brought my camera into the community because I want to respect the families and their homes as I am still building trust and a relationship with them.

Their houses are not usually bigger than one or two rooms and are made of a variety of materials from wood to metal slabs. They mostly all have barbed wire fences around their houses and guard dogs which are probably one of the scariest things as they run at you until you threaten to hit them with your water bottle.

The houses are pretty far apart and are seperated by hills of trash, trees, and dirt roads. Each house is tucked away off the roads, if you can call them that, and I'm still learning how to navigate. I was able to eat at Jessenia's house, who is one of the funniest most outspoken women here. She operates a small food stand and is an amazing cook - and luckily I got to experience a dinner at her house. We sat on wood benches and talked and laughed through broken Spanish and English as we got to know her and her children better. She also has 3 puppies, one of which has become my Nicaraguan boyfriend ;)

The next day, we had an hour break between classes and three of us went into the community to go visit her again. She was so excited as always and welcomed us to sit and talk while her puppy fell asleep in my lap. It was simple, but exactly what I needed to reassure me that the most important thing here is to focus on building relationships with the people and immersing myself into the culture and very different from my own lives of the people here.
One thing I will have an opportunity to do soon is a home-stay which is where I will be able to have dinner, sleep over, and eat breakfast the next morning with the family and really get a taste of what their day to day life is like.

I also have enjoyed helping out with the level one English class. It has given me the opportunity to improve my Spanish and help the people in it with their English. They have such a drive to learn that you really don't see in the states. I got to work with the same group twice and as lame as this sounds it made my day when the second class they came in excited, remembered my name, and squeezed my hand. I've been having little moments like that that have meant the most so far in my time here.

Yesterday, our group of interns and our group leaders got to travel to Granada to do an overnight stay and get a feel for what Nicaragua has to offer. We first climbed up a winding circular staircase to the top of the bell tower of the most beautiful church to see the most amazing view of the entire city. It honestly was breathtaking. We then got a tour of the city in a horse buggy where I got to help the driver steer and chat a little about his learning English and my time in Nica. The people here are so kind and full of conversation that you can tell is genuine. We ate at a yummy restaurant for dinner and then got to go out to a dance bar and club to experience Nica night life, which was an absolute blast.

So far, I am loving my time here and can't wait to see what adventure comes next. Also, my apologies for any typos as this keyboard is different than any one I've ever known and I can't figure out how to make apostrophes or exclamation points....

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

What Surprised You Most About Your Week with Manna Project?

Recently a group of undergrads from Worcester State University spent a week with us in Managua. They visited all of our programs but spent the majority of their time working with our women's jewelry cooperative, Camino Nuevo. The group planned a variety of lessons and even learned to make some of the jewelry the women make on a daily basis. After their week we asked them one question: What Surprised You Most About Your Week with Manna Project? These are their answers.

Huy Hgo:
Manna Project plays a big role in the community, that surprised me most.  It's interesting to see how many different programs they run. I find it amazing how Manna does so much for theses communities.  Seeing how the Program Directors immerse themselves with the people in the community was very interesting.  Everything that the Manna Project does for the community is very inspiring. I want to return and work with them, to learn how to speak Spanish and to make a difference.

Kassandra Sarante:
What surprised me most was how impactful the trip would be on my life. Having visited and having family from a developing country, I thought I knew what to expect. However, after being immersed in the communities Manna works in, where I could observe, be hands-on involved with, and connect with local people - I was shown how much I don't know, and how much of an opportunity this trip was. Being humble, appreciative, and generous are all characteristics this trip had illuminated as what should be priority. 

Laura Garcia:
For me it was just the shock of everything you hear about in class coming to life. To learn about poverty on that level is one thing, but to see it and experience it first hand is another. What surprised me just as much though, was just how much Manna has done for these people and the difference they have made. I didn't realize all the different activities and educational opportunities they have woven into the communities.It's amazing. People often get discouraged being just one person wanting to make a huge difference. It was inspiring to see Manna accomplish so much with just a small group of volunteers.

Alicia Pickering:
How you could already see the changes in the community that Manna Project has made. All of the programs have been really successful. The clinic is constantly growing and continuing to help the community, the women of the jewelry cooperative are working together and their business is rapidly growing. Also the English classes have so many students in them that want to be there and take their own time out of the day to go to the classes. It was a great feeling knowing that you are helping an organization that is really making a difference in their community. 

Rebeca Ruiz:
How involved Manna was in the community. They provide activities and programs for community members of all ages. All the PDs knew everyone and their backgrounds. The PDs care. You can see it in their work and how much effort they put in. They are determined to make a difference. It was great to see them enjoy their work so much that they won't want to leave when their volunteering is over. Manna has great PDs and many qualities that makes them succeed.
Cynthia Romero:
What surprised me the most about my week with Manna Project was the determination and rapid progress of the Nicaraguan students learning English. Those who were willing to pay the extra cordobas just to learn another language absolutely amazed me because that is not a common sight in the States. Nicaraguan students, by a level four English class are almost fluent because of their hard work and ambition. Because English is becoming the universal language, Americans usually stay grounded, and are not as motivated to learn another language. Those studying another tongue in the States are usually forced, making them not as intrinsically motivated to learn, leading them to not grasp the language even after years of practice.