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We're Starting a Kids' Shelter in Ecuador! The Story of Nueva Esperanza

Updated: Apr 5


Nueva Esperanza or “New Hope” is a project to start a kids' shelter in Baños de Agua Santa, Ecuador. This project is led by Francisco Ayuy and supported by Noah Chon Lee. 

You can donate here

Here is the story of Nueva Esperanza from Noah’s perspective…

The Story of Nueva Esperanza

How I Met Francisco At 18 while in search of some purpose in life, I had wandered into an orphanage in Baños de Agua Santa in Ecuador to volunteer teaching juggling for the kids. 

Francisco and his wife Alba and his two sons helped out around the orphanage, and I experienced the way they would share with the people around them. With them, I felt more at home than I had ever felt before. For the first time in my life I didn’t feel the need to run away to discover the next place. 

As we played board games, cooked corn cakes together, and laughed about miming to communicate when I couldn’t understand Spanish, I found my hope in humanity being restored. We shared meals with people with very difficult lives. I remember worrying if seeing terrible things on a screen affected me so much, how would I react to being much closer? 

However, being there made me realize: it isn’t hiding away from the hard parts of life but rather sharing in them that makes life not only bearable, but something that I care for so deeply that I feel a new daily sense of purpose. I continued to visit over the years and today we consider each other part of one another’s family

The story of Francisco

Francisco Ayuy was born in the Amazon Jungle of Ecuador as part of the Shuar tribe. He was abandoned as a child and grew up eating rodents and insects and anything edible. At six years old, he ran up to a plane (there were no roads to his village at the time) that was about to take off and leapt inside, excited about where it might take him. The pilot was prepared to throw out this child who had jumped into his vehicle when a drunk uncle of Francisco’s showed up and began screaming at him for doing something so stupid. I remember Francisco chuckling as he joked, “I’m so grateful that my uncle threatened my life right then. If he hadn’t, the pilot never would have decided to take me with him.” 

In town now in the hands of the police where the pilot dropped him off, Francisco sat there crying without knowing anyone around him or what might happen. A farmer passing by asked him what was wrong, and decided to welcome him to his home where his family adopted Francisco. 

As an adult, Francisco kept in mind what it was like to be a child without anyone to take care of him, and wanted to care for kids by helping them find a safe home and educational opportunities. By doing so, he would be passing on and multiplying the ways others had helped him. He and his wife worked as caretakers of an orphanage that an American doctor built. Then the founder died from covid, the pandemic wrecked the local economy, and the orphanage shut down operations. 

The Pandemic Losses

At that time, I tried to support Francisco’s family while attending university and training with the Marine Corps and working multiple jobs. I switched from $400 rent sharing a room in an attic to instead sleeping on friends’ couches as I ran out of funds and Francisco’s family were eating one meal a day. I remember breaking down sobbing as I realized that I could not take care of my loved ones. I decided to drop out and then worked my way to being a founding member of an AI startup in San Francisco before founding my own startup to fix crowdfunding in order to support worthwhile projects. 

Nueva Esperanza

Even in the midst of survival mode during these months, Francisco and I discussed our vision to start a community center. My dream is to be reading a book in a hammock in his garden as families and kids are playing around us who have brighter futures and safe homes thanks to our work. Today, we want to make that a reality. 

The Kids

Jim is the elder of Francisco and Alba’s two sons at 17 years old. At 13 years old he made this for me as a gift: video. He currently plays drums in a band and is considering entering university or the military. He’s on the left in this picture.

Wes is the younger brother at 16 years old, competes in tae-kwon-do, plays drums in a marching band, and he made this as a gift for me after my visit.

Silvio (aka “Chino”) is 12 years old and once kindly offered me a beetle to eat. His drunken biological father recently threw him out of the house. Pics and vids

Damaris is 3 years old and loves to offer her food to others. She is a jungle baby who seems to have no fear of anything and enjoys running around outside with the dogs, chickens, and other animals. She was recently legally adopted by Francisco and Alba. More pics and vids of us here, I highly recommend taking a look because it will make you happy.

The Long-term Plan

Both Damaris and Silvio are from an area in the jungle not far from where Francisco was born. Pics and vids of that area in the jungle here.

Here are some relatives of Francisco who stayed with him when their mother was sick with covid.

Long-term, we want to have a space where kids may stay while they attend school and hopefully improve upon their home life situation or find a new family to be with. We are exploring ways to partner with communities in the jungle running ecotourism projects as a sustainable way to celebrate indigenous culture and provide different income streams than extractive logging, poaching, or capitulating to the demands of destructive oil and mining companies. We intend to make this project as transparent as possible and are actively seeking advice on the best ways to do this. 

The Budget

Francisco is converting his own property to be used for the kids' shelter so we have no costs for buying land. We also have no upfront legal costs because a lawyer has offered to set up the foundation for us for free. In order to have space for the kids we are building: 2 bedrooms

1 living room

1 bathroom

Fortunately, Francisco has years of experience working in construction and is able to build this within an estimated one month at a cost of $5,000 of materials. To take care of himself, his wife, two sons, adopted baby daughter Damaris, and Silvio while building this, the monthly costs are $3,000 plus another $500 per month if he wants to save up so Jim can attend university. 

Thankfully, an architect also volunteered to help design the plans.

Once this structure is built, each additional child they take care of will cost around $500 per month to provide for food, clothes, and other costs associated with ensuring they can attend school.

Ways to Support

- Call and message

We encourage you to call the community here to establish direct communication. I’m happy to help as a mediocre translator if you do not speak Spanish. 

- Visit

We welcome you to visit and meet the family! The garden by the river is my favorite place on earth. Baños de Agua Santa is a friendly tourist town in the Andes mountains with rafting, zip lines, volcanic hot springs, and waterfalls all around. Francisco has also worked hard to establish solid, consistent wifi in the house. He can also be a guide and driver to various sites, including the Amazon Jungle. Here I am with a Waorani guide, Tord from Norway, Rachel from San Francisco, and Olivia from Spain which was the most recent group I brought with me to visit Ecuador and stay with Francisco and the family:

"The most transformational experience I've ever had." -Tord Donnum

For any of the above, contact me at and Francisco at

- Donate

Thank you for supporting!

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