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A serious need for books

With the current disturbing discussions on the lowering of the minimum age of criminal liability to 12 or even 9 years old, I find myself asking: Have we, parents and educators and, yes, the government, done enough for our children that an infraction would best be resolved through their detention? And to kill time in the most nightmarish of venues? If an infraction was indeed committed, is it not sensible to examine the reasons for such? And this measure has suddenly become a major priority among our lawmakers? As if the reenacted budget did not demand the most urgency.

Something very basic we have not provided our young are books and other materials to nurture their intellectual growth. In countries that are more aware of what the needs of a livable community are, public libraries are a mainstay. Here, politicians are more interested in basketball courts than reading centers, though the former are important, too. This is the situation despite Republic Act No. 7743, signed by President Fidel V. Ramos on June 17, 1996, which mandated the establishment of congressional, city and municipal libraries and barangay reading centers all over the country for a five-year period, until 2001. These centers might have been started, but our good intentions have a short shelf life. We have remarkable initiatives, but are often unable to sustain them.

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There was also DECS Memo 34 s. 2001 by former education undersecretary Isagani R. Cruz, which required every student to read at least two books a year. Two books a year sounds pathetic, but it is difficult for students who have absolutely no access to books.

I can never forget a fourth grader’s comment during my involvement in “Sa Aklat, Sisikat” years back, when we dreamt of instilling the love of reading in students through a month-old readathon, the time period psychologists say is needed to establish a habit. “So this is what a new book smells like,” he said, as he lovingly held a book we had brought to his classroom.

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Or the other student who was beyond belief that he was going home with a new book that he didn’t need to return or pay for. Often, such children say it is the very first book their families will own. Others are eager to take home a book to show their parents and siblings. One book, then, reaches not only a single reader, but a whole family of prospective readers.

In an attempt to address this glaring lack in our lives, concerned citizens are strongly recommending that award-giving civic organizations recognizing commendable local governments include the presence of reading centers—if the term public libraries is intimidating to them—in the judging criterion for communities.

This is a need felt by many organizations today, so that book donations continue to be encouraged even as there is now more careful curating of such donations—not just any book or workbook or activity books, but storybooks to truly allow readers to expand their world of thought and imagination. The “Sa Pagbasa, May Pag-Asa” donation campaign offers hope for students, but books offer much more than hope.

To continue with information on where or how to share your books, here are my favorite beneficiaries:

Nanie Guanlao’s 24/7 street library on 1454 Balagtas Street, Makati—an aptly-named street, a fitting tribute to our poet laureate, Francisco Balagtas.  It is a no-fuss open library where people can read or take any book of choice. Just as simply, one can drop off book donations, labeled with donation details. It was a foreign TV network that first discovered and publicized this project. Why no sign-ups or book inventory or supervision? Guanlao says the setup is meant to get the books sooner to readers, thus the absence of the usual library rules. (readingclub2000@yahoo.com)

Br. Benildo Feliciano FSC—my contact person for La Salle University Ozamiz, a school for the less privileged run by the Christian Brothers. Drop off book donations c/o the guard at De La Salle Taft, South Gate. (benildo.feliciano@dlsu.edu.ph)

My list continues, but bear in mind that Feb. 14 is International Book Giving Day, a timely date for your next book donations.

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Neni Sta. Romana Cruz (nenisrcruz@gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: books, children, education, intellectual growth, minimum age of criminal liability, street library
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