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Tacloban children not ‘forgotten victims’

As I must have mentioned in the past, the only daily e-mail blast I welcome is the faithful Google Alert bringing news about books and the love of reading. There are not too many books on the topic to make a daily bulletin, so the Alerts are mostly on the efforts of concerned citizens or private and public library systems to keep the habit of reading alive—and loved.

I never tire of reading news items from the United States, Canada, India, and the United Kingdom (which once carried, to my pleasant surprise, something I had written for this space)—and always with much envy. The ideas are always inspiring and encouraging, seeming to reassure that one’s initiatives need not be on a large scale, that individual endeavors bear fruit—and with the underlying invitation to please take the ideas and transform these at will.

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One recurring idea that has borne fruit in many US front yards is the little, brightly-colored, birdhouse-like public library where people are invited to take and replace any book they wish. There is no supervision, no accountability involved. This first came about when budgetary restrictions led to the shutdown of some public libraries, and concerned citizens wanted instant alternatives.

It is not too different from the 24/7 sidewalk library on Balagtas Street in Makati run by Nanie Guanlao—an enterprise where one can take any book one wants and donate another in exchange, if one wishes. There is no need to register or leave one’s name, or to return the books one takes (an idea that my old-fashioned self struggles with to this day).

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Guanlao just decided one day that if Republic Act No. 7743—signed by President Fidel V. Ramos on June 17, 1996, mandating the establishment of congressional, city, and municipal libraries and barangay centers nationwide for the next five years, or until 2001—was not being enforced, he would do it his way. And his no-frills gem of an idea has caught fire, especially among the youth in school campuses who feel the same sense of urgency.

There are a few other individuals in our midst whose modest attempts at promoting literacy are noteworthy and largely unpublicized. Two of them have the children of Tacloban City as direct beneficiaries.

Steve Mooser and Lin Oliver of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators based in Los Angeles sent SCBWI Philippines through regional representative and illustrator/book designer Beaulah Pedregosa Taguiwalo a $1,000 donation for the child survivors of Supertyphoon “Yolanda.” Along with SCBWI members Nikki Torres and Mariel Vera Go, Taguiwalo prepared care kits for 40 “forgotten victims,” described thus because they are not from Tacloban but from the coastal town of Estancia in Panay, who were as adversely affected by Yolanda.

Estancia is also the locality that ensured a direct partnership with a community group, so that the identities of the child-recipients were easily established. The knapsacks distributed three weeks ago thoughtfully contained what they call “life goes on” items: two to three children’s books, a notebook, a blank journal, crayons, colored pencils, a child’s blanket, a small flashlight, and other fun and useful items that children love.

I have never met Letty Pardiñas of Guinobatan, Albay, but in an e-mail she sent the day after Christmas, she talked about a project that she wanted to undertake with students of Teacher Lanie of P. Bernardo Elementary School in Cubao—to prepare school kits for some children in Tacloban.

The kits would have notebooks, paper pads, pens, pencils, crayons, a rechargeable torch, and a storybook. Letty needed help to solicit books from publishers, and even offered to buy at a discount if these will not be complimentary. In each kit—costing P150 without the book cost factored in—she meant to enclose a handwritten note from schoolchildren encouraging the child-recipient to respond. “This activity could be therapeutic for the traumatized kids,” she explained.

Letty had solicited P5,000 from a former classmate at the University of the Philippines College of Education and received a dollar donation from an aunt abroad.

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I had suggested that she e-mail friendly publishers, and her latest update a month ago announced that she had received 100 books—25 each from Adarna, OMF Books, Anvil, and Lampara. She was scheduling delivery of the materials to Grades 2 and 3 students of Campetic Elementary School in Palo, Leyte. She was not discouraged that there is no direct bus trip from Albay to Leyte, and hoped to send the six packed boxes ahead of her arrival there.

A person I will miss when I talk literacy and street libraries is someone special to me as a college student and long after graduation from St. Scholastica’s College: Sr. Soledad M. Hilado, OSB. A regular book donor, she left us last Feb. 10, a day she would have chosen herself because it is the feast of St. Scholastica.

I am only so glad that I wrote a tribute to her in this space for her to read before she fell ill.

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected]) is chair of the National Book Development Board, a trustee of Teach for the Philippines, and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: Commentary, library, Nanie Guanlao, Neni Sta. Romana Cruz, opinion, Tacloban, Tacloban children
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