On May 2, 2012, I and my mother (leftmost) signed a contract with Manila Business College officials led by Dr. Thomas Chua for a generous grant to accommodate our college scholars for FULL scholarship for this school year.
On May 4, we had accommodated kind visitors from Singapore who have promised us their help in terms of books and awareness. They are Ava Avila (from the National Institute of Education, originally from Davao) and Linda Sellou (a chemistry lecturer at the Nanyang Technological University, originally from France).
Last May 8, Max's Restaurant and its MEI Employee Council sponsored an outreach activity at KRIS Library - Quezon City. They invited 75 children from Barangay Holy Spirit for a day of book reading, film viewing, feeding, and fun!
On May 11, I had the honor of talking to Prince Naquiyuddin Jaafar during his unveiling in Manila of a new anti-dengue technology that would benefit tropical countries such as ours that continue to suffer from this epidemic. Our conversation has inspired me to incorporate further the goal of educating not only about letters and numbers, but also about health, to our beneficiaries.
Two days after, on May 13, our team had donated a set of computers and books to replenish the resources of KRIS Library in Rodriguez, Rizal. Rodriguez is an ill-equipped relocation area for victims of the typhoons, fires, and demolition jobs from Metro Manila.
Last May 17, we were invited to a TV appearance of the Global News Networks' Social Responsibility show, hosted by Consul Annette Ablan. We were invited thanks to the help of a friend, Roxanne Oquendo, who is formerly from K.I.D.S. Foundation.
During my brother Arno's 1st birthday last May 26, we also did not forget our beneficiaries. Instead of gifts, we had asked for several donations and had received monetary donations, books and computers thanks to Quota International, generous family, and friends. We had also asked some of our scholars to come and celebrate with us.
On June 12, to culminate the fundraising for the KRIS Library scholars of School Year 2012 - 2013, where we had raised more than P130,000, we had distributed each child's share of the fund in the form of a complete set of school supplies. ABS-CBN had been around to document the event as well as to receive our donation of computers to their Happy Computer project for public schools.
The past months had been very, very fruitful. We'd like to thank everyone for every donation, for every tweet, like, or share, and for every prayer. Here's to more achievements for KRIS Library!
This is Joan Claire Pangan -- a KRIS Library scholar. Last March, she had graduated from Manicahan National High School (in Zamboanga) as Valedictorian, as Young Peace Weaver awardee, with the Golden Crescent for Academic Excellence, the Golden Crescent for Leadership, numerous Proficiency Awards and medals from the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, among others.
This coming June, she wants to enroll in Ateneo De Zamboanga University -- the premiere university in Zamboanga. And since we want to give her the best, we are doing all we can to aid her way through college.
But it isn't easy.
For the coming school year, she needs P27,000 (US$639) for her tuition this first semester and P5,000 (US$118) for miscellaneous fees (uniform, etc).
If you have some wealth -- even a little -- to help Joan, please visit this link: http://www.krislibrary.com/give.html . If you would like to help her, we hope that you could also tell your friends, family, everyone so we can help this brilliant child through college.
After all, she plans to give it all back. She's told me, "When I grow up, I want to be a teacher."
Today, I had found myself among the gods of Olympus.
As one of the guest speakers during Rotary International’s District Conference for District 3850 in Iloilo City, I had the great honour and privilege to speak among the likes of Mae Paner (better known as Juana Change), former Governor Grace Padaca, national anti-polio advocate Ynday Mijares, and other inspiring changemakers.
I’ve seen these people on TV, on the internet, in the newspapers. They were visionaries, revolutionaries, modern-day heroes, and, as I sat down and listened to their speeches, I swelled with pride for the Filipino race.
Former Isabela Governor Grace Padaca was an angel amongst us. A former schoolmate of mine once described her as the “disabled who enabled the nation”, and that schoolmate really hit the spot. A polio victim herself, Ma’am Padaca drew us in with a sweet conviction. Despite her strong reputation as the honest public official who defeated a dynasty of corruption in Isabela, she was kind, polite, and ever more inspiring. I was practically nobody to her, but she talked to me animatedly when I myself approached her.
When Mae Paner entered the room, the first thing I thought was—despite myself—“She’s beautiful.” It was hard not to notice bulging curves around her body and the meaty swells across her legs, but she carried herself with such an air of elegance and pride. Her speech was a mixture of so many expressions—cusswords, a forceful “utang na loob!”, “chaka”, “chenes”, etc—and this painstakingly represented her strong personality and advocacy as a political critic. She took us for a roller coaster ride through her life—her struggle to be the sole breadwinner, her drug-taking brothers, her confrontations with her body. My favourite line was, “Mahirap ako. Mataba ako. Pangit pa ako. Paano kaya ako makapagsisimula ng bago?” But, through her speech, through her videos, she showed us the Change in Juana Change sure enough.
Dr. Gilbert Vilela was, in my opinion, everything a doctor should be. One of the most well-known doctors in the country, he is currently the Head Cardiologist in the Philippine Heart Center. But upon seeing him, maybe you would never expect that; because I’ve never seen a doctor with long, gray hair tied in a ponytail. That was only the beginning though—he was also knowledgeable, funny, well-mannered, and extremely friendly. In his speech about heart diseases, everyone laughed when he said, “You kill the pig, but the pig kills you. It’s just karma.”
National polio advocate Ynday Mijares was on her wheelchair when she delivered her speech. Struck with polio at 3 years old, she had to struggle with a limp for the rest of her life. Yet, even after that, God had not been so kind. A few years ago, she developed Post Polio Syndrome and was thereafter never able to walk again. Three years ago, she was also diagnosed with cancer. “I locked myself up in my room for four whole months,” she said, “but afterwards I left because I realized there was simply so much to do.” Her nationwide and award-winning campaign to End Polio Now serves as a beacon of hope for so many Filipinos out there who have been born with this disability.
