Manna Project International

Manna Project International


Manna Project International (MPI) is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization where young professionals can apply their passions, experience, and education through service to communities in need. With the vision of communities serving communities, MPI’s model is a collaborative community-based approach to development. At our site in Ecuador, groups of year-long volunteers live and work together implementing a range of education, health and livelihood community development programs.

Our mission is to foster communities of talented young leaders to become the next generation of social change agents by engaging in collaborative, on-the-ground service with international communities in need. At Manna Project International, communities are everything. Whether serving communities in need or fostering our own communities of volunteers, we believe that the best experiences, projects and solutions are the ones that we create together.



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Yes, I recommend this program

Being an intern at MPI has certainly helped me learn more about myself and how a group of people can make such large impacts in the lives of others. Here at Manna, participating in the weekly activities, teaching English classes, leading fundraising initiatives, researching grants, and designing for the social media platforms have all been both successful and influential. Working with MPI has certainly been a great experience I will remember for life, as the people are so kind and brilliant about Ecuadorian culture and overall improving lives from education, health, wellness, and community programmes. I encourage everyone to volunteer at MPI, as it is certainly a valuable experience.

If you did this all over again, what's one thing you would change?
I would change the strategies I used in teaching the kids and incorporate more interactive games and exposures to English through reading short stories and songs. Despite the virtual setting, I would like to improve on making strong social connections.
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Yes, I recommend this program

I chose Manna Project International - Ecuador because I wanted to do social work abroad for my first year out of college. MPI checked all the boxes I was looking for: impactful, safe, and a great work - life balance. My biggest take away from my 13-month stint as a Program Director was that Manna was not only focused on improving the quality of life of the people of Ecuador, but made it the goal to assist in the personal growth of their volunteers as well. I felt like I was making a difference in the lives of the people that took part in our programs, but also felt I was gaining valuable life and work experience. After Manna, I found I was referencing something I did during my year there in every question I was asked in job interviews. Because I was able to choose the programs I wanted to lead, I received a wealth of different experiences.

And on top of all the grant writing, microfinance, and teaching experience I was receiving, I got to travel all around an absolutely gorgeous, diverse country that I knew little about going in, but turned out to be a hidden gem in South America. We lived at 8000 in the valley outside of Quito in the Andes so had gorgeous vistas in our backyard. With a seven hour bus ride West, you were on the Pacific ocean, two hour bus ride south you were in a cloud forest near active volcanoes, and a six hour ride East took you into the Amazon. It truly is a beautiful country that you can explore fully during your time with Manna.

My experience not only helped my grow personally and professionally, but I also enjoyed every minute of it. 10/10.

What was the most unfamiliar thing you ate?
I tried Cuy or as we know it in the US, guinea pig.
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Yes, I recommend this program

I volunteered with the Manna Project in Nicaragua in 2005. I think this was its 2nd year in existence. I still look back fondly on my experience and it has significantly shaped my perspective on the world to this day. The highlight of my experience was probably the people I interacted with, both the Nicaraguans and other volunteers, and I appreciate those interactions to this day as well. I also respected the organization's consideration and care for how to work with these communities in a way that would be truly beneficial to them and avoid negative unintended consequences often common in international community-development efforts. I only stayed for 10 weeks because I wanted to do environmental-related work and they weren't involved in that at that time.

Default avatar
Yes, I recommend this program

I was a year-long program director in Nicaragua my first year after graduating college. I appreciated every day the fun, flexibility, and impact of working with MPI, but its only years later that I realize how much of my professional leadership experience and career success I owe to the experience.

In terms of day to day experience, we were truly immersed in a local community in need, building friendships and professional relationships with local individuals and families and NGOs, and being responsive to them to contribute our resources (our energy, our relationships, our fundraising, our knowledge) to support their local grassroots initiatives. It made every day interesting and rewarding. Having these local relationships meant we got a real view into peoples lives and families, designed more impactful programs, and also got to live like locals for a while.

In terms of long-term benefit, MPI gave me an opportunity to think critically, figure out solutions, design programs, and lead local people and US resources. As a result, when I went to interview for my first "real job" after MPI, they were blown away by the leadership and problem solving experience, and I quickly rose into management. I also stayed involved in MPI as a former team member on the board (for which there are frequent opportunities) and that gave me great finance and staff management experience. All of that has translated into a really effective career launch pad that helped me have experience that puts me ahead of other people even many years later.

