Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador

by Fundacion A mano manaba
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Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Library empowers Girls & Women in coastal Ecuador
Going to the library
Going to the library

Rural communities like Don Juan, a tiny fishing village in the coast of Ecuador have historically been neglected; therefore leaving us to turn to each other in troubled times. Last year, in the midst of lockdown María (39) was diagnosed with cancer of the uterus, after crying her heart out, she collected herself and went to her neighbor to discuss her situation: despite the risks, Maria and her husband would have to go to the city for medical help, leaving Carlos (12) and Rami (14) at home. Nancy, her neighbor, immediately offered to take care of the boys, feed them daily and include them in her routine along with her own children. 

We, at Fundación A mano manaba, live and work immersed in this spirit of mutual support. When the Ministry of Education announced distance learning as a solution to school closing,  disregarding the reality of rural communities where there is no internet, no computers, and no parental guidance, we turned to our neighbors who would contract and share internet connection and gave them laptops collected by our volunteers in Quito.

Our work has never been so needed. After a year of the closing of the schools, what FAMM does from this small fishing village keeps those who decide to educate themselves afloat. The gap between the children of middle and upper-middle class residing in the city and the children of the rural area is soaring.  However, we remain hopeful due to the ongoing change that happens in the library. As an example, I´d like to share Luca´s story with you.

Lucas (15) suffers from a heart condition that prevented him from going out fishing with his peers, once diagnosed he withdrew to his room and became gloomy and sedentary. How is a boy -unable to fish- supposed to acquire a sense of self in the middle of a fishing village? His younger brother, Sam (8) has long been a cheerful presence in the library. Normally, our day starts with his unmistakable call: I'm here! One Friday afternoon, when leaving with the book that would keep him busy during the weekend, Sam  asked for the first volume of Harry Potter, for his brother Luca. I told him that we would gladly give Luca that book whenever he chose to come and ask for it.  Monday morning, Sam proudly marched in with his brother Luca, a tall and enigmatic boy, his eyes barely appearing under a winter cap (on a 82 day!) and the mandatory mask. I went out to greet him, but I realized right away that he did not want to draw attention, he took the book, thanked me and left. The following week he returned for the second volume, this time he chose a corner from where he observed the activity of the library.-concealed behind Harry Potter Vol 2, the winter cap and the mask-   That afternoon he returned and sat at a work table where we were doing math, he clearly mastered it. Soon the other children asked for his help. On Friday, game day at the library, Luis arrived without his winter cap, chatted with the other boys and girls his age, made friends, played baseball, chess, and laughed. 

Now Sam and his brothers Luca and Jerry arrive every day, Luca prefers to do homework at home and thus spends his time with the technology club where, together with his friends, they are learning powerpoint, video editing and design. He usually walks around the work tables where others are doing their homework and offers to help. He has learned to patiently explain the subject until the other understands and is able to do it by herself.  Luca has turned into a leader for boys and girls. We all appreciate his calm demeanour and kindness.  

We believe that like for Luca, the library has changed the lives of many, here he knows that his skills are valuable and that he can continue to explore his interests, he knows that education will open doors and above all, he has understood, like every other child that arrives every day to do their homework, read or join a club, that although compulsory school is closed, education is a decision one makes, nobody can impose it on us or -as long as there's a nearby library-  keep it from us.

As you see, what we do at the A mano manaba Library has never been more opportune and we are able to do it with your help. You should be proud to know that your contribution is our main source of income. You are supporting this liberating library full of books, computers, and knowledgeable and friendly librarians.  Please consider visiting your Library in Don Juan.   It will make us very happy to have you.

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Eager to learn
Eager to learn

Arianna (13) and her friends Kimberly (14), Karen (12), and Milena (11) live in what is called around here  “the invasion”.  It’s known by this name because the houses along the river banks do not have building permits, nor their occupants have property deeds. This “invasion” neighborhood, like many others in the Jama canton, is unlawful, thus not entitled to public assistance.

 

This does not hinder determined girls like Arianna and her friends, who want to get an education in hopes for a better future.  They are avid readers and have come to our library since the beginning.  To get here they must avoid difficult spots, cross a  highway and keep track of time so they can get back home safely.  Most of the girls and boys in “La Invasion” are not allowed to take the risk.  

