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A book for every child—still a dream?

If access to books is truly the critical problem of literacy that I paint it to be, what can we all do to help?

This question usually comes after my disbelieving expatriate and overseas-based friends get over the shock of no public libraries or no books to read and enjoy in our public schools. The situation is all the more glaring for those who live in bliss, with working and efficient public library systems that not only have regular storytelling sessions as a matter of course, but even hold sessions with kids practicing their oral reading skills by reading to their dogs!

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Because I am often asked where book donations may be made, I have drawn up a list of beneficiaries I can vouch for, because I am convinced the books are truly put to good use—and are actually in students’ hands where they belong.

Let me begin with the top two on my list, because I love their big hairy audacious goals for which they need all the help they can get. There is Canvas Foundation, with its goal of “One Million Books for One Million Filipino Children,” and Philippine Business for Social Progress’ (PBSP)  “Sa Pagbasa, May Pag-asa” campaign toward a storybook for all of the 23 million elementary and high school students. Or, 10 million books every year.

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To date, Canvas Foundation has donated about 200,000 of its award-winning books to children from Batanes to Zamboanga. It knows that functional literacy and a love for reading will improve only with increased book access in public schools. Visit its GlobalGiving page in www.canvas.ph

With former education secretary Armin Luistro heading the PBSP, it comes as no surprise that its own campaign would happen. During his tenure with the Department of Education, he always dreamt of a reading revolution in the public schools, or, as a modest start, reading corners in whatever space may be found in the schools. Typical bureaucratic issues were: Who would be responsible or accountable for these books? Think personnel, think clearances at the end of the year, or horrors, upon one’s retirement.

The “Sa Pagbasa, May Pag-asa” campaign (“We believe that through reading, children are given hope,” it says. “We can ignite a child’s imagination, potential, and character and inspire them to build a better nation.”) donates storybooks in bundles of P3,000, or about 30-plus books, either multiple copies or a variety of titles from specific publishers. All fiction books only, to promote reading for pleasure, nothing for reference or research. In 2018, 339 book bundles have been donated. Donations have gone to Marawi and other disaster-stricken areas.  The books are handed over to the school head, who is at liberty to use them as the school priorities dictate. And it is not a totally bad idea to give them to students to own and to take home. For more details, e-mail [email protected]

A book for every child—how long will this remain a big hairy goal?

And can writing be far behind? Here’s a timely opportunity for young writers aged 10-17.

For two years now, Shake Book Projects Sdn. Bhd., in collaboration with the National Book Council of Malaysia, has been holding the “Storymakers League Writing Challenge,” which is open to young authors in Asia. The contest rules are: an original fiction story in English in any genre, with a word count of less than 1,800 words. The story must reflect in some ways the country of residence in a creative way. Deadline is Jan. 31, 2019. The winning 50 entries will have their stories published in digital and physical formats. The winners will receive exclusive merchandise and royalties from the sales of published content.

Sadly, the first two books have not included any Philippine representation. With so many of our young writers contributing to Wattpad and other online venues, this should be a welcome invitation. Do take up your writing pens and enter the competition.

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For submission requirements, visit http://storymakersleague.com

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected] mail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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