I didn't sit in an office making photocopies and filing stuff for other people right out of college, I designed and led programs and an organization, and that experience still benefits me in jobs and life years later. Also, I had way more fun and adventure.

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Yes, I recommend this program

I worked with Manna Project International for almost two years, first as a volunteer and later as staff. I was based at the old site in Nicaragua, but I was familiar with the Ecuador site as well. The professional and personal experiences I had while working there were incredible. I got amazing language, leadership, project management and teaching skills. It was a great opportunity to do meaningful and hands-on work that will build your resume, give you a chance to travel, and, most importantly, help those in need. The perspective and experience I gained from Manna helped me get into medical school, and I think about my years there every day. I feel so fortunate to have worked with this supportive organization that has a view on community development work abroad that is similar to my own. I build relationships with community members in Nicaragua, my fellow volunteers and the staff at Manna that have continued throughout the years since I left. I can't encourage you enough to apply for this amazing opportunity. It is life-changing and has given me new perspective on life and also provided me with a ton of opportunities I would not have had otherwise.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Keep and open mind and take advantage of the months you spend there. It will be some of the best of your life.


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Alumni Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with verified alumni.

Kate Clendenen

Kate, a California native, graduated from UCLA in Spring 2018 and will be attending NYU School of Law in Fall 2019. She has a passion for serving others and learning from different cultures.

Why did you choose this program?

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.

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.

Staff Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with program leaders.

Jackie Kinsella

Job Title
Development Director
Jackie Kinsella lives in Baltimore, Maryland and has been working for Manna Project International since January 2018. She graduated from Virginia Tech with a major in Public Relations. In her free time, she loves hiking with her 2 dogs, traveling, painting, snowboarding and any water-related activity.

What is your favorite travel memory?

I have been lucky enough to travel a lot throughout my life. It is hard to pinpoint one travel memory in particular, but one that has always stuck with me is this moment at a community center in Managua, Nicaragua where we were singing with the community members. I looked out at the children playing on the playground and with the pigs in the farm and in that exact moment I realized that my perception of what happiness meant universally could not be more incorrect. These families, who owned very little and spend most of their days wondering where their next meal will come from, were the happiest and most friendly people I have ever met. It was the most inspiring realization of my life.

How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?

Since working for Manna Project International, which is my first position working for a nonprofit organization, it has opened my eyes to so many international issues that I didn't pay as much attention to before. It's easy to get wrapped up in your bubble, but once you open yourself up and step outside of your comfort zone to new experiences, cultures, and places, you realize how important it is.

What is the best story you've heard from a return student?

I think my favorite stories are hearing about how volunteers end up being other volunteers' bridesmaids and groomsmen, and remain close for years after their time with Manna Project.

Something else that has always stuck with me is how our volunteers expect to travel abroad and really change and impact our communities, which they do. However, they don't realize how much the communities and community members end up changing them even more. They go in with an idea of what to expect, and often have their world rocked in the best way.

If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?

If I could go on any program, it would be our 13-month Program Director position. Once on site in Ecuador, a large percentage of our 3, 5 and 7-month Program Directors end up extending their time to the 13-month position and beyond because they find they need more time with the community and fellow volunteers. It is so much more than just a volunteer position where you travel and learn about a new culture - it really is a very crucial component of all of our alumni's resumes, and I find that the leadership and professional experience that they gain with the 13-month position carries over to their jobs once they complete their time with Manna Project.

What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?

What makes our company unique is the relationships that are formed. We refer to ourselves as the Mannamily. Whether its the close relationships between our community members, volunteers, staff, board, alumni or donors, we all take immense pride in being a part of something bigger together. Part of an organization that is bringing sustainable change to underserved communities in Latin America.

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

The biggest factor in being a successful company is purpose. Without purpose, there is no change and no growth. We take pride in our community needs assessments to make sure that we are only providing services and programs that are tailored for our specific communities. If for any reason one of our programs becomes irrelevant, we assess this and change the program accordingly.