Friday, January 13, 2012

Katie and Nancy Visit Anna and the Manna Project

The picture you see is of students being taken to Children's English class. They are riding in the "micro" (pronounced meekro) meaning microbus which is owned by the Manna Project. It is a large white van. They often haul MANY children in it.  It was broken down for several weeks so the Program Directors had to walk everywhere.

The Manna Project has 9-10 "program directors" every year who run the programs. Anna is a PD or Program Director. They each fund raise $8,500 to be a volunteer with the Manna Project which covers their costs.

They have many programs - One program is working in La Chureca (I WAS NOT PREPARED FOR LA CHURECA) which is the City on the Dump which is about 25 minutes away.  They also run many programs in the nearby community named Cedro Galan that is by the Manna Project House.

On Wednesday morning we went to La Chureca. Anna had told me about it and I had watched videos online of it but I WAS NOT PREPARED. I knew that people come as tourists and take pictures of La Chureca which the Manna Project frowns upon. (There have been many things in Managua that I have wanted to take pictures of but have resisted because it seemed rude - like wow, you are really poor - let me take your picture to show my friends.) I have included a few links. I have tried to find a few more but everything down here (Google) is in Spanish and I don't see where to switch to English.
Videos about La Chureca
Vanderbilt and Manna La Chureca

I don't know a lot of about La Chureca but here is what I have picked up. After the earthquake in 1972 which devastated Managua, they started dumping their garbage at La Chureca.

Wikipedia  states La Chureca (Spanish slang word for “city dump”) is the municipal domestic and industrial waste-disposal site of Managua, Nicaragua.  It is the largest open-air landfill in Central America covering 7 km2 in the north-western corner of Managua. It is located on the south shore of Lake Managua. Out of the approximately 1,000 persons who reside at the dump, 50% are children under age 18. These children and families work at La Chureca sorting through the waste. Approximately 115 to 180 families live in La Chureca.

I'm not sure when people actually moved onto the landfill and built their homes there but now there are 125 families living in La Chureca - they estimate 2000 people (Source: Manna Project Country Director). Currently the Spanish government has been providing assistance and much of the landfill is being covered up with dirt. They are building small homes nearby  for some? all? of the people. The homes have electricity.  I am unclear as to whether or not they have moved some people over there yet or not.  The husbands (and I think children) dig through the garbage and find recyclables. Many children do not have shoes. Anyway, Tuesday night Anna said we would be going to La Chureca in the morning. She said wear closed toed shoes and bring nothing - no money and no camera.  On Wednesday we drove in and then started to get deep into into La Chureca which means driving on alley size dirt roads with many ruts and going further and further in. The big white "Manna Micro" was doing fine until another car was blocking the way. The plan was to drop us off at the clinic and then to take one of the people visiting the Manna project to the airport. Since a car was blocking the way we had to turn the van around. One of the PD's said, I think you guys should be okay walking in the rest of the way. You have three girls and three guys. (They were supposed to have met the Nicaraguan nurse at the entrance but she was late so she was not with us). I am not usually frightened but I was actually afraid after hearing that. Anyway, we walked to the clinic that the Manna Project helps to sponsor in La Chureca. It is a small building.

The picture of the La Chureca home on the other site actually seems like a better one of the La Chureca homes. They are made of cardboard, tires, metal corrugated roofing. There is mostly a smell of garbage being burned and animal manure.

The Manna Project has a child sponsorship program. Everything that the Manna Project does is based on sustainability and needs of the community. They do not give handouts as research has shown the ineffectiveness of doing that. They currently have 45 children in the program. The mothers of the children are required to attend health classes once a week and the children are required to wear the shoes given to them by the Manna Project. Once a month the children get weighed and measured and then are given a large bag of oatmeal and powered milk and vitamins. If a mother is nursing then she gets vitamins and a large bag of beans for protein. The Manna PD's go to La Chureca three days a week. There are also two doctors at the clinic (picture the clinic like something you might see in a movie about a clinic in Africa.) The mothers (there were a few fathers) wait out on the porch area and then are called into have their children weighed. Sometimes there is one child who is sponsored in the program, sometimes two from the same family. The children range from infants up to the age of five years old. Some kids knew the routine, take their shoes off, step on the scale to be weighed and have their height measured. Others did not think it was great fun and would cry and or try to hold onto their mothers so then they would have to use a different scale and also actually lay the child on the table and hold them so they could measure them. A few kids had quite the personality and ran in before it was their turn and say "hi" to the program directors, act silly and then run around the room. After they were weighed and measured they went to talk to other PD's about how they are doing with the feeding of the child. As with any program, things don't go perfectly in terms of validity/reliability. Parents with one child in the program will give some of the food to other siblings (Who wouldn't do that?) and some of them make their oatmeal as a drink and drink the water which tastes like oatmeal and they don't eat the oatmeal. The PD's had talked about showing them again how to use the oatmeal. It is obvious that the kids really like PD's and the PD's are so nice to them.

