Connecting with Angie Mjojo

The EWB bridge team came to iHouse early one morning to have a phone call with our community partner, Mike. As I listened to Mike explain how he viewed Chrystal’s purpose in traveling to Malawi, I became slightly concerned that he did not value the educational component of the trip. I followed up later with Chrystal, and found out that our team lead had not been able to contact the primary school where she had taught the past summer. There was no contact with the school and Chrystal was traveling in a month!

What we needed was someone in Malawi that we could rely on to understand our objectives, and advocate for us.  Angie Mjojo was that person. A SPURS-Humphrey Fellow spends one year immersed in the engineering culture of MIT. They also invariably leave impressed by the potential of MIT undergraduates. Angie Mjojo may not have met Chrystal when she came to MIT 8 years ago, but she knew that hosting an undergraduate from MIT, even for a month, would be valuable for her country. Angie understood our motivation, advised us on our plan, and advocated on our behalf to make Chrystal’s trip as productive and educational as possible.

I was put into contact with Angie by Nimfa de Leon, assistant director of the SPURS/Humphrey program, when I stopped by her office one day. I provided Nimfa with a few details from the project, easily accessible in Chrystal’s grant proposal to the UGC, and she sent an e-mail introduction.The whole process took 10 minutes. Angie responded two days later with an apology for not responding sooner. We informed her in greater detail about the project, and provided Chrystal’s itinerary. Despite Angie’s busy schedule at the Reserve Bank of Malawi, she was able to meet up with Chrystal after she arrived. Angie and Chrystal were able to discuss general thoughts about development in Malawi, as well as the specific projects that both were working on. Angie share with Chrystal her intentions to assist students performing ID projects in Malawi, and to ask those students to teach students in secondary school in the capital of Lilongwe, as an addition to their travel plans

My Arrival To India

Pretty much everything started going wrong. It could have been worse, but it definitely was a real introduction.

This past week I started my first real international development research project, arriving in India. I had had two overnight flights with a day layover in Paris finally landing in Mumbai’s international airport. It was especially exciting as this was my first time outside the US, Mexico, and England. I arrived in India thankfully in the morning, and the plan was to catch another flight across India to Chennai to meet up with other MIT students.

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Summer in Southeast Asia

Looking out my window, I can only see a dusting of stars veiled by the lively glow of the city at night. The Singapore skyline is breathtaking, like something out of a science fiction novel set in the far off future. When I imagined what it would be like to spend the summer in Asia with MIT’s MISTI Singapore program, I didn’t predict that I would be living in a city more developed and dynamic than any U.S. city I’d ever seen. But here I am, in the heart of Asia’s center for innovation and entrepreneurship.

This past year that I’ve spent in iHouse has entirely transformed my world perspective, and has inspired me to spend my summer abroad. Here in Singapore, I feel as if I’ve taken the plunge into an entirely different culture. I’m immersed in this Eastern ether of customs, traditions, values, opinions, and ideas that are completely different from my own. It has helped me tremendously to reevaluate my own beliefs and assumptions, and to revamp my understanding of the world. I hoped that a summer in Singapore would also provide me with some inspiration for an ID project to pursue. But, when everyone you meet is either a student, a researcher, a businessman, or a professor competitively pursuing the frontiers of his or her field of study, it’s challenging to unearth the potential for international development. It seems to be buried in the race to continue developing the industrialized world.

I was beginning to feel utterly uninspired when I took a three day trip to Cambodia with three other MIT students. Little did I know that right next door to Singapore, a futuristic metropolis, was a small, developing nation populated mainly by farmers, small shop owners, and tuk-tuk drivers rather than business tycoons and magnates. I had the unparalleled opportunity to visit The Summit Foundation in Phnom Penh, an orphanage populated by young Cambodians whose individual stories of personal development and achievement left me speechless.

One student asked for my advice on balancing schoolwork with all of life’s other commitments. I shared my methods of finding time for homework, a part time job, volunteering, and extracurricular activities, but she looked disheartened by my answer. It turns out that my “busy” schedule was nothing compared to hers; she was tasked with waking up at 4 AM to tend to her household chores and younger siblings (she was head of the household since the death of her parents). Then, she would go to school at the Summit Foundation, next, off to her full time job so that she could provide for her family. She would return at night, cook for her siblings, tend to her home, and only have the time to begin her homework well after midnight. How could she sleep? How could she work longer hours in order to buy more food for her growing siblings? How could she possibly keep her grades high enough to secure a spot in a good university?

How I wished I had all of these answers.

A second girl asked for my help in applying for college scholarships. Together, we went over the process until she was satisfied, but as I finished talking to her about financial aid, she looked uneasy. “Is something wrong?” I asked.

“Do you think that a college would take away my scholarship if they found out I wasn’t healthy?” She inquired nervously. “I’ve already had two heart attacks, and I’m afraid that if they found out, they wouldn’t let me attend at all.”

