Editors Note: This article was written by Morgan Harden, a recent graduate of Kenyon College. She has degrees in Spanish Literature and English, with a creative writing emphasis, which she uses to write, translate, and share stories. Drawn to its story and collaborative model, she began volunteering remotely for Mano a Mano after her graduation. This work eventually led her all the way to the organization’s epicenter in Cochabamba. After her time volunteering in Bolivia, Morgan will be headed to Argentina to begin her Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Fellowship.
Morgan’s other blogposts:
- “This is Everything:” Medical Donations on November 17th
- Where it Starts: Mano a Mano Workshop #1 at the CEA
Food for Thought: Mano a Mano Workshop #5 in Japo, Bolivia
It was like watching a magician pull impossible things out of a top hat. With a few notable differences, of course: magicians make rabbits appear, not heaps of food. Still, sixty students and teachers of the school in Japo watched in astonishment, as Ben, director of Mano a Mano International, laid out seventy-eight different kinds of food on a table at the front of the class. Fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, you name it, it was probably there. The colorful array of food confounded me, as much as it did the students. I’d never seen such a varied bounty. One by one, Ben lifted each item up for everyone to see. “What is this?” he asked, with each new spectacle.
Of course, there were some easy items, rice and milk, to name a couple. The students shouted those out with excitement. (Yours truly might even have called out a few for fun). However, that didn’t last long. Quickly, we exhausted the easily identifiable items, and Ben began brandishing foods I didn’t even have names for in English. The students were similarly stumped, and a hush fell over the room.
Over the course of the morning, Ben went through every item on the table. But the workshop went far beyond a simple vocabulary lesson. As he went through each item, Ben took the time to explain the nutritional benefits of each food. Everything from carrots, with vitamin A for vision, to garlic’s cholesterol lowering properties. The students took notes, occasionally breaking to taste the healthy snacks and salads, prepared and passed around by the rest of the Mano a Mano team behind the scenes.
This workshop, “Nutrition and Healthy Eating,” was the last of five for the students in Japo, following the construction of one of Mano a Mano’s greenhouses. Nearly a year ago, the school requested a greenhouse to improve the quality of the students’ meals. Bundled in a jacket and beanie (in the summer, mind you), I couldn’t imagine how anything could grow there, against the biting wind, high altitude, and lack of water. Just one look into the greenhouse defied all of my expectations.
It was like the door led to a pleasant afternoon in the valley. A warm rush of air greeted us, as we caught sight of the greenhouse floor, brimming with lettuce, onions, radishes, and other crops. While we walked through, the school’s director told us about how they were using the fresh vegetables in the kitchens. However, the greenhouse hasn’t just been an administrative project for the school. The students themselves are the primarily caretakers of the plants in the greenhouse, giving them hands on experience with the produce as well.
Though the students clearly work hard in the greenhouse, cultivation alone won’t teach the students about healthy eating or nutritional benefits of the foods they grow. That’s where the final workshop fills the gap. By focusing on the health benefits of specific foods, Mano a Mano gave the school the information they need to use the greenhouse to the fullest.
By the end of the day, the class split into groups to build well-balanced plates of their own. One by one, the selected students passed to the front of the room. Their confident hands, piling different foods onto the plates, were a far cry from the morning’s outcries of confusion. As Ben went through every plate, the students stood alongside him, explaining their choices.
“What would you make out of those ingredients?” one of the teachers asked, as his student held his colorful plate of ingredients out in front of him. With so many different ingredients, I could see why it might be difficult to come up with a meal. Ben began spinning out a few ideas, but I was confident he already had everything he needed to make it work. Just add creativity, I thought. That’s the last ingredient.