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Expat Life

Straight from the heart

In Celebration of the Story

I was pleased to read that the Cuenca Department of Culture has a reading program in 22 libraries in the city’s 21 parishes, as reported yesterday in Jeanne’s Periodico.

I hope this means that books will be in the hands and hearts of young and old alike.

Yesterday in Vilcabamba, a group of thirty-five 5th graders, from a class at Trece de Abril secondary school, attended one of the first open library events being launched by Arte Intercultural Vilcabamba, an energized group of volunteers set on bringing art, theater, reading and other artistic ventures to the local and surrounding communities.

Acting director Jessica Fields started with a reading circle, then a few of the children read passages to the group (as in photo above). Afterwards, the kids were cut loose to dive into some of the 70 books available.

To call it gleeful mayhem would be a understatement. Books were flying, chairs and benches were pulled into small groups, pop-up books had eyes popping, four boys poured over the dinosaur book as though preparing for a hunt. Then quiet, as they settled into reading their way away to adventure, enchantment, discovery and new emotions.

I grew up in the staid era of Carnegie libraries (some 2,500 in the USA) where the decorum was polite, somber and smelled of furniture polish on massive oak tables. The only noise was the slap of a long drawer being pushed back into the case holding a zillion Dewey Decimal System reference cards. Reading for me was as much a way for me to learn at my own pace as to escape somewhere magical or exotic. What I saw yesterday confirms that the story, oral or written, remains a most powerful archive.

As Ms. Fields said: “Reading does something for a young mind that nothing else can.”

Blessings on the story tellers, the written word and what all of it contributes to humanity.

— Thomas H. Ives

Photo taken June 6 in Vilcabamba, Copyright: Thomas H. Ives 2016, Contact:


Thomas Ives is an American-born photographer who has worked for international news and feature magazines for over 38 years. His photo essays and images have appeared in National Geographic, Time, Geo, Stern, Newsweek, Life, Smithsonian, and many others publications. He currently lives in Vilcabamba with his Ecuadorian partner.


3 thoughts on “Straight from the heart

  1. Beautifully vivid description and photograph, Thomas. Both so full of heart ?.

  2. And blessings on you, Mr. Ives, for capturing not only that photographic moment, but memories current and past from my own life. The luckiest of children are those that were introduced to reading by their parents and teachers when they were very young and impressionable. To this day, I recall my first grade teacher, Miss Bowman, reading to us every day and it was one of the things that kept me coming to school every day. I never wanted her to stop.

    Now I do volunteer work for Ecuador Cares and one of our tasks is to tutor the children at the orphanage Hogar Miguel Leon. There is also a group of ex-pat volunteers that reads to the youngest of the kids. As corny and trite as this may sound, I’m confident that the volunteers get more satisfaction from this than the kids, and the kids get tons. Let’s say us volunteers get long tons.

    I love your work, Mr. Ives. It feeds me viscerally. It never ceases to touch a resonant chord in my heart and soul. Thank you.


    Ken Merena

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