Malingua Pamba. These two words evoke too many emotions to describe. There is the feeling of happiness, of course, remembering the wonderful people who live there and the many fun times we enjoyed with them; peacefulness, remembering the beautiful scenery, the high plains, the waterfalls, and the cute town itself; longing to see all of our Ecuadorian friends in Malingua Pamba; and fulfillment, knowing that we helped the community and its people develop and grow.
My name is Katie Browning, I’m 15 years old, and in November of 2006 during Thanksgiving break my mom (Frances Hartogh) and I traveled to Ecuador to help build and organize a library for the schools. Before we left for Ecuador, I was nervous and a little doubtful about our plans. I wondered what the people would be like, if they would look down on us because we were rich, white foreigners or view us as outsiders. I was worried about my Spanish speaking ability. Although I was a five-year Spanish student at school, I knew speaking in a foreign country with native speakers was quite different. I was also worried that we wouldn’t know what to do when we got there.
Needless to say, we left for Ecuador and, after two painless flights, arrived in the capital city of Quito. From there we hired a driver who showed us Cotopaxi National Park, home of the largest active volcano in the world, and drove us to Isinliví, a highland town just down the mountain from Malingua Pamba, where we stayed the night. The next morning the owners of the hostel drove us to Malingua Pamba.
We were greeted by the president of the town Paulino and his wife Elvia. They were such wonderful people! They showed us our room, which they had temporarily converted from a classroom into a bedroom, and gave us a tour of the town. The town was much different from what I had expected, but in a good way. We met one of the soon-to be-librarians, Lautaro, and were told that we would meet the other soon.
Lautaro became our unofficial guide for the duration of our stay. He was 16 years old, spoke Spanish fluently although his native dialect was Quechua, and was one of the nicest people I’d ever met. With him, we explored the countryside, played volleyball, had many conversations in his fluent and my broken Spanish, planted seeds in the building of the composting toilet, and built and organized the library.
Our main job in Malingua Pamba was to set up the library. Prior to our departure, Pamela had given us three duffel bags filled with donated Spanish books. We arranged the books on shelves made by the community, and gave Lautaro and Pedro, the other librarian, tips on how to run the library and keep it organized. Throughout the construction, little groups of kids came into the library and watched shyly until we asked them if they would like to read a book. They all smiled widely and nodded, devouring book after book after book. It was so wonderful to see! I felt like we were really helping the community, bringing them such joy.
Lautaro also helped us plant seeds in a little garden in the composting toilet that would later be transplanted outside after they had had time to grow. We planted flowers, peas, corn, and many other types of plants. Most of the children who were attending school that day came in during their lunch and helped clear away the existing weeds and pack the dirt down for the new plants.
We ate our meals in the communal kitchen with the Sacatoro family and sometimes other members of the community. The food, made by Elvia and Aurora, was always wonderful. For breakfast, there were fried eggs and bananas, and for lunch and dinner there were many different kinds of steaming soup made with local ingredients.
Overall, my experiences in Malingua Pamba have been some of the best of my life. They gave me a glimpse into the lives of people who live so differently from myself but who were some of the most kind, compassionate, and helpful people I have ever met. The fears that I had brought with me soon vanished. The people welcomed us into their community and their hearts, they were very patient with my Spanish, always willing to repeat themselves or rephrase what they said so we could understand them, they even tried to teach me Quechua (which, I’m sorry to say, I failed at miserably J!). We never ran out of things to do. My biggest fear turned out to be a fear of the bugs (of which there are many, and many big ones, but none that are harmful). Malingua Pamba has become part of who I am, and has influenced how I think of the world and its people. I hope to return next fall and encourage others to do so as well!