Erin Sanislo
Erin Sanislo
Ecuador 2018
From January – August 2018, I will partner with Manna Project International to advance literacy and develop arts and creative programming at the Manna Project’s library in the Chillos Valley community outside of Quito, Ecuador. Join me on my journey to empower Ecuadorian children and connect them to books.

From Ecuador, With Love

First full week in Ecuador: check. I’m currently in the final step of my Ecuador orientation: my host family stay. The Huertas live  in Fajardo, a tiny rural community that is a ten-minute walk from the Manna Project. When I arrived, I was greeted in a house decorated with balloons and streamers and given flowers, a scarf, and chocolate. The family had added an extra room to their house just so that they could be able to host Manna Project volunteers. As I spend more time in the Chillos Valley, I’m learning that I have everything I need. The Ecuadorians give all they have to me, and I don’t know how to thank them.

The Huertas are very proud of the culture of the Chillos Valley, which has deep roots in the indigenous cultures of Ecuador. Almost every house in the valley has a small plot of choclo, the Ecuadorian corn. Corn is a staple of life in Fajardo and dates back to the Incas. I’ve been introduced to various juices of corn, toasted corn, corn soups, and corn kernels that are added to many Ecuadorian dishes. The people living in the pueblo wake up at 5 am to farm the corn and many do not stop working until 9 pm. There are no major grocery stores, only tiendas which are small convenience stores and bakeries on the corners. Fresh fruit and vegetables and meat are sold on the streets, in the patios of peoples’ houses, or in open air markets. Restaurants don’t exist in Fajardo; rather, people cook and set up a table and chairs in their garage or a room of their house for people to visit. The rest of the necessities come from trucks with loudspeakers that pass through the streets selling items such as tanks of gas, potatoes, juice, and water.

The Manna Project was busy this Saturday for inscriptions day. My position was to give the community members diagnostic tests to place them into the correct English levels. The center opened at 9 am, but people began forming a line outside the door at 5 am. In Ecuador, outside of the private schools, the English teachers are usually under qualified. Since they typically haven’t traveled to America, their pronunciations suffer due to lack of contact with native speakers. The community members have shared that the presence of native English speakers at the Manna Project is much more valuable than an English class at a public school.

Inscriptions day was a success. Each level of English (4 classes for adults and 4 classes for kids) is full with 30 students. I elected the programs that I will lead: Adult English 1, Children’s English 3, library/story time hour, kids cooking and physical activity class. All volunteers will take turns being the general activity leader, who manages the center for three hours and plans activities such as games and arts and crafts during that time. The focus of my Lumos service is literacy. I plan to use the Manna Project’s library as a resource to expose children to bilingual books as they simultaneously learn how to read and gain exposure to a second language. I will use exercises such as providing comprehension questions, children taking turns reading a page, and changing a word and having the children correct the grammar. From my first few days at the center, I’ve witnessed that the children are willing to read. Now, I hope to get age-appropriate books in their hands with consistency and use reading to improve their language usage. The children coming to the center from illiterate families and poor public schools are often facing the double challenge of struggling in both English and Spanish. I’ve had to correct children on grammatical and spelling errors in their own language, Spanish. Reading is a great way to help children become familiar with the correct spellings of words and different sentence structures.

I’ve had some challenges in the last week: cold showers, lack of availability of safe water, minimal access to internet, and my big mistake of losing my entire wallet and keys. But, my host family has been a blessing and I feel like I’m in the right place. My twelve-year old host brother Iori told me he starts to cry when children younger than him try to sell things on buses and don’t even have bread. Iori constantly gets up on the bus for older people or people with children. He even went on 30-minute walks with me to the center multiple times to help me look for my keys. The Ecuadorians I know are giving, thoughtful, and selfless. They share everything around them – whatever food they have, stories, their houses, and their culture. I can’t even count how many times I’ve been told the story of Alexander von Humboldt, who famously climbed Ecuador’s highest volcano, Chimborazo. He commented that he was flabbergasted to meet the most peaceful people in the world, given that they lived amongst no less than 50 volcanoes! Ecuador is a special country!

Next week is a full work week at the Manna Project. I will be leading programs on my own for the first time. I already have children recognizing my face, and it’s really nice to see the same kids returning almost every afternoon. For some of them, the center is the best part of their day. Thank you, Ecuador, for all the love and kindness you’ve given me during my first week here.

