Monday, April 30, 2007

First of many Ecuador updates

On January 11th, 2007 I was one of five volunteers from MPI who boarded a plane to Quito, Ecuador for eleven days to conduct a MPI site feasibility study. The goal? Eventually start a new Manna site in Ecuador.

I’d never been to South America before, and was taken aback at how beautiful it was to fly into Quito, the capital city (where MPI will have its new site). Quito, long and narrow, is literally sandwiched between the green, Andes Mountains. It’s absolutely gorgeous. So landing in Quito is like this: you see beautiful mountains, huge volcano, beautiful mountains, beautiful mountains and then out of no where, there’s gigantic city that’s about twenty times as long as it is wide. Needless to say, it’s easy to start dreaming of hiking Cotopaxi and Pichincha (two huge, dormant volcanoes close to Quito), considering that from the center of the city all you have to do is look up to see their ominous, snow covered peaks.

Quito is divided into northern and southern parts by a majestic statue of the Virgin Mary called “El Panecillo” and is two miles high (the subsequent lack of oxygen meant we were often out of breath while exploring the hilly, cobblestone streets of Old Quito). Women walk around in traditional Incan attire of felt hats, knit shawls, and babies strapped to their backs with colorful, hand-embroidered material. Northern Quito boasts modern buildings, clean streets and an impressive infrastructure that helps business flourish. Southern Quito, on the other hand, is less developed and, generally speaking, is home to greater poverty than its northern counterpart. The dichotomy between resource-rich Northern Quito and resource-poor Southern Quito is striking, and part of the reason why we chose Quito as the next Manna site: the division means a) access to resources and b) communities of real need all in the same geographical proximity.

The itinerary for our trip was jam-packed meeting with several non-profit organizations, hospitals, a microfinance company, friends of friends who lived in Ecuador, etc. The hope was to (1) begin networking and develop connections in Ecuador (2) find a community where we could work and (3) find a partner organization, through which we’d be introduced to the community and learn more about the area where we’d serve. The days were full and wonderfully exhausting. I personally found solace in the brief hot-water showers at Casa Victoria (a huge treat because we don’t have hot water in Nicaragua at the Manna house) and the occasional cup of coffee from Café Oro, which is seriously the best coffee I’ve ever tasted.

If you’re interested in the details of the trip, click here (LINK TO FEASIBILITY REPORT). Otherwise, here are the “take home points” from our eleven days in Quito:
1. We found several potential sites. Our favorites are a place called “Santa Isabel,” a quiet, little town about 25 minutes south of Quito and “San Roque,” which is an urban site in the heart of Old Quito.
2. The boys from the trip will basically eat anything (including hot chilies that will make you cry and guinea pig. Yes, guinea pig, which happens to be quite common in Ecuador. They say it tastes like chicken).
3. We connected with several organizations and people in Quito. The really exciting one that seems to fit best with our needs as a partner organization is a small, Ecuadorian non-profit called UBECI. They connect international volunteers with service opportunities in Santa Isabel and Quito and are looking to expand the programs they already run (which is where MPI comes in).
4. We’re going to be able to start a new Manna site in Ecuador. We’ll begin in early September, 2007 (woo hoo!).

So what are we up to now? After finalizing our Ecuador team in early April (it will be an amazing group of 10), we’re now busy solidifying partnerships in Ecuador. We’re working on getting our Visas, continuing to network with our contacts in Quito, researching Spanish schools, getting in shape to hike Cotopoxi and fundraising, fundraising, fundraising. And I’m counting down the days when I can get my hands on some more Café Oro coffee. On behalf of the MPI Ecuador team, we’re pumped, and we look forward to keeping you updated on our progress.


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