 

Seeing that so many of their neighbors could not reach our library, more than a year ago, Arianna asked us to help her open their own library in their neighborhood.  They met the minimum criteria - clean space, 1 shelf, 1 table, and four committed young persons that would be trained as librarians.  Thus, together we arranged a quaint little patio in Arianna's house, set the bookshelf, table, and chairs under a leafy tree on the banks of the river.   With the help of volunteers from Quito, we were able to equip their Library with books, several boxes of educational materials, more tables, and chairs.  Since then we have visited the small library once a week. 

 

With the looming of the rain, Arianna's mother remembered how difficult it was during last year's rainy season.  One early morning, under the pouring rain, residents in “la invasion” woke to the thundering rumble of the river that flooded its banks with torn trees, logs, and gushing water.  The flooding river took several houses, crops, even animals in its path. The Girl’s Library was not spared.  Arianna's mother recalls the upsetting scene of young Arianna amidst a river of books, trying to rescue the remains of her library.

 

A year later, the girls from “la invasion” know better than to risk their lives for things that can be replenished.  FAMM, in Don Juan, and the Quito volunteers made efforts to restore what was lost to the river, and now, observing all biosecurity precautions, we, once again, visit the Girls library every Tuesday.  We go with volunteers, materials, activities: we park our Library Van in an open space and set the Library with the books and supplies this tiny library has to offer.  We must say this is not the most important resource it has; it's the enthusiasm for English, math, science that Arianna and her friends share with their young neighbors that make it so special.  

 

This library, like many others,  will continue to exist because of the enthusiasm of its librarians, which is the cornerstone that no catastrophe has managed to take away.

I got this...
I got this...
Library Van
Library Van
A mano manaba Library
A mano manaba Library
Homework
Homework
Reading
Reading
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Los tres amigos
Los tres amigos

Today, like every Wednesday we are going to El Cruce, the poorest neighborhood in Don Juan to bring Benito and his gang to the Library. Benito is a beautiful boy whose starking dark gaze seems to be eyelined with kohl, he is tiny, even though he just turned 9, he looks like 5, and his little brother Jairo (5) is even tinier. Benito and Jairo are going through difficult times: they lost their Dad a couple of weeks ago in a motorcycle accident (an event not uncommon among young men in this community); two years ago, their mother got sick and passed away. So things have been very rough on these kids. 

 

But Wednesdays are different because the Library Van comes exclusive for Benito and his pals, he puffs up with self-importance because he gets to choose three or four kids who will join them to the Library.  Benito always brings his cousin Oscar whose family has taken in the orphaned boys. Oscar is 10 and very smart, he has never been to school. His parents, as many others, don’t place much value in education, as a young boy, he is destined to be a farmhand or a fisherman, so they think he has no need for books.  So Oscar comes to the Library to  “play with books”.  He was at awe when we first took him to the storage room where we keep more than 5,000 books, we gave him a small box and invited him to choose the books he wanted to browse while he was in the Library.  We keep his box -as a researcher’s shelve of sorts- for him.  We do this for children that have not been exposed to books, and they look forward to looking at their collection the next time they visit us.   

 

We can tell Benito and his tiny brother are struggling, we can’t deny that their situation has no remedy: losing your parents at such a young age is an enormous abyss they will have to overcome.  We can only hope that our friendship and respect will add to the joyful boyish happiness cousin Oscar exudes and his family support to help them overcome the sadness shadowing their childhood. 

 

But I want to tell you about Oscar, he comes as one of Benito´s cheerful guests.  I’m sure he is the one who is going to pull his cousins out from their sorrow.  So Oscar was reading the images in his books and telling me the stories he sees in them; I was slowly introducing him to the sounds letters make and how he can draw those sounds, he was very interested.  At some point, he jumps up and says he needs the bathroom . I show him the way and, reminded him to please leave the bathroom as clean as he had found it.  This is a hygiene tip that some of our young patrons need.  After a few minutes, Oscar comes by with a sheepish smile, “I can’t find the bucket” he says… “What do you mean the bucket?” “ how am I supposed to leave it clean if there is no water?” So I get up and walk back to the bathroom with him to show him the flushing mechanics of a toilet … 

That was it: that was an Aha! moment.  He jumps back in astonishment.  

 

This was the first time a 10-year-old  has ever seen a flushing toilet.  Not only books but the basic hygienic commodities are outlandish to him. So yes, here in the Library we are changing lives, we are letting them know that they are entitled to basic things every child should have. But most of all, we are here for them; we can’t save them from all their problems, we can’t replace the adults that are missing or failing them.  Because of your trust and your continuous support, we can still be here every day, whenever they need a friend, a respectful adult, someone that is always willing to learn with them and show them all the opportunities they have the right pursue, we are here. 

