What was your favorite book as a child?
While many of us still vividly remember our favorite stories, several Filipino children are growing up bookless.
Although the Philippines generally has a high literacy rate, not all children are able to read and write. This deprives children of their right to travel around the world and across new worlds through reading.
The mere exposure to books could already encourage a child to learn, however, many kids are not given enough chance.
As of 2013, 1 out of 10 Filipino children ages 6 to 24 are out of school, government statistics showed. That’s around 4 million Filipinos. That’s one child too many.
Outside of school, these children have even less access to appropriate reading materials. But this can be changed, one book at a time.
Reading in my mother tongue
“Mahilig akong magbasa (I love to read),” said a 7-year-old girl named Bianca.
The second-grader was reading a big book about a shy chicken. Sitting on the corner of the barangay basketball court, Bianca read a book called Ang Mahiyaing Manok.
In between giggles, Bianca would sometimes act out the scenes from the book. Form a little girl, she transforms into a little chicken and back. Other times, Bianca remains serious, with only the sound of the pages turning to break the silence.
The stories Bianca read are written in Filipino and are accompanied by colorful drawings. This helps her absorb stories better, Bianca said.
On top of her class since first grade, Bianca not only regularly studies her school textbooks but also enjoys reading Filipino stories. “Paborito kong subject ang Filipino (Filipino is my favorite subject at school),” she said. “Masarap kasi magbasa (Because it’s fun to read).”
She reads although not required by teachers.
Her mother, Bernadette Tabalanza, is happy to see her daughter read stories aloud to younger children. “Tinuturuan niya rin ‘yung kapatid niyang 5 years old kung paano paano magbasa (She also teachers her 5-year-old brother how to read),” the proud mother said.
Aside from improving children’s language skills, reading also teaches children practical knowledge and values such as personal hygiene, friendship, and proper nutrition.
Fascinated with science, Bianca dreams of becoming a doctor someday.
Bianca, however, cannot always afford books. The same goes for her playmates at Barangay 174, an urban poor community in Northern Caloocan.
Joy of reading
Reading is perhaps one of life’s greatest pleasures. It’s one of the best ways to learn and explore.
Bianca and the kids of Barangay 174 get their books from the First Read program, an initiative developed by Save the Children, in partnership with Prudence Foundation and Adarna House.
First Read is an innovative early childhood development project which aims to improve the reading and math skills of Filipino children ages 0 to 4 years old.
The program currently runs across barangays in Metro Manila and South Central Mindanao, but with further support it could expand to other parts of the country in the future. At present, the program reaches over 60,000 children.
The books published by Adarna House are written in various Philippine languages to ensure that all Filipino children get a chance to enjoy and relate with the stories.
Stories are illustrated by Filipino artists, hopefully inspiring young children to also delve into art. The books also teach children about Filipino culture and diversity. In fact, some stories are set in indigenous communities.
Meanwhile, parents volunteer as storytellers, reading not only to their own child but to dozens of kids in the entire barangay. The books are distributed in the barangay’s Bulilit Corner , a reading and play space for kids.
At the same time, parents and barangay health workers are trained on positive discipline and responsive parenting. After all, learning starts at home.
After reading her book about a shy chicken, Bianca wanders off to a box of books, in search of her next story. Will other children be given a chance to do the same?
The First Read project is inviting everyone to join its short story writing contest. The winning story will be published by Adarna House in January 2017. To join, please read the mechanics here. Deadline is on August 1, 2016.
Save the Children is the world’s leading independent children’s organization working on children’s health, education and protection. To support its education programs, you may donate online here.