As I open the door to Manna Project every afternoon, I hear the running footsteps of excited children racing up the stairs to get inside. We exchange our usual “buenas tardes” and “cómo estás” and I hear about the kids’ days at school, birthdays, and other events going on in their lives. We read together, we play sports together, we cook together, we do homework together…we do everything together. Many kids stay at the center during the entirety of its open hours from 2 pm – 7 pm. For those five hours, I get to be their teacher, role model, and friend. Here are profiles of some of the Ecuadorian children I’m forming relationships with thanks to Lumos:
Valentina, 9 years old: Valentina lives two apartment buildings away from the center and comes nearly every afternoon. Valentina’s parents work long hours, so she loves the attention she receives at the center. Valentina occasionally calls me “Mami.”
Elohim, 15 years old: Elohim waits outside the center starting at 11:30 am, even though he knows it opens at 2 pm. He is content with being given a hello and a book to pass the time or sitting with me while I do my morning work before opening hours. He is mildly autistic and only goes to school on Saturdays. Elohim has to be pushed gently to play and participate in the center’s programs, but every once and a while, his eyes light up when he finds an activity he likes. He recently spent five hours happily completing a 500-piece puzzle.
Ariel, 12 years old: Ariel is a student in Kids Level 3 English class who often comes for homework help. He struggles with pronunciation since his Ecuadorian English teachers have not had the opportunity to interact with many English-speakers or travel outside of Ecuador. Ariel’s school assignments are not appropriate for his English level and are poorly chosen, antiquated worksheets that do not follow a logical sequence of learning English.
Jonathan, 13 years old: Jonathan is a thirteen-year-old that looks like he could be eight. Like many Ecuadorians in the valley, he is very small, short, and thin for his age. Jonathan loves to cook, and is always excited to get to handle knives and use the stove at the center.
Yamileth, 13 years old: Yamileth goes to a low-income public school in Ecuador. She comes to the center regularly in the afternoons to use the laptops in the computer lab. At first, she did not know how to use the laptop well. Now, the computer lab is her go-to study spot to do her English homework, use google, and type assignments.
Moises, 7 years old: Moises is a soccer fanatic that lights up when he has someone to play soccer on the field with. He brings his “lengua” homework to the center, which is his Spanish language class. He’s learned some of his own language from me and I often correct him on how to spell in Spanish.
Isaac, 12 years old: Isaac is one of the most promising English students who takes classes at the center. Some kids complain because their parents force them to spend three hours outside of school per week taking additional English courses at Manna. Isaac, his eighteen-year-old sister, and their mom all attend English class with a desire to learn and superior work ethic. Isaac is gifted, and might have the chance to go to a good university and exchange abroad with his level of English.
Stephen, 10 years old: Most kids who come to the center beg for time to play the videogames or use the computers. Stephen, on the other hand, begs for the latest book he wants. He’s reading the series “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” in Spanish and always has a book or two checked out of the library.
Jersson, 14 years old: Jersson is a preteen who is more mature than many of the kids who come to the center. Many kids his age are out with their friends or playing soccer, but Jersson always ends up at the center even though he has to play with kids much younger than him. During library hour, Jersson reads childrens’ picture books.
Gema, 10 years old: Gema is the oldest of four who comes to sports class with her three younger siblings every week. When her siblings fall down, need help tying their shoes, or need to cross the road, she helps them like a mother would. She carries their money to ride the bus, and takes her siblings to and from the center.
The kids I spend time with have different backgrounds and stories, but they all have the Manna Project in common. The Manna Project is their second home that always has its doors open for them. I cannot be the kids’ parent, but I can be a positive influence, attention-giver, homework helper, and person willing to give love and support to the most well-deserving children.
Eating stir-fry after cooking class
Being silly with the boys