Saturday, February 14, 2009

Closer to Home: AHON launches Library in Bacnotan

Closer to Home: AHON launches Library in Bacnotan

by: Maetrix Ocon

The Manila Bulletin (Page N4)

February 15,2009

"We're having our next library launch in Bacnotan." When I learned that the A.H.O.N. (Acts of Hope for the Nation) Foundation would be developing a library in Bacnotan, La Union, I was very surprised.

Normally, I don't get excited over library launches because I had worked as the Marketing and Promotions intern of AHON Foundation in the summer of 2008. Library launches were not new to me, because AHON Foundation builds and develops public elementary school libraries in the Philippines as the corporate social responsibility initiative of Filway Marketing, the sole distributor of Time Life books in the country.

But as soon as the words "library launch" and "Bacnotan" reached my ears, I felt a jolt of energy and enthusiasm. I felt I was close to jumping and I had to restrain myself. Instead I asked Harvey Keh, the President of AHON Foundation and one of my former bosses, "Really? A library launch in Bacnotan?" When he nodded his confirmation, I said, "Oh, I want to go! I definitely want to go!"

And so I found myself committing to volunteer for the launch in Bacnotan. I knew that this was an opportunity I just couldn't miss.

Why all this fuss about Bacnotan? And more importantly, where is it?

Bacnotan is an agricultural town in Northern Luzon, smack in the province of La Union, around five to six hours from Manila. More than that, though, it is the place I grew up in. My childhood there led me to appreciate books because I had chronic asthma and not being able to play active games lest I have asthma attacks, I turned to reading as a way to entertain myself.

Bacnotan is a small and quiet town, more rural than industrialized, so the only forms of recreation there are reading and watching television. I am quite thankful I spent long hours of my childhood with books because most of my early exposure and my creativity came from the stories I was so engrossed with, stories I just had to keep reading over and over and over again.

Needless to say, I was addicted to books then. To my dismay, though, there were no libraries in Bacnotan. To satisfy my appetite for books, I would go to the library of the private elementary school I attended in San Fernando City, which is two towns away from Bacnotan. But I still couldn't get enough. I would ask my parents to buy me books, but there were no bookstores in La Union. I often had to wait until anyone from the family would go on a trip to Manila and then they could drop by National Bookstore for me. So books were a rare, precious commodity for me back then.

Today, I think books still remain that way for most children in Bacnotan, because the town itself hasn't changed so much. The public schools there may have libraries now, but these often are not well-stocked due to limited resources. So a child who is curious and who hankers for books doesn't get much stimulation from reading materials. More often, the child who doesn't get exposed to books misses out on so many things because reading opens up different worlds.

Unfortunately, this is a trend that happens to most children in public schools, because there are little or no resources available and yet there are more and more children getting enrolled. The reality is that books are not the first priority when it comes to allocating resources in schools. But AHON Foundation is doing something about it. AHON Foundation aims to provide an intervention for this rather dire trend, by making books accessible to public school children. Which is why a library launch in Bacnotan makes me so excited.

I believe I am not the only one excited, though. Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, S.J., President of the Ateneo De Manila University and Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Education, must be even more excited than I am, because he is the main reason why this library launch has been made possible.

As a member of the board of AHON Foundation and as an endorser of AHON Foundation's "Turn Bookworms into Beautiful Butterflies" book registry project with Fully Booked, Fr. Nebres paved the way for the donation of over half-a-million pesos worth of Time Life and other books to the library of the Bacnotan Central School--the school he himself attended from Grade 1 to Grade 4 in Bacnotan.

During his speech at the launch of the library on February 2, 2009, he shared that there was no library at the Bacnotan Central School during his grade school years there. To be able to gain access to books, he would ask his aunt to borrow books for him at the library in San Fernando City. Such was his love for reading when he was a child and up until now he is still a voracious reader.

And look where his early exposure to reading has brought him - Fr. Nebres is living proof that reading can take a person to unimaginable heights. Aside from being a noted leader in education in the Philippines, and in the Jesuit Order, he is also a well-known mathematician worldwide. Fr. Nebres is indeed a legend in his own right and the people from his hometown are very proud of him.

But I believe there's a bigger reason why the people of Bacnotan are very proud of Fr. Nebres – even with his numerous achievements and titles, he has never forgotten where he came from. Aside from this recent project with AHON Foundation's, Fr. Nebres has now introduced his hometown's public school community to the Ateneo Center for Educational Development (ACED) in the hope that over and beyond the library project, the entire school district of Bacnotan would like to avail of ACED's programs in the development of not just students but also teachers, principals and other school administrators.

I was very lucky to be present at the library launch because the faces of the children who first entered the newly-stocked library were priceless. Their excitement was really contagious. Even the teachers couldn't stop beaming. The sight of the library with more books now was so inviting, so much so that anyone from the community can come visit and enjoy the books.

Aside from the books that were donated to the Bacnotan Central School's library, AHON Foundation also gave books for 100 children to take home,. That afternoon, the children went home with their very own books.

According to Ms. Anna Rojas, Executive Director of AHON Foundation and my supervisor during my internship there, when everyone had left after the library launch, she found a group of about 8 children reading their very own Time Life books at the waiting shed benches just around the corner from the school. Even children who rode off in tricycles kept on looking back at the AHON Foundation team and waving thank you to them, with huge grins plastered on their faces. If that isn't heartwarming, I don't know what else is.

Oh, wait, there is something more heartwarming – it's the fact that I got to do volunteer work for AHON Foundation in my own hometown. It's different when you're doing it right at home because the changes you help put up are actually affecting people you know. This is one of the rare instances that work and personal life connect so beautifully.

But that's not all. The bonus part for me was that I got to know Fr. Nebres beyond the intimidating title of Ateneo De Manila University President (as I am currently finishing my BS Psychology degree in ADMU). I got to dine with him and to talk to him, not as a student interviewing the university president, but as someone trading stories with someone else about the same town they both grew up in, albeit in different times. Everything that happened in connection with the library launch in Bacnotan meant so much to me and I believe that as much as the children and the teachers of the Bacnotan Central School were inspired, I was also very, very inspired.

Thank you, AHON Foundation.

Maetrix Ocon is graduating BS Psychology student at the Ateneo de Manila University and is a volunteer for AHON Foundation. For more information about AHON Foundation, you can call (02) 683-0262 local 109.

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