I chose to work for Manna Project International for a variety of reasons! I really love Latin American culture and wanted to spend my gap year in a Latin American country. I also really appreciate Manna's commitment to establishing authentic relationships with the community and work toward sustainable change. When I interviewed with Manna, I had so many questions about my role and life in Ecuador. They were so patient with me and took the time to answer all my questions in full detail. I could tell that they cared a lot about making me feel safe and comfortable--that just really sealed the deal for me.
Why did you choose this program?
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
I know that there are a few universities that are connected with Manna and therefore facilitate the application process, but I found Manna on my own! I completed each step of the application process on my own, but Manna makes it really easy for you! With regard to getting my Ecuadorian visa documentation in order and organizing my flight to Ecuador, that was a joint effort between me, the Manna Country Director, and my fellow Program Directors that had already been working for Manna at the time.
Everyone working for MPI works hard to give you detailed information for how to arrange everything and to answer any question you may have, so it is all very doable. When I landed in Ecuador, the transportation from the airport to the Manna volunteer house was all arranged for me and it all happens very smoothly.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
One piece of advice I would give is to be the best team player you can. The work that we do as volunteers for Manna is very much a collaborative effort. If one member of the team isn't giving the job their full effort, everyone else suffers and that can be really hard on morale.
Being a team player means being flexible, being reliable, and having good communication skills. If you come into this position with the mentality that you are going to strictly do only your job and nothing beyond that, you will not have an enjoyable experience. There will be times where you might occasionally be asked to work on days that you don't normally work--be flexible and have a good attitude about this.
Working for Manna, and all nonprofits in general, really requires an "all hands on deck" mentality. There is always big need when it comes to philanthropic causes and there are never enough hands. Remember to keep in mind why you joined in the first place: to serve others. There will be plenty of time to have fun, but helping others should be your priority.
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
Program Directors work Tuesday through Saturday because those are the days that our Community Center is open. On week days, our Community Center is open from 2:00 PM to 7:00 PM and on Saturdays it is open from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM.
Every Program Director is responsible for certain programs that are offered through Manna and take place during Community Center hours. While the Manna programs that Program Directors lead may vary, each Program Director is usually responsible for at least one English class; often a Program Director will lead one Children's and one Adult's English class.
Program Directors also have the opportunity to get involved with programs that are offered through local organizations with which Manna partners. That being said, during the mornings on Tuesdays through Fridays, Program Directors normally are either at their partner organizations or they are prepping for their programs.
During the rest of the day on Tuesdays through Fridays and on Saturdays, Program Directors are working at the Community Center. On Sundays through Mondays, we often travel and explore Ecuador!
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
Going into this experience, my biggest fear was definitely whether I was going to be able to adapt to using my Spanish at a sufficient level when necessary.
I knew that I was going to be leading programs in Spanish and that I would have to use public transportation, so if I ever got lost I would have to use my Spanish to find my way. My level of Spanish when I came was slightly below intermediate so, looking back, it's a little funny that I was so scared. There are other Program Directors who have come to Manna not knowing any Spanish at all!
Within a couple weeks of being in Ecuador, my fears about my Spanish faded significantly. Manna provides all Program Directors with about a week of one-on-one Spanish language schooling, which really helps boost things. Additionally, Manna is really good about pushing its volunteers outside of their comfort zone to practice their Spanish on a daily basis, which can be a little nerve-wracking at first, but you *really* grow from it in such a short amount of time; this is SUPER helpful for getting you to feel comfortable quickly.
My views on this issue have definitely changed after being with Manna for a while. My own experiences and my experiences observing other Program Directors with even lower levels of Spanish fluency adapt to all of this have made it very evident to me that it really isn't about how much Spanish you know, it's about how much you're willing to put yourself out there and try.
What traditional food would you suggest travelers try when they visit Ecuador?
Definitely go to Selva Alegre near Quito to try cuy! Cuy is a delicacy that is beloved by the natives in both Ecuador and Peru. It's guinea pig. I know, I know, it sounds gross, but you SERIOUSLY have to try it! Surprisingly, it tastes a lot better than you would expect and it makes for a cool story. If you look at the photo of me that is included here, you'll see that I'm holding a stake with roasted cuy.