FUNDACION A MANO MANABA
The butterfly effect in turning pages
Rut Román, Ph.D.
Fundación A mano manaba
Picture a young donkey on the beach, his pannier packed with colorful children´s books. As he steps over the rubble and devastation left by a 7.8-magnitude earthquake, his bell calls out to the children left homeless to come and read, and, for a brief moment, forget the desperate situation around them. This was the beginning of what, two years later, is A mano manaba Children´s Library. And this attests to the fact that, yes, books can turn adversity into opportunity.
It all started when my husband and I left our tenured academic positions to live and read with the children of a small fishing village in northern Manabí, Ecuador. Little did we know that a month after this life-changing move, our home, along with every single house in this tiny village, was to be destroyed by a catastrophic earthquake that caused 650 deaths and left 650,000 people homeless in Ecuador on April 16, 2016. A few days after the shock we discovered that our pet donkey could carry books in his pannier and so, we set camp on the beach where all the children of the village would come running to pet him and look at the books.
When there was no electricity, running water, schools or medical services we “played Library” on the beach with colorful books, notebooks and crayons, sharing happy and constructive afternoons with the children of Don Juan.
Today Fundación A mano manaba is a non-profit organization that offers educational programs in Don Juan, that tiny fishing village in northern Manabí, Ecuador. The Children´s Library sits within a beautiful bamboo building in the center of the village. It offers remedial reading programs, homework assistance, teacher training, arts and crafts workshops, adult education, and taekwondo and self-defense training for girls and women. Our main focus is on young girls. We believe that girls age 10-12 are the motor of a needed change in local gender dynamics that will unsettle the patriarchal domination that burdens women and children in this community.
Life in Don Juan is simple, very affordable and organic. Our operating costs are extremely low, and our employees (including ourselves) receive the minimum wage in Ecuador, which is sufficient. Along with one of our neighbors who is working hard to finish high school, my husband and I run the Intercultural Center and the Children´s Library. International and national volunteers support us in areas such as science, technology or sports. A nominal volunteer fee helps us cover operating costs like electricity, water and connectivity.
Now that our pet donkey is pasturing on a nearby farm, we are fundraising for a Library bus that will take us to remote villages and replicate the programs that have proved successful in Don Juan. We want to share the generous donations received and basic know-how for Library services. This is the foundation of a future circuit of Children´s Libraries along the pacific coast of Ecuador.
We continue to expand our circle of influence. Once we finish cataloguing our books, the lending service will enhance our effect. Some of the measurable results we expect to obtain are: active leadership, especially among women; increased school graduations; and reduced gender-based violence.
In the teacher training and remedial reading programs we are working with the Universidad Andina Simon Bolivar del Ecuador. Their approach has been tested in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. Their phonological, rather than syllabical method shows rapid advances in writing-reading workshops with children from different age groups.
Literacy is a complex asset that speaks of a lettered context. Unfortunately in developing countries this usually means urban middle class surroundings. In addition to children and teenagers, some of our Library patrons finished grade school a long time ago and have had very few opportunities or need to use their literacy skills. Many have lost the ability to read or understand what they read. This underlines the necessity of a Library system, something that is quite alien to the national government’s plans for education in rural locations. The core value of this venture is the grounding of a lettered environment in a community historically neglected by educational services.
The butterfly effect contends that given certain conditions, the distant flapping of a butterfly´s wings can alter the course of a tornado. Likewise, the continued page turning in this small Children´s Library is broadening life opportunities in this tiny village. Thus turning adversity into possibilities and loneliness into community.
A children´s Library in the beach is waiting for you! (Oportunidad de Voluntariado)