My daughter Katie really liked a young girl named Cecilia who has Downs Syndrome. She was very energetic and definitely a handful for her mother. She looked to be about 2-3 years old but it is is hard to judge because the kids look younger than they are because of the malnutrition. She did not walk much although she could stand by herself and I do not think she had any language that I could tell. I contrasted her with a young girl in first grade in the Minnesota with Down Syndrome who knows her sight words better than any of the other kids in her regular class. I have tried to ask about schooling for special needs students. There appears to be one school they can go to that doesn't cost the parents money but they said the other school for children with special needs is expensive.

Many of the women who brought their children in were pregnant. The kids and everyone in Nicaragua wear clothing that is "in style.". Sometimes the clothing is very clean and sometimes very dirty. While they have stylish clothing, it appears to be that they only have a few outfits. Many of the children in La Chureca were barefooted - Crocs seem to be a favorite of the ones who wear shoes. Two of the mothers gave their children some Coca Cola to drink while they waited to have their children weighed.

I am obviously doing this blog to provide a picture of what life is like in Managua but if you are interested in helping out a worthy cause you could make a donation to either Anna (she has raised $2,500 thus far) or you may want to sponsor a child or donate to the Manna Project. This is the Manna Project blog which is interesting to read and includes some pictures.

La Chureca - Day Two
On Thursday we went to La Chureca again. We had to pick up the Manna Project Country Director - Katie who lives a few miles from the Manna Project House. She was previously in the Peace Corps for a few years. She had been working on a grant that she is hoping to get from Walmart-Central America. We also had to stop to pick up the Economics Director from the American Embassy. The Program Directors joked that the embassy people were probably going to be alarmed when they saw this old dilapidated white van pull up. They were right - the guards were fairly quick to come over to the van to see what we were doing.

On the second day we walked around more in La Chureca. Last year one of the PD's was robbed and she never went back to La Chureca again.  For a two week period the Manna people didn't go to La Chureca because it had been rainy and the men weren't able to go out and look for recyclables and that apparently makes it more dangerous to go there. We walked around as a group in La Chureca today. I connected you to the Google images page for La Chureca. (I was not afraid today!) The nurse and the country director were talking with the woman from the Embassy as we went around. I tried to listen in but my Spanish is limited to "hola" "adios" and a few other words so I couldn't understand. (On the first day when we had walked in one small boy said "gracias" and on the way out someone threw a rock at the van.) As we got back to the clinic area 8-10 boys were playing "baseball" with a tennis ball and no bat. Like all young baseball players, they would sometimes argue about whether someone was "safe" or not. The ball was overthrown once and it accidentally hit a member of our group ( I think the Embassy lady). The nurse really gave them "heck."  Baseball is the preferred sport in Nicaragua. I saw soccer and lacrosse being played also but baseball is their national sport.

I was sitting outside on the fenced porch at the clinic with the parents who were still waiting to have their child weighed and measured when two small buses suddenly pulled up. About fifty people got off the buses and walked up to the small porch area. They were each carrying a plastic grocery bag that was filled with oranges, granola bars, Oreo cookie packets, etc. I'm not sure if one of the bags accidentally ripped as the person stepped off the bus or if one of the older children had yanked on it. Children were immediately scrambling on the ground for the food that had dropped. Then the children quickly began to multiply. It didn't take more than five minutes before there were about forty kids gathered just outside the fence of the clinic. The people had planned to actually walk around with their bags of food in La Chureca. As they were standing there and the crowd was gathering some of them were getting scared. Finally a few people went outside and had the kids try to make a line but many kids just keep getting back in line. One of the leaders of the group made some comment about having a mass riot. And the parents who were at the clinic couldn't get out because of the crowd. These people were from Rhode Island and obviously had great intentions bringing food but I can see why the Manna Project does not promote handouts. We left on the microbus while there was still a big crowd of kids trying to get food. One the way out several children climbed on the back of the van and tried to ride along so the Program Directors had to yell to tell them to get down.