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My host brother and sister: Elaine and Iori

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Library hour/story time

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The Teen Center

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The Chillos Valley

Day One in Ecuador and Meeting Manna

I have officially stepped foot in South America! I arrived at 11:30 pm on Saturday, Jan. 7, but my partner organization had the volunteer pick-up scheduled for 5 pm the following day. Naturally, I wanted to use every minute to get to know my new home! I spent Sunday morning and afternoon with my pen pal, Sebastián, and his family. They graciously invited me to their home and cooked me a traditional Ecuadorian breakfast of tigrillo, which is a mix of eggs, cheese, green plantains, salt, pepper, ahí, and onion. After breakfast, Sebastián gave me a tour of Quito!

First, we walked from my friend’s house to the city center after I emphatically shook my head saying no to taking a taxi. We went up El Panecillo, which is a famous statue of the Virgin Mary sitting on a hill above Quito. I was stunned seeing the panorama of Quito from above. The colored houses stack on top of each other high up in the mountains and the silhouettes of Quito’s historic district dot the valley below. Next, my friend showed me the Iglesia de Santo Domingo, a gorgeous church in the city center with painted blue patterned ceilings. Later, we bought street food for $1.50 in Parque el Ejido, an urban park in Quito. One of my favorite foods here is choclo, which is jumbo corn. In the park, we also rented a bike to see the city from a new perspective. A lot of quiteño children laughed at our horrible bike-steering good-naturedly, and I loved how the whole city seemed to be out and about outside smiling, playing lawn games, basking in the sun, and exercising.

It is customary to give gifts in Ecuador, so I brought my friend a baseball bat, glove, ball, and hat since he is fascinated by American baseball. I taught him how to play in another park called Parque Itchimbía, which has arguably the best views in the city. The park was definitely a locals’ hangout, and I had fun passing soccer balls back to quiteños!

After an eight-hour day of eating street food, biking, playing baseball, and walking miles around Quito (9,300 ft.), I felt very accomplished! Although I need to rest soon to continue acclimatizing, it was more important to me to dive into the Ecuadorian culture from day one! Entering my volunteer service, I now feel that I have a better understanding of the day in the life of Ecuadorians, including their food, culture, dialect of Spanish, and surroundings.

Sunday night, I moved in to the Manna Project house where I will be living for the next seven months. The house is located in Conocoto, a rural suburb about 40 minutes from Quito. I met the other Program Directors I will be living with, who are very internationally-minded people like me! The next morning, the Country Director and Senior Program Director led orientation meetings regarding risk management, Program Director roles, and the culture of Ecuador. Next, the Senior Program Director, Hunter, took me to learn the bus routes and find my way to Spanish school, where I will attend classes during the mornings for one week and the next three consecutive Mondays. Hunter also provided a short tour around Quito to several artisanal markets and the Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesús church, which is almost entirely covered in gold. We ate lunch at Cafélibro, a well-known café famous for offering dance classes, book clubs, and concerts.

This week, my orientation will include shadowing the Manna Project’s programs, additional welcome activities, and an introduction to the community center where I will serve. On Friday, I will move into a host family house for a 1-week homestay that prepares Program Directors with intensive Spanish immersion.

I’m exhausted, but very pleased with the partner organization I chose, the Manna Project. Manna’s Ecuador Country Director Carolyn emphasized the 50/50 mission of Manna facing both Program Director volunteers and community members. The Manna Project will help me grow because it intends to develop social change agents who can thrive working in international settings and continue to do similar work in the future. Simultaneously, the Manna Project aims to support the community with knowledge and better resources through its primary focus: community development using educational programming. I am anxious and excited to meet community members as I shadow programs this week, and can’t wait to begin teaching classes the following week. This Saturday is a big day: inscriptions day. Inscriptions day is when community members sign up for the community center’s English classes and other programs and take placement tests. The community center’s programs are so popular that a line apparently forms out the door starting at 5 a.m. for class inscription at 9 a.m.

All in all, it’s been a fantastic, exhausting, overwhelming, and productive first couple days in Ecuador. I’m confident that I couldn’t personally have chosen a better country for my Lumos service; I’m invigorated and ready to put my Spanish skills to work in a community that is very deserving of help! This is only the beginning of a long relationship with Ecuador and its people, and I look forward to every minute of my experience!

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Ecuador in Two Words: “Buen Vivir!”

An Ecuadorian friend recently summed up his country in two words for me: Buen vivir. Buen vivir means “good living” in Spanish, and originally comes from the Quechua words sumac kawsay. Quechua is the most widely spoken indigenous language in Ecuador, and the belief systems of the Quechuan people continue to influence Ecuador’s social, political, and cultural philosophies.