We sat there together, a first generation college student and an aspiring first generation college student. The hurdles that I had overcome to get to where I was paled in comparison to the road that lay ahead this young girl. Actually, this was a young woman; she was older than me, but had not yet finished her schooling since her heart condition had forced her to take a couple of gap years already. She struggled with finding enough time to devote to her studies and her job without overexerting herself, and her life’s dream was to become a doctor. Why? To help others like her achieve their dreams in the face of their physical ailments.

By the time I returned to Singapore from Cambodia, my head was spinning and my heart was full. I had come searching for answers to my questions about the world around me, about the people and the problems and the ways in which I could lend my aid. But I left with more questions, with leaks sprung in my understanding of the world that had let all of my previously held assumptions drain out.

I have discarded one question, though. I no longer ask myself if I can unearth an opportunity to become involved with international development. Now, I ask myself: Where do I even begin?Summit Foundation

Buenos Aires I

Traveling is great, spending time with friends is even better. Spending time in a gorgeous city in a foreign country with your friends and their friends is even better still, but to do so while watching their toddler toddle around is just too much good for me to comprehend. Finally, I think about how I had the opportunity to share this experience with Brittney and I know that I am blessed beyond belief.

La Casa Rosada

This is not Rodrigo’s House. La Casa Rosada is the Argentinian White House. It shares a plaza with historical sculptures, a few fountains, and elaborate buildings.

This past weekend, Brittney and I took Friday and Monday off of work to visit Rodrigo, Isa, and Manu in their home in Buenos Aires. Rodrigo was actually in Chile an hour west of Santiago that Thursday. He agreed to present at the meeting on the condition that he would be given a seat on the same flight as Brittney and me going back to Buenos Aires that Friday morning. Now, I know for a fact that I got the last two available seats on that flight a month ago, so somebody important wanted Rodrigo at the meeting.

When we arrived at Rodrigo’s house, he let us know that the only rule in the house was to always feel at home. Although the house was already packed up for their move, it still contained food, furniture, and family so we had no trouble with Rodrigo’s rule.

Anthony Upside Down

There are playgrounds and exercise parks throughout Tigre and Buenos Aires! This may not be the intended use, though…

The first day we walked around Tigre the suburb of Buenos Aires in which Rodrigo and Isa grew up and in which they still live. It is a beautiful place built up around a river with boathouses from the late 1800s. The two hubs of activity that we found were the market on the wharf with cafés, shops, and an amusement park and the area around the train station with docks for water taxis and ramps for launching row boats. (To read more about rowing in Tigre check out Brittney’s blog). As Rodrigo drove us through Tigre he also pointed out his old neighborhood, the route he took to bike to school when he was a kid, the home of Isa’s parents, whom they visit every other Sunday, and the apartment in which Isa lived when they first started dating.

Lola and Anthony

The wharf in Tigre also included Lola, Clifford’s cousin. Why a dog and not a tiger in Tigre? We’ll never know. (All photos and captions courtesy of mi polola, Brittney Johnson)
Coming soon…the Argentina-Belgium soccer match, dinner with the incoming SPURS-Humphrey Fellows, an asado at Rodrigo’s house, and a stroll through downtown Buenos Aires!

Farewell and Good Fare

It is with much thanksgiving and a full belly that after four years I now physically depart from the iHouse kitchen. The iHouse kitchen is a magical place. In two days or 1 CPW event the kitchen can go from immaculate to obviously a place for cooking. And with the help of a “kitchen god” and a faithful worker, the kitchen can be made white as snow in approximately 20 minutes. However, it is the end of the year, which means that the kitchen is getting a full cleaning and it is beautiful.

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The iHouse Song (with lyrics)

Remember this (YouTube link)

Here is The iHouse Song in its entirety! We recorded it during one of our ID Nights! Lyrics are included below!

The iHouse Song

Music by Suan Tuang; Lyrics by Jonathan Abbott

Live, learn, and love life, give back and do right
Take time to touch lives, listen let them guide
Do ID projects, travel to new heights
Use wits and logic – in school and real life

iHouse you’re home, a heart for ID
We live, learn, and love – as one family
We dream in our hearts, and reach for the stars
We take MIT to the world 

Sidewalk of streetlights, or bike, bus, or hitchhike
Make most of dining, and cook as you feel like
Pset with people who share the same smiles
Find friends forever, we’re worth the whole mile 

iHouse you’re home, a heart for ID
We live, learn, and love – as one family
We dream in our hearts, and reach for the stars
We take MIT to the world 

Leadership, Chapstick, and the Navy part one

Hello World! (I’ve wanted to do that for so long!)