Cedro Galan
The Manna Project also serves the community that is by their home called Cedro Galan. On Wednesday afternoon, we all piled into the van and had started off to Literacy and Math classes when they got a call that one of the college students who had been visiting the Manna Project had left her coat in the Manna Project House. So they turned the van around and Anna volunteered to wait at the house and then walk to the place where the literacy sessions are held.  I said I would walk with her. The coat was quickly retrieved and we set off to the community center at Cedro Galan. Anna had previously told me that there was a back way to go. Well, I didn't picture that the backway meant small dirt roads/trails. There are not many paved roads in the community of Cedro Galan. The houses are situated along these dirt roads. I hesitate to call them roads. I only saw one motor cycle drive on them. It would be difficult to drive a car on them. All along the dirt trails are chickens. Chickens are everywhere. I like chickens. They don't bother anyone. At one point the "road" turned into a small two foot trail going up a steep, rocky hill. I had to stop a few times (because I started to slip) and remember thinking this is a hill for a mountain goal and "I am glad Anna knows CPR." When we got to the top we had the most amazing view of the countryside. It was so breathtaking and astounding. The country is truly beautiful. We continued and got back on a wider dirt path and went by more houses and many more chickens. One of the neatest things that happened was that along the trail a young girl or boy would occasionally shout "Hola Anna" or "Adios Anna" from their yards. Some of them would ask her a question or want to tell her something. We finally arrived at a community building (cement on the bottom half and wire fencing for the top half) that is used for classes. This is one of the buildings that was built by an American couple named Kathy and Halle August. I do not know much about them. They also built a sports center in another area that the Manna Project uses.

When we arrived they were working on Spanish literacy and math. Two young girls (ages 7 and 8) who were cousins were working on learning to write the alphabet. Another set of boys were reading Clifford the Big Red Dog in Spanish. Others were using some math manipulative pieces to learn about equivalent fractions. They do not have many materials to use with the students. Some of the materials they have are British materials. Almost all of the books they had were American stories translated into Spanish. Later that day Anna and another program director taught an Intermediate Adult English class. I sat at a table with three people: Sylvia, Augusto, a fifteen year old boy, and Olga. Each of these people were intently focused on learning English. Augusto was a very quiet boy with a good sense of humor. His father had told Anna to make him speak louder. He hopes to go to college in the United States some day. They had just finished reading a story about a girl who had won a million dollars but gave it away to an orphanage. They did not understand a few of the words in the story such as  "wealth" and "debt." I asked them what they would do if they won the money. Each of them said they would save the money and hopefully put it towards building a home. The next  night Sylvia and Olga also attended the Advanced Adult English class. I made a mistake that night. I wanted to show my daughter Katie Sylvia's neat earrings. I took Katie over by her and they started talking and I started talking to someone else. A few minutes later Katie came walking over to me looking upset.Sylvia had given Katie her earrings because it is the custom that when you compliment someone, they are supposed to give you the item you have complimented them on. Anna had told me this a few months earlier - oops - I had forgoten all about it. Anyway I told Anna and she made Sylvia take the earrings back. Anna said that Sylvia wears those earrings all of the time. Sylvia is a beautiful woman with a gigantic smile. She had wanted Anna to bring her back some gossip magazines from the United States while Anna was home for Xmas. Anna couldn't bring herself to buy any of those magazines so she took Sylvia a health magazine instead.

