Los Niños de Mojandita - the Complete History

” Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.

~Pablo Picaso

Rachel Malinowitzer and Nancy Shaffran are married and through their joint adventures to find a place in Latin America where they both could “give back”, they discovered Ecuador and called it home.  They created a home within the landscape of Casa Mojanda, Otavalo in 2012.

The Story of Los Ninos de Mojandita

Each time we visited Ecuador we brought toys and supplies for the children of the staff of Casa Mojanda. On one trip in 2014, we became friendly with an airport driver who shared that he was also a basketball coach at a local high school and desperately needed sneakers for the poor children at his school.  He also spoke of his father who was a beloved teacher at an indigenous school in a remote village high up in the Andes Mountains.  He told us that anything we could bring for those children would also be greatly appreciated.

So, before our scheduled next trip, we collected donations of sneakers, school supplies, stuffed animals and clothing. We presented the sneakers to the high school students and the other donations were given to the children up in the mountains at their community Christmas holiday celebration.  

The high school students collectively thanked us and sent letters of gratitude for our contributions.  The indigenous community prepared a homemade meal consisting of potatoes, meat, fava beans and oatmeal milk to express their gratitude.

Their response fueled us to do more.

In 2015, another driver heard about our interest in helping the indigenous and poor communities and told us that his wife worked at the local elementary school  (Guillermo Garzon Ubidia) at the base of Mojanda hills.  We were brought there to speak to her and the director.  They shared their need for much support because the government provided limited funds and the families of these children were quite poor.  They needed a tile floor for one of the classrooms which was cracked concrete.

In February 2016, we purchased the tiling materials and were assured that the families of the children would lay the floor.  Not only did they lay the flooring, but they also painted the walls yellow and were so delighted to have a brightly renovated classroom.

Our next project was to bring donations of over 100 Spanish storybooks for all the classrooms.  We asked the director to provide a wish list of other necessary items which included musical instruments, toothpaste, toothbrushes, computer paper, glue, paint, paintbrushes, markers, chalk, calculators, textbooks, and pencils.  We returned in the end of August 2016 to provide the school with all the supplies for the upcoming year (many donated from Scholastic book fairs, Crayola, and private contributions).  These were distributed amongst all the classrooms and shown to the children when they returned to school in September.

Soon after making the donations it became clear that a critical part of the success of our idea had to include actual instruction for the children and for their teachers.  RacheI’s first educational project was to find and bring art teachers from the U.S. to provide art instruction in February 2017.  She found two very accomplished art teachers from the NYC school system who volunteered to offer 4 days of intensive art instruction with children grades K-5.  In February, the children of the Ubidia School were immersed in art projects including drawing, water painting, collage, paper sculpture and pastels from 8am- 12:30pm for 4 days.  This was documented by a photographer who also volunteered.  At the end of the week, there was a school wide art exhibit for all the students to see one another’s work.

The big BOW!

The children’s response to this week long art project was more engaged and enthusiastic than we ever could have imagined. We have concluded that this is the kind of educational experience they are hungry for. Our hope is to provide more enriching art, music, theater and dance experiences throughout the years as we continue to strengthen our involvement with this school.  The work is satisfying for both the receivers and the givers.  We hope to encourage more volunteers to invest in providing these creative avenues of expression for the children in Otavalo.  Otavalo is an artisanal town, attracting artists, weavers, musicians and creative types from all over Ecuador and the world.  It is hoped that by offering more creative arts within the primary schools, these talents and interests will be nurtured and supported, giving these children more options for self-expression and eventual employment as they mature.


Music is the universal language of mankind.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.

Thomas Merton

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