The blogging bandwagon has been picking up more peeps over this year’s IAP, and I’m finally making the plunge to be one of its constituents with my first iHouse blogpost! So far over this month y’all been able to read about mario kart and juggling, ice skating, and hockey, and while we’re all definitely a fun crowd to hang out with, we also focus on lots of important topics as a community. (Don’t worry, I’ll write about swing dancing, singing, and super-movie watching some other time)

You heard right, folks- while it seems that we could all just get through life with our dashing good looks and wonderful wit, we also make an effort to come down from our delusion and engage on more impactful and serious matters. One of my favorite areas to explore is the subject of leadership and teams. Exploring how people within a team interact with each other, determining how they can help each other thrive or create conflict between themselves, discovering how a leader can inspire and empower his team to be the best they can be, and learning how to share a vision that can captivate the hearts of people are some of the things I am most passionate about :) How does this tie in with the enigmatic title, you ask? Well, this past weekend I had the opportunity to travel over to the Naval Academy in Maryland for a four-day conference all about one aspect of leadership, and I can’t wait to share it with you all :D

But before I begin, I should take a short paragraph to introduce myself- my name is Mario Martinez, and I’m from Texas! I’m a third year mechanical engineering student here at the ‘tute, with a concentration in engineering management and leadership. I’m heavily involved with Cru, a Christian ministry on campus, and some of my favorite things are food, friends, and fun (and trolling, but I promise to not troll too much in writing!). Here’s a picture of me with some friends while we were eating food

20140130-114425.jpg Can you try to guess which one’s me? :D

Over the course of this post, I’ll be writing a little about my experiences traveling to the naval academy, communicating my thoughts on the learning I did there, and sharing some of the introspective thinking I was able to carry out while over there. I won’t go through everything, cause four days is a lot to pack in a blog, and I don’t want to punish your attention span so much in your first experience with my writing, so I’ll spread out everything of the conference over a few posts. So let’s start!


Oh gosh, this was an experience in itself. I traveled away this past Sunday afternoon, and let me tell you, I learned some valuable lessons that morning.

First lesson: if you’ve been growing out a beard for four-five months, don’t start shaving an hour before you have to go. That, and have your bag packed before this too. In short, just make sure you have your stuff prepared well in advance of stuff yo.

Second lesson: if you’re running late to your gate, and you’re also really hungry, make a quick check to see if there’s no line so you can grab food- remember: only if there’s no line. I tried to ask for some time to get food, but was sent into the plane instead. So remember, you only have one chance for food, so if you’re hungry, just ignore the first lesson I just gave. (Just kidding, if you’re running late, please don’t get food before your gate- it’s better to be hungry and eating peanuts and pretzels than being semi-full and stuck at an airport).

Third lesson: People will save your life. All the time. Everywhere. I tried to start wearing my brass rat (MIT class ring) on the way, but when I put it through security, I completely forgot about it! I just picked stuff up and took off like a bullet to the gate (you can see the theme of preparation taking form here). Anywho, once aboard the plane, I start settling in when all of a sudden I hear:

has anybody lost a ring on the plane?

At this point, my blood chilled when I realized I wasn’t wearing or holding my ring- I didn’t even know if I’d picked up my ring at security in the first place, so this is probably someone else’s ring anyway. I still decided to flail and get the flight attendant’s attention, and lo and behold, after describing my ring, I was quickly reunited with my brass rat! :D I was later told that another person on the plane had found it and turned it in. Needless to say, I was super relieved, but this was an awesome way to see that sometime’s people can have your back in the most unlikely of circumstances.

O-kay, back to the conference itself- once on the plane, I met with a fellow classmate called Greg (who knows almost everything there is to know about everything you could be curious about), and shortly after arrival, we got to meet all the other conference attenders! I was completely astonished- there were so many Midshipmen (kinda like the Navy’s version of a cadet in military school) and they were all decked out in their full uniform to meet us. Needless to say, it was a very impressive sight, but not nearly as impressive as seeing an even greater number of people in uniform at the reception for us all that night. It had people in many varied types of uniforms, as the conference was for many ROTC and military academies around the U.S as well. There were lots of civilians involved in leadership programs at their school too, but we still felt like fish out water with all the impressive people around us. I quickly found out that the people were not as scary or intimidating as they sometimes seem, and was able to start building relationships with them. Needless to say, after that long day, I was beat, and as soon as we were released, I excused myself and headed to bed to crash- our day was going to start at 6 am!

The next day, our conference was finally starting for reals, and on our way from the hotel to the lecture hall we would be in, I got to take in some impressive sights of the academy, here, let me show you some



They herded us to the hall, and after a few minutes of chatting with peeps around us, the introducer stepped on stage and immediate silence dropped on the hall. It was intense yo.

The conference theme they had chosen for the week was Followership: The Evolution of a Leader, and would deal with numerous issues in which a follower has to support a leader by going against him or her, finding how to bring moral courage into an organization and team of people, and how a leader must continually be a follower and a follower must also be a leader. It was pretty neat.

I’m gonna take this chance to leave you on a cliffhanger (literary device to inspire readers to come back for more!). I didn’t get to go into it that much this time, but I definitely want to tell you about the stuff I learned over there at this place, and I hope you want to hear more about it :) I’m happy your attention span lasted this long too! And what about the chapstick, you ask? You’ll just have to stick around to find out ;D

Signing off, until next time!

– mario!