Just want to remind you to consider reading Steven Kinzer's book 

We were also able to watch an exercise class for women that Anna runs. It was truly crazy that after walking on the "back trail" and back I thought I could do the exercise class. I did okay for the first half. (My exercise buddy Patty H. knows I usually zone out halfway through Zumba at home.) I was glad when Anna said there wouldn't be enough weights for me to have a set so I was able to quit early. Anna did a great job with the exercise class. I went and sat outside and talked with two young boys who were using sticks to play in the dirt. In Nicaragua there is malnutrition but there is also obesity. The Manna Project Directors state that the food is always either too salty, too sweet, or fried in oil. The Nicas often make juice out of the fruit instead of eating it and thus do not get the benefit of the fruit fiber. (Quite truthfully I thought the food that Elena, the cook made was excellent but unfortunately, I'm not as health conscious as my children.) Anna and another PD are starting a nutrition class for the women to help them understand how to eat healthier meals. Anna was able to get some health and nutrition materials written in Spanish when she was back in St. Paul over the break to take back with her. Additionally, two PD just started a sex education class for women. They were using the book Our Bodies, Ourselves written in Spanish. The ages of women ranged from thirteen to thirty. At their first class they had a question box for the women to put questions in. The PDs were surprised at what half of the questions were about. Of course this is a PG rated blog (PG instead of G because of the toilet paper) so you'll have to see me if you want to know what half of the questions were about.

There was a bat in our house but it was not a big deal - I just ate my food in the bathroom until they got it out. The electricity went out for short periods of time while we were there. Anna seemed especially worried that her small head lamp was not working anymore. She said she uses it often.

We were also able to watch Anna and Jesse coach soccer. They picked up the girls with the micro. They would pull over to the side of the road, honk the horn and several girls would come out and pile in. Then we'd go to the next stop and pick up a few more girls. They played at the sports center that was built by Halle and Kathy August. There was also a group of boys who had gathered to play. The ball they were using was so small - size 3 maybe and very old. Of course it didn't matter to them. We had brought a few Augsburg soccer t-shirts from Katie's college so they held a competition and the top three girls won the shirts. Katie showed them a few goalie moves. While the game was going on Anna was holding the younger sister of one of the girls. Anna and the little girl were discussing cafe and negro. I realized they were talking about the color of their hair (brown and black). The little girl looked strangely at my hair (part gray, part red from the henna Anna put on, part light brown and part dark brown) and then for some reason she said my hair was yellow.

Earlier one of the children had asked Anna if she was Nicaraguan. Anna said that she was from the United States. They insisted that she couldn't be from there because she had dark hair. If she wasn't from Nicaragua then she must be from Canada they thought.

The day after the Ortega Inauguration we saw two different instances where the police had stopped a bus and were patting someone down. The Program Directors said that it was really unusual to see police doing that. What was really amazing to them was that the two different policemen they saw had cars. I guess in Nicaragua the police don't have cars. They stand on the side of the road and flag people over. Sometimes the police hitchhike. I think it would be a great experiment to hide the keys on our police liaison officer Dave for a week or two and see how he'd get along standing along the side of the road. I only heard police sirens twice in Nicaragua. The first time was in Granada. I looked to see what the siren was and there were about twenty motorcycles (not police) passing by with a siren blaring. The second time was also in Granada when the motorcycles passed us again going the other way.

Have I mentioned that there are chickens and dogs everywhere? I really liked the chickens! There are also people riding in the back of pickups or on flatbed trucks. Always something new to see!

The home that the Manna Project rents used to be a nice villa home once upon a time. It is in need of much repair. They need a bigger home because there are 9-10 program directors and many other people that stay with them. The house has a banana, coconut, papaya and avocado tree next to it. They thought the home was built in the sixties and most likely occupied by someone from the upper ranks of Somoza's National Guard and then possibly someone from the upper ranks of the Sandinistas. Then the Sandinistas moved to another area of the town and the homes started being bought by private owners.

There are small stores ("ventas") everywhere - mostly they are small shacks everywhere you go. People even sell things out of their homes. One of the neat people we visited was Guadeloupe, a woman who had received a business start-up grant from the Manna Project to start a business. She makes beautiful jewelry. She lives in the Cedro Galan community so we took the back trail to her home. Kristin, one of the other Program Directors was already there hanging out. She had told her we were coming to look at her jewelry. She had the jewelry sitting on a wooden table in the front of her home. It is truly beautiful jewelry. She's very talented and creative. We purchased several items from her beautiful jewelry. They are trying to figure out a way to market her jewelry and more importantly, how to handle postage costs. Her daughter showed us two small kittens they had rescued. Her two small sons were playing with what looked like pieces of floor tiling. They were stacking it in different ways.


  1. well that brought tears to my eyes. as I said what a life changing experience--me

    1. Norita you should sign your real name :) People will think I am crying at my blog!