Buen vivir describes a way of living that is community-centric, ecologically balanced and culturally-sensitive. The philosophy has been powerful enough to inspire cultural movements across South America and is even included in the Ecuadorian Constitution! The Constitution reads, “Se reconoce el derecho de la población a vivir en un ambiente sano y ecológicamente equilibrado, que garantice la sostenibilidad y el buen vivir, sumak kawsay.” In English this means, “Ecuador recognizes the right of the population to live in a healthy and ecologically balanced environment that guarantees sustainability and the good way of living (sumak kawsay).” Ecuador is the first country in the world to have acknowledged the connection of people to the environment in its Constitution!

The principle of buen vivir will guide my service in Ecuador. When I met with a friend who started a nonprofit while applying for Lumos, her advice to me was to talk to community members in my host country to listen and acknowledge what they wanted. Since Ecuadorians have shared to me that buen vivir is important to them, I will model it in my philosophy toward community development. In the context of community development, buen vivir includes the well-being of the individual in harmony with his or her community and natural environment.

Buen vivir is viewed as new way of developing nations because it places a decreased emphasis on economic development and an increased emphasis on relationships with natural surroundings, human development, and the enrichment of core values, spirituality, and ethics. It’s a far cry from the Western worldview model of never-ending development, capitalism, consumption, and commodification. Although it will take some time to become assimilated into the Quechuan belief systems that many people live by in Ecuador, I can adopt buen vivir by connecting the Ecuadorian children and communities I work with to their natural environments. My partner organization, the Manna Project, periodically sponsors outdoor recreation trips for the children and teens in the host community. I think that a combination of exercise and education about sustainability would be wonderful for the community. At the library I will work in, I intend to incorporate nature and environmental themes into my book selections for the children, arts and craft programs, and educational workshops. The Ecuadorians I have spoken to are very proud of the beautiful natural environment in their country, and rightfully so. I hope to bond with Ecuadorian children and teens by sharing my love of the natural environment in my projects and adopting my own sense of buen vivir in my teaching and community development philosophies.

Everything About Ecuador

T-minus 26 days until I fly to Quito, Ecuador to begin my journey serving on a Lumos award! This little country that sits on the equator line is home to 10% of the biodiversity in the world, 50 volcanoes, the Galapagos Islands, the Amazon, and the Andes. Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, is the second highest capital in the world at an altitude of 9,350 feet! I will be serving in the Chillos Valley, which is located about 40 minutes outside of Quito. As the city of Quito experiences rapid gentrification, disadvantaged families in the surrounding valleys are often the last to receive education, sanitation, and medical assistance. With a Lumos award, I will partner with the Manna Project to advance literary, run after-school programs, and provide educational support at the Manna Projects’ library and community center in Rumiloma, Ecuador. I will be responsible for running programs such as arts and crafts workshops, English language book clubs, and creative writing. I hope my programs connect Ecuadorian children to books and empower them with hope for a better future!

I can’t wait to see my new home in Sangolquí, Ecuador. I will be living in a shared volunteer house with 4 other Program Directors and a guard dog. The volunteer house has a communal style of living, so I will have to learn how to cook two nights a week for my fellow Program Directors! I intend to frequently go out to the community to meet locals and take the bus to Quito. Before I move into the volunteer house, I will spend one week with an Ecuadorian host family for orientation! During my first week, I will also attend mandatory Spanish school at an academy in Quito. Bring on the Spanish!

My trip is fast approaching! I am leaving only three weeks after my December graduation date! I have been getting into shape to better acclimate to the altitude when I arrive and collecting teaching and educational supplies to donate to the library. I can’t wait to see the Ecuadorian kids’ smiling faces when I pull my rainbow-colored parachute out of my suitcase! Some of my packing list includes: my books, hiking backpack, Spanish-English dictionary, altitude sickness pills, peanut butter, protein bars, and a printed copy of my thesis – I plan to translate it into Spanish during my free time in Ecuador. I’m going to be serving 40-hour weeks, so snacks, water bottles, and comfortable clothes will be essential!

This Lumos award is special to me because I will be serving on my second language, Spanish! I have been preparing by learning Ecuadorian Spanish slang and familiarizing myself with the linguistic phenomena and accent. A fun fact is that the form of Spanish spoken in Ecuador and Peru, Andean Spanish, is said to be the most clearly pronounced, purest Spanish in the world. My favorite slang word I’ve learned? “Chévere!” It means cool, great, or awesome. I plan to pursue a master program with licensure to become a Spanish teacher upon return to the United States. I can’t thank Lumos enough for the opportunity to use my Spanish to connect disadvantaged people to educational resources while channeling my passion for my second language. I am going to incorporate my time in Ecuador into my teaching pedagogy to encourage future students to experience language within the context of culture. Stay tuned for more updates as my January 7 departure date approaches!

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The Valley of Los Chillos

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The Manna Project Library

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The Manna Project Community Center