Mireya Tabuas, a Venezuelan journalist, university professor and writer of children's literature, migrated to Santiago, Chile in 2014. Manuel García Ordoñez, a social communicator, also migrated and settled in that city that year. Isa Saturno, a writer, packed up her life in Venezuela in 2017 and moved to the United States. They — like millions of Venezuelans scattered throughout the world — had to observe from a distance as the country in which they grew up crumpled. Between March and April 2019, the power outages in Venezuela were stretched and frequent: without electricity, the hours got longer; the days seemed endless. It was as if life had been suspended. Communications failed and running water was missing. There was silence. And darkness. And anguish. And anxiety.
Isa Saturno in Miami was worried about that.
“What are the children back home doing in the dark? How are they coping with boredom?” she asked herself one morning.
She felt she should do something to help and it occurred to her to build a kind of school through audio books with WhatsApp. The idea was very ambitious, so she scaled it back: she would focus on making children's audiobooks so children could be entertained during the blackouts.
Saturno shared her idea with her friend, Manuel García Ordoñez, who also got excited about the project. So much that he called Mireya Tabuas - who had taught both of them creative writing back in Venezuela and Chile - and explained what they had in mind. She joined without hesitation. The three put their hands to work in what they baptized as Cuentaconmigo Cuentocontigo (Spanish for: Count on me, Count on you).
Tabuas was in charge of contacting writers who donated their texts, as well as finding storytellers to narrate them. Thus, she compiled stories of Fedosy Santaella, Rosario Ansola, Yolanda Pantin and José Urriola; and the voices of Naky Soto, Isabel Noguera, Fedora Freites, Rubén Martínez Santana and Alida Ribi.
Ordoñez designed the project’s logo: a red heart inside a light bulb; while Saturno brought in her friend René Andrade, a Venezuelan audio editor based in Mexico, to assemble the sounds.
“Since we had a clear idea of the project, what we did was produce, adjust. All the collaborators were very happy to participate,” said Saturo.
Each participant sent in their contributions, which we then compiled.
“We were in different parts of the world, so the project ended up being a diaspora gift for Venezuelan children. A way to accompany them in the middle of such hard days, a way of telling them that we were there with them,” said Tabuas.
In April 2019, they released the first audiobook: the story of a lion and a barber. Tabuas, Saturno, Ordoñez and the other team members promoted it on social media. They circulated the audiobook on WhatsApp because of the apps popularity in Venezuela, which made it easier to reach more people. They also set up channels on YouTube, Telegram, Spotify and Soundcloud.
Of course, they made sure that the files were small so that they could be easily downloaded. Electrical outages in Venezuela affected communications, so it was not convenient to download large files.
The response was overwhelming. Many people followed, dropping a generous shower of positive comments.
“They told us how excited the children were. They sent us videos of them listening to the stories. We realized then that there was interest, that we were satisfying a need for art, for literature. And something very interesting happened: not only did the little ones receive it in Venezuela, but also the children of migrants. They also used the material and parents thanked us because their children were listening to something that brought them closer to their identity. I realized that what we were doing was something truly beautiful: it meant uniting a generation that is scattered around the world and is linking with other cultures. It was like giving them a piece of Venezuela in a voice, in a story,” Tabuas said.
Cuentaconmigo, Cuentocontigo, released six audiobooks in its first stage. They have other stories ready that will also be published and shared and plan to produce more. They are considering turning the project into a podcast as well. Of course the founders don’t consider it a business because they say it should always be a gift to the children. A little light in the middle of the gloom.