There were truly many more inspiring speakers (and even exchange students of Rotary’s program), but the people above have really touched my heart. Thanks to the invitation from District Governor Melvin de la Serna, I myself was able to speak, and at the end of it, I found myself almost in tears.
I spoke about my advocacy. I spoke about KRIS Library. I spoke about the stories of the people I’ve known from my work, of the people I knew needed the most help. I spoke about their expectations. I spoke about their realities. And, most of all, I spoke about empowering people like them.
Today, I also officially announced something. As an Oblation scholar of the University of the Philippines, I have had the honour of paying almost nothing while many pay so much. But I have realized recently it is more a responsibility than it is an honour. So, in front of Rotary International and these gods of change, I nervously stated my vow to provide at least 100 scholarships for poor students for every year I am a scholar in UP. For my first year, I had already helped establish 101 scholarship grants, and by the time I graduate, I should have fulfilled my 500th promise to a poor Filipino kid who really needs the money for schooling.
Thankfully, by the grace of God and the generosity of many, I have now with me a total donation of P14,100 largely from Rotary-Zamboanga clubs. For this, I'd like to say I am personally grateful to Mr. Rikki Lim (president of the Zamboanga City Rotary Club) and Mrs. Annamarie L. Lim. I would also like to recognize the efforts of Mr. Edmon Dimaano and Mr. Oliver Ong who both hail from Zamboanga as well.
Through the assistance of many others, I will also be grabbing opportunities to provide more books for our beneficiaries in the future. Dr. Gilbert Vilela had even offered to take care of my father (who has had severe heart operations) for free for as long as he lives.
Indeed, it was a full day’s work, and I am now so drained—and yet so energized—from such a great endeavour.
Today, I had found myself among the gods of Olympus—two polio victims, a woman diagnosed with obesity, and a doctor with an odd hair choice. And yet, this is the precise reason why they are gods. Despite disabilities and quirks, these people were agents of change for a country that needs it the most—and they’ve already proved that nothing could stand in their way.
Yesterday, I dressed up like a princess. I combed my hair back and put on a headband. I unearthed from my closet the remnants of a play I acted in four years ago. I shed casual clothes for a puffy, blue-and-white dress and silver high heels. I also borrowed my mom’s pearl necklace.
Admittedly, I was trying to look like Cinderella. But I realized after that my skin was too dark to begin with. (Maybe I should have aimed for Pocahontas instead.)
When I entered my stage, I put on the airs of spoiled nobility. I held my head high and proudly pulled my skirt up as I walked. I frowned at the giddy, sweating kids in front of me. I glared at them as I began to spoke, “Ako si Prinsesa Maria. Kung hindi kayo tumahimik, ipapatay ko kayo sa bodyguards ko.” Evil, maybe, but the statement was received with roars of laughter. Afterwards, I continued, “Bakit niyo ako tinatawanan? Isusumbong ko kayo sa hari! Daaaadddddyyyyy!” That’s when I covered my face with my hands and pretended to cry. The children once again laughed like hyenas.
Yesterday, I dressed up like a princess because I wanted to do something different for the children of informal settlers in barangay Holy Spirit. KRIS Library – Quezon City has had a number of book-reading activities, but for this year’s “World Read Aloud Day”, I wanted a book to come to life.
“Once upon a time, a rich man had several daughters, but the youngest of them was the smartest and most beautiful of all. Her name was Beauty,” I read. I clutched a large storybook of Beauty and the Beast on my lap as the children excitedly sat in front of me. I would read the lines first, and then they would repeat after me. After every page, I asked them questions. But, I still maintained the airs of my glamorous exterior with scoffs and fake tears.
“Ngayon, ikukuwento ko naman sa inyo ang aking buhay.” I then proceeded, as I stood up on my stage, to act out the legend of the monkey. It was a tale of a Beauty being turned into a Beast because of her arrogance and spite for all things ugly. It was a tale I used to make them laugh and pull impromptu cast members from my audience; and it was a tale I used to teach a lesson.
When the loud laughter, the jeers, and the applause died down with the end of my story, I asked them, “Ano ang natutunan niyo sa ating mga kwento ngayon?” One girl’s hand shot up. She shouted, “Never judge a book by its cover!” It was a brilliant answer.
I think that the same answer could be said for these children. Their clothes may be worn. Their limbs may be skinny. But through our activities in KRIS Library, I had found out that some of them were so witty, so smart—and they just needed some motivation to truly seek out learning. The same could also be said for our library in Quezon City. It is only a makeshift garage that we had renovated with a simple budget, but already it has been given a new life and purpose through days like this one.
The same answer could also be said for people. News reports tell us that people are evil and cunning. Stories tell us that there are villains. Parents tell us that there are always criminals lurking in dark corners to lure us to death. But, so far, with KRIS Library, I have found out that people can be so generous and kind-hearted.
Yesterday, as the children listened and followed their arrogant princess, their parents received medicines thanks to the kindness of Ma’am Juris Umali Soliman, a P.R. Executive. She had donated four boxes of medicines for children—including Ceelyn Syrup, Tiki-Tiki, Amoxycillin Suspension, Solmux Syrup, and Biogesic. There was enough to go around for the children, for the fathers who humbly told us that their sons were sick, for the mothers who carried stick-thin infants on their breasts, for my 16-year old friend who now has a baby girl, and for the poorest families of the barangay.
Indeed, a multitude of stories commingled to teach me the lesson that you can never judge a book by its cover. Beauties can be Beