Sunday, August 17, 2014

Words, Wings and books in Ecuador

What is better than seeing the eyes of a child light up
upon opening a favorite book...hearing  children eagerly
fill in the last word of a sentence in a book read to
them by an adult for the hundredth time...seeing little ones
sharing giggles and smiles at a silly illustration or searching
for a detail about a curious insect...or watching a child's
imagination grow wings and soar into new ideas  thanks to
the worlds books have opened to them?

In our cities, where children and parents can walk/ride/bike
skip to the library down the road or path or fill their homes
with inexpensive books (sometimes discarded by those
libraries or schools), it's hard to imagine a world with few
books for young children.  It is even more difficult to figure
out how to instill a love of reading into a child with the
absence of those  favorite books and  the magic of fantastic

When our daughter, Inga,  moved to Cuenca, Ecuador with her
husband, Diego, and two children two years ago, she knew no
libraries awaited, nor would there be many books for small
children in the schools. Raised in an activist family, she acted.
She put out a call to family and friends for children's books to
share with schools in Cuenca.  They ended up taking down 600
books, 400 in English and 200 in Spanish to begin a mobile
library  program.  Once in Cuenca, she  worked  with the school
her children were attending to figure  out how best to offer her
love of books, her storytelling skills, her experience of working
with young  children and her knowledge of libraries.

News of what Inga was creating at one school quickly spread.
Requests from other schools followed.  And so  Inga and
Diego founded:  From Words to  with the motto
" Together we can raise a generation of children who love to
read" and with this cool logo designed by an Ecuadorian friend:

 This past year, Inga and Diego  brought the library  and literacy
program to four schools, including two rural schools high in
the mountains surrounding Cuenca.

Their website. , launched this past
year. It outlines the specifics of the program so I won't go
into too many details here.  Instead I encourage you to
explore its pages to understand the program and view photos.

This past winter when we visited Ecuador we carried with us
more books and posters donated and purchased by generous
friends and family for the  program.  Shipping costs make
personal  delivery the best  method. Additionally, thanks to
donations, Inga and Diego have  been able to purchase some
books through bookstores in Cuenca. It's important to support
local businesses. Perhaps if the market grows for children's
literature there, the high prices will go down.   Although all
schools in Ecuador teach English, Inga and Diego are focusing
on building inventory of books in  Spanish now.

We had the pleasure of accompanying them to visit two
of the mountain schools to see the impact on and enthusiasm
of the children and staff in those schools and to see the program
in action and building networks.

The drive, a bit challenging at times,

offered beautiful views...

The children greeted Inga and Diego with eagerness -
excited to see what new books they would leave that month
and what story pieces might emerge from the story box when
Inga read them one of the books.

She  lays out a "magic river" to set the  mood.

Dinosaurs emerged from her story box when she was treating
the children in this class to a reading of Jane Yolen's book
"Como comen los dinosaurios" (Among the books we took
down were some that Jane had generously taken off her
bookshelves to donate to From Words to Wings.) Then
she followed up with a non fiction books on dinosaurs.

The students chose which poster encouraging reading
they wanted for their classroom.

This year they also set up a partnership with Boston's
The Learning Project  (which Inga attended 3rd-6th
grades) developing a reciprocal relationship between
students in the mountains and the Learning Project students.
The children traded videos to learn about each others worlds,
and created handmade book for each other. The LP kids
shared Readathon funds to help the mountain school establish
a permanent library at their school.

We saw the room the school is going to transform into their
library.  There will be a grand opening when all is in place,
hopefully sometime this Fall..

They are hoping to set up some additional partnerships
this coming year.  There is  much to be gained on both sides
by the effort.

As all of us know, creating a program, coming up with
a name (not already used on the web), a logo, then legally
setting up a  non-profit and website is no small feat,
especially while raising your own small children at the same
time.  Everything always seems to take longer than dreamed.
Running and maintaining the entity requires creativity,
endurance and constant brainstorming re fundraising and
ways of  spreading the word. But there is not much of true
value in this (or any) world which is done quickly with little

Fortunately, crowd sourcing  opens up new possibilities.
They are hoping to launch a campaign or two in the near future.
Keep an eye out for that.

For my part, this past year, I sold a couple traveling librarian
duos at shows and gave the funds to the program.  I received
great feedback on the concept - both of the figures and the
program, and had so much fun that I'm taking the idea even
further this year. A whole series of traveling librarians will
be venturing forth with me beginning this Fall on various
creatures (including a dragon, of course) and vehicles. My
next few posts will be process photos of them, complete
with a poem or two. I'm on Jane Yolen's  poem a day email
list. Waking to a new poem each morning seems to have stirred
latent musings. I continue amazed, startled, and stumped at
how anyone can write a  poem a  day.

Adventure on...and please do check out the website for
From Words to Wings and spread the good news of
another couple trying to make a difference.  In these
times when media images bombard us with reminders
of  the chaos, misunderstandings, and challenges our world
is facing, remembering the small productive steps that
folks are stubbornly taking to make the world a better,
place is more important than ever.

Peace,  Wendy