On how we arrived at Don Juan

Some time ago, when we were still professors from the University of Virginia in the US, Esteban and I (Ruth) came every summer to our native Ecuador. We made this trip because we never wanted to live with our heads in the north, being professors of Latin American literature, it made perfect sense to come to reconnect with the country, the region, and its literature. In the summer of 2012, at the end of the semester to go to Ecuador, we had some pending articles to write with imminent delivery dates. If we were going, we would have to hide from relatives and friends to be able to write and deliver the texts on time. We asked our friend Mercy Serrano to get us a little house on the beach: somewhere in Manabí, as remote as possible, without a telephone, or internet and even better, without walkable roads.

This is how we spent our first idyllic summer in Don Juan, this hamlet of the Jama canton, at km 70 of the Spondylus route. It is true that the little town (or bus stop, to be more truthful) lacked all kinds of communication: the telephone signal was very bad, the house we rented had no internet and the road was a dusty gap over which they passed and reviewed Road construction machines without any desire or promise to complete their task. The place was ideal to concentrate on reading and writing our articles; We were in that when one afternoon someone knocked on our door. When I opened it I found a young gringo, with a big smile, as only nice gringos have, and he greeted me in perfect Spanish: "I am James Madden, I live here in Don Juan, and I know that you are literature teachers». I was very surprised that he knew about us. We had arrived a couple of days before and we had only gone out to the store next to the bridge to buy the basics. We had not yet made friends or met anyone, how did he know about our trade? Well, that It is the nature of a small town: everything is known, although we never know how it was known what we already know ... Anyway, after telling us that I should go to Quito the next day and ask us the favor to go down in the afternoon to Don Juan to open a small library he had organized, James stayed all afternoon telling us about his life, his commitment to the community of Don Juan, with that of Tabuga where he worked as a biologist and student travel coordinator at the Foundation Ceiba Your enthusiasm for the country, its plants, its geography and the people of this province was moving. He told us, among other things, that he felt freer, more owner of his life and more alive since he lived here in Don Juan, where he had built his house, next to that of the fishermen. His house was paid, he had no mortgage - an essential credential to be a respectable adult in American culture - and he believed that people in the US were crazy, they spent their entire lives working to pass their children the mortgages to which they were they had bound their lives in servitude. James is that kind of person who exudes enthusiasm for what he does and his arguments, although somewhat extremist, were of irrefutable transparency.

After the conversation and immediate friendship we saw James sometimes that summer, but what happened to us in the small library of Don Juan, was what changed our lives. The day after James's visit, we went down with the key at the agreed time, as we were on vacation we got very relaxed without looking at the exact time. Upon arriving at the small building where the library worked, we met more than 15 children waiting at the door! It was simply unheard of. In a community of 1000 people, 15 children were waiting for the library door to open. And it was then that we re-evaluated what we were doing working in the United States and that same afternoon we decided that we wanted to return to Ecuador and do everything possible to return to work at the James Library in Don Juan.

A change of skin

Thus began a long process of removals and resignations: we left our permanent positions as professors of the Wise College of the University of Virginia, we applied for scholarships from Prometeo-SENESCYT researchers, who obtained them to research and training in humanities research at the ULEAM of Manta where we arrived in mid-June 2013. We looked for a small piece of land in Don Juan where we could build our house, we delayed building and the dream of working in Don Juan was postponed until 2016. Before we were almost two years in Manta and then a year in Guayaquil at the University of the Arts. At that time we first built a cane cabin and then a large brick and cement house that housed our books and documents. When it was finished we had to decide between continuing to work on the wonderful project of the University of the Arts or moving forward with our dream of doing something closely with the people of Manabí, their fishermen and montubios in Don Juan. Thus, we present the resignation of our positions as full-time teachers in Guayaquil on March 15, 2016. That same day a truck took all our things from Guayaquil to Don Juan.

On April 16, 2016, having finished the last details of the new house, we were celebrating what we thought would be our last move. And it almost was! That afternoon, being in the courtyard at 6:50 p.m. we witnessed the might of a magnificent beast: an earthquake of 7.8 points. In a minute he shook and broke everything we had planned and built with enthusiasm. John Lennon said well: "life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans." And that's how we learned about Impermanence.

Fundación A mano Manaba (FAMM) is born

A few days after the earthquake, in the midst of the rubble, the need to move forward and the urgency of opening spaces that will rescue us from sadness and discouragement, along with another unconditional friend, Alexandra Cusme, carry a few books on the back from our little donkey Domingo (whose full name is Domingo Faustino Sarmiento), and we went down with a bell to call the children to meet to read. Sunday, the bookseller burrito had a great call and immediately the children came to the call of the books. After more than three years we read with the children in Don Juan again, this time in the middle of the disaster that the earthquake had left in its wake.

In those same days we received a visit from friend James, who now lived in California but had returned to Don Juan bringing help to the victims. Sitting on the rubble of what had been his home, we raised the idea of ​​opening an intercultural center that had as its main engine a children's library. This time James made available to the emerging organization, the land and what was left of his house to build the intercultural center and library. In the middle of the rubble of that little house by James Madden, the first meeting of what is now the Hand-Manaba Foundation was held. In that same house the neighbors were summoned to meetings and the children to read and paint and reconstruct the present and imagine a future for Don Juan. In that semi-demolished house the first steps to create FAMM were decided, and also there we met the first friends and external sponsors: María Espinosa de Ayuda Directa, then came the visit of Susan Poats of the Randi Randi Group Corporation; the Art for Life Caravan of the Manta Trench; The De La Floresta and Pic Nic de Palabras collective in Quito and many others that have joined the illusion of generating a liberating library. On this field, the Library works today, which is the place where girls and women become strong through education, it is the place where education is not imposed, it is offered through play, respect, friendship. .