 

Thank you again, you should know that your monthly donation is our main source of funding. You keep the water running, the lights on, the internet, and all our educational programs active. Please tell all your acquaintances about our common quest, tell them that you are doing something that makes you feel proud.  This project may seem small in comparison to huge bureaucratic international NGOs; but it is precisely because of our size and nimble structure, we can react to changing circumstances.  Back in 2016, with your help, we rouse from the devastation of a 7.8 earthquake, we received donated land, built a beautiful seismic-resistant bamboo library equipped with computers, printers, photographic cameras, and welcomed helpful bilingual volunteers. 

 

Now, with the mandatory distance learning imposed by this pandemic, we strive to breach the technological gap that will leave, further behind, children that live in rural areas.  Our computer campaign is receiving refurbished laptops that are entrusted to families that have 2 or 3 children in distance schooling. In this manner they can access the resources their school is sending and they can respond.  The Library is open, with the necessary precautions, to assist them in a full schedule with local volunteers and all the resources.  We are here to help them out in anything that they need whether it be discovering a flushing toilet or learning without pressure or shame. 

Gracias!
Gracias!
At awe
At awe
Library Van
Library Van
Local volunteers
Local volunteers
Were here for them
Were here for them

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At the Library
At the Library

Our library in the pandemic

 

By mid-March, we realized Covid-19 had arrived in our tiny fishing village in northern Manabi. The lack of any health system or response services puts us in an extremely vulnerable situation. Our only way out was total and absolute isolation.  So we bid our international volunteers good by and sadly shut down the Library. The curfew was at 6 pm, everything came to a complete halt.  Birds, mammals, and ocean waves could be heard more clearly than ever.

By the end of May, some parents asked our local volunteers re-open the reading program and help with their children’s homework. Bryan (21) and Adriana (27) asked us for paper, crayons, and school resources, set up a couple of tables outdoors and began a tiny school on the sidewalk by the beach.  We understood this as a request:  the neighbors were in need of Library services. 

Since June the Library has opened on a limited schedule, allowing 5 kids to enter at a time, only with a face mask and after washing their hands. Due to our age group, we the founders and directors of the Library decided to stay home, not wanting to risk being the cause of contagion.

So the time had come to let go, to trust our Assistant Librarian Miryam (34), who works full time at the Library while attending night school, and our community promoters, Adriana (27), Bryan (20) and Jose (43), to run the Library without us.   Two months after this decision, I sat down with them for a conversation. Let me share their thoughts and conclusions.

Rut: This situation is extremely challenging for everyone; can you think of a specific way this pandemic is testing our Library?

Miryam:  The most difficult thing that we face every day is having to turn away the children that enthusiastically come wanting to read or hang out in their Library.  We put up a system of reservations where parties of 5 friends come in for an hour at a time.  But as you can imagine, kids have a hard time with this system, not only do they lack a sense of time or a watch, but they are upset with  this restriction, on top of so many others they already have.  They miss the freedom of coming and going through these doors at all times. 

  1.   For me, the most challenging situation is the lack of parental concern about their children’s safety.  We give away masks every day, only to see the same child come back without a mask.  So we give them another mask and explain again why it is important that she wears it.  It is very difficult to instruct a child about safety if, at home, they are not asked to do the same.

Rut:  So, do you feel at risk coming to work to the Library with the kids?

Miryam:  No! not at all.  During those first months when everything was locked down, I felt strapped in my tiny house in the housing project, without space to move around or air to breathe.  I come here every morning, flip the windows wide open, put on some low calming music, and get ready to receive the first group of kids that will wash their hands, wear masks and sit quietly each one at a table, while we help them with homework or reading.  It has turned out to be a calming ritual in my routine.  It makes me happy to be around them…I’m loving these tranquil days in the Library. 

Adriana:  I don’t feel at risk either, on the contrary, this is a safe place.  If you walk around town, you can see many people without a mask, going about as if nothing is happening.  I don’t suppose they are washing their hands regularly.  So, spending my day here at the Library where there is a clean and controlled atmosphere, makes me feel safe.  I also live in a tiny house with all my family compressed there.  This is a good change of scenery where I can forget the stress of this time. Kids feel the same, that’s why they keep registering to come back.

Miryam:  Kids feel so happy when they come here, this makes their day. Sometimes it's 12:10 and Adri tells them, ok, girls, time to go home, and they cry out, No!  we want to stay a little while longer.  But we have to make them leave.

Rut:  Let’s turn to crisis and opportunity. Any given crisis, no matter how catastrophic, always offers an opportunity for change or growth… What opportunities have you felt this experience of running the Library on your own has offered you on a personal basis?

Adriana:  Well, on a personal basis, family communication has deepened, nobody’s on a rush to leave the kitchen table.  We get to talk and hang out much more.  I think everybody is enjoying this. 

Miryam:  At first, when you told me to go ahead and open the Library on my own, I thought it would be lonely or scary without you.  But, honestly and I don’t mean it in a bad way, these weeks working with Adriana, Bryan and Pepe I’ve grown even closer to them, and we are really enjoying each other.  Back when we were operating regularly with international volunteers, they would come in for their English class, browse through some books, and then leave.  But now we have time to talk about the days’ work, decide things and later sit around and talk about the kids and their progress.  I appreciate this time as head of the Library, it makes me feel stronger, my neighbors look up to me.

Rut:  That’s great!  Has this situation made you feel a sense of ownership of this Library?

Adriana:  Yep!  I feel different now.  I know that you kept repeating that this was everybody’s Library, but those were just words.  Now I really feel that this is mine, it’s my responsibility and my privilege to work as a local volunteer. 

Miryam:  Yeah, I remember one day when Adri said “Oh so now I’m beginning to feel love for this place”.

Adriana:  Ha ha…. Yeah, I come here and, it’s not only my place; but I feel more like myself when I’m here.  And all this is mine!

Another good thing that has come with social distancing is the opportunity for very shy, sensitive kids to surmount their reading disabilities.  Take Liz (13) she is shy and scared like a bunny, her friends always protect and intimidate her, to the extent that she has fallen so much behind, she couldn’t read.  Now, she comes on her own every morning, we have been working with the remedial reading program along with building her self-esteem.  When Liz read her first words and recognized the figures and the sounds they made, I think I was more excited than she was.  I had seen how the professional teachers, who come as international volunteers did this, but this is the first person I have taught how to read!  Liz and I were jumping with excitement together! 

Rut:  I feel so happy to hear you say this, this is your place where you are growing and helping others grow as well. That was always the plan. We will eventually retire, and you will have to take over. That’s why it’s so important that you continue to learn English, accounting and other skills.  This time has proven that our Library is autonomous and sustainable. We have been very cautious with our funds. We do not spend on big salaries or assessment charges or other technicalities many charities go through.  We invest every cent of our funds to build a sense of ownership that will take over this Library in the years to come.

Adriana:   You can count on that, just look at Vinicio (12) this boy practically lives here, he is enamored with the new computers.  He is thriving in this distance learning…It’s great to see Vinicio do his homework, he opens a program, prints a worksheet, calls his teacher.  He is so proficient in all this stuff that you can’t believe he is a boy from this little fishing town. He feels at home in the Library.

Miryam: Vinicio is like a sponge, he gets everything very fast, I am so proud of him.

Rut:  Yes, and like him, we need to have more and more kids that are engaged with their education. Vinicio is the living proof that, if you offer a young person the support he needs, if you make the resources available, he or she will thrive. 

I turn to talk with Vinicio (12) who embodies the bolstering possibilities this Library can offer a young person.

Rut:  During these recent months’ things have changed dramatically in the Library.  Do you miss anything from before this time?

Vinicio:  I miss Fridays when the Library was open for games.  There would be a big crowd of kids playing board games, chess, and football in the yard.  Now, Fridays are quiet, like any other day.  On the other hand, it’s nice to see the few that come, sit quietly to do their homework. 

Rut:  How are you doing with distance learning?

Vinicio: I´m doing fine, but that's because I have the computers here in the Library, if I didn't have this I couldn't do it from the phone.  It turns off.  Now I feel that everything that is here is mine.   We all thought that everything was yours and Esteban´s, but now I know this is mine.

Rut:  How would this little town be if we had no Library

Vinicio: it would be sad, nowhere to go, nobody would do their homework, just  like before, kids would keep repeating the school year.

Rut:  When this is over and we can have international volunteers come, what do you want a volunteer to come and teach?

Vinicio: I wish Tadeo, or someone like him would come, someone that can teach me how to play really well in my ukulele, teach English and play football with us.

Writing
Writing
Boys at work
Boys at work
Adriana
Adriana
Miryam
Miryam
At work
At work

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Organization Information

Fundacion A mano manaba

Location: Sitio Don Juan - Ecuador
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Project Leader:
Rut Román
Sitio Don Juan, Ecuador
$17,292 raised of $55,000 goal
 
344 donations
$37,708 to go
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