BUFFALO, New York – In 2015, after moving from her home in Colombia, 32-year-old Yeimmy and her daughter got involved with the Manna Project International (MPI) community center. in the Chillos Valley outside of Quito, Ecuador. There Yeimmy signed up to the entrepreneurship class of MPI, and she and her daughter joined the English program. In 2016, Yeimmy was running his new communications business and giving back to the community center in his spare time. This is just one of the many ways Manna Project International contributes to community development in Ecuador.
Manne International Project
A phrase commonly used within Manna Project International to synthesize the organization’s mission is “communities serving communities”. In an interview with The Borgen Project, MPI Executive Director Jeff Goldman explained the phrase as a community, made up of MPI employees, volunteers, alumni and donors, that engages in a meaningful long-term exchange with a low-income foreign community.
Goldman emphasized the importance of “long-term engagement that builds trust and relationships and enables [MPI] to have more impact over time. In Yeimmy’s case, she was new to the Chillos Valley, but the MPI Community Center was a long-standing and trusted learning space available to the locals. When local program director Carley Clement reached out to Yeimmy with an invitation, Clement had a foundation of trust with community members to support her.
MPI’s response to the needs of Ecuadorians
With a population of around 180,000, the Chillos Valley has always been a low-income area outside of the country’s capital. The conditions of poverty that affect people living in the valley include, but are not limited to, poor access to education, inadequate health care and rare job opportunities. By building and nurturing relationships with the community, Manna Project International is able to create programs that meet the specific needs of the people of the Chillos Valley.
Executive Director Goldman explained that the close relationship between the organization and the foreign community creates opportunities to serve in a specific geographic area or for a specific demographic. He said as important as formal national and international poverty reduction strategies are, annual needs assessments and communications with community members are equally insightful.
In line with the three main facets of poverty in the Chillos Valley, MPI’s work can be categorized into three main categories: health and wellness initiatives, educational opportunities, and career development assistance. Although these categories broadly adhere to the goals of poverty reduction, the establishment of MPI programs for community development in Ecuador aims to have an optimal impact on the community and those in need.
- English learning programs. Because “Fluency in English is a valuable skill in Ecuador’s Labor Market ”, this program increases access to better paid employment opportunities in Ecuador. The program offers English lessons to adults and children.
- Nutritional programs. Local children and adults learn healthy eating habits and how to create nutritious meals with local ingredients to tackle issues like diabetes and malnutrition.
- Professional development workshops. To help adults find employment opportunities, adults can learn new job skills and receive help writing resumes and taking professional photos for job applications.
Some of MPI’s other programs target particularly vulnerable populations. One example is Manna’s partnership with a local shelter for pregnant teens. The shelter is open to girls who have been abused by a family member and who have become pregnant as a result of the abuse. The shelter removes the girls from their family environment and offers support to young people and pregnancy.
Another example of this type of work is the hydrotherapy and horse riding program carried out by a partner organization in the field. MPI volunteers help to endow this program, which is open to young Ecuadorians with physical and / or mental disabilities.
Other work in Latin America
Manna Project International has already worked on site in a few suburb of Managua, Nicaragua. Although MPI had to physically leave Nicaragua in 2019 due to security risks related to increased political instability, Villa Guadalupe, Nicaragua is home to Manna’s most successful project, which is still ongoing today. After a spike in homelessness in the region, MPI opened a medical clinic and hired local medical staff in 2014.
Villa Guadalupe Clinic provides basic internal medicine care, OB-GYN care, and newborn care and support. Goldman explained that “when [MPI] was unable to operate on site after the political violence, [they]entrusted these programs to a local NGO so that they could support them. MPI went so far as to put back its funding so that clinics in Nicaragua could remain open during MPI’s absence.
Impacts of COVID-19
When the COVID-19 pandemic rocked the world around March 2020, Manna Project International staff and volunteers had to return home for safety reasons. However, MPI has proudly maintained its relationship with foreign communities through a virtual service. Although resources and opportunities were limited, MPI was able to maintain English language programs, mental health assistance in partnership with a local psychologist, and a microfinance program created earlier in 2021 to help families get through financial hardship. of the pandemic. Despite the obstacles encountered during COVID-19, MPI had 46 virtual volunteers who devoted more than 9,000 hours of service to the inhabitants of the Chillos Valley.
Back to the site soon
In his interview with The Borgen Project, Goldman enthusiastically shared that not only will Manna Project International be back on site in the Chillos Valley in January 2022, but also preparing a new site in Tena, Ecuador, which will be operational by the start. 2023. In addition to this great news, Goldman expects the organization to be able to return to Nicaragua with new programs for its old sites as early as spring 2022. The Executive Director and other staff and volunteers are thrilled to be back soon. in the field to work for community development in Ecuador and Nicaragua.
Commitment to change
With only six staff members, Manna Project International is a relatively small poverty reduction organization. However, by maintaining close relationships with the community and specific sustainability strategies, MPI impacts thousands of lives per year. Yeimmy was able to start a business. Others found jobs in Quito. Many people in the Chillos Valley are living physically and mentally healthier lifestyles thanks to MPI. Community development takes years to uplift local people and businesses and Manna Project International is committed to its work in Ecuador and beyond.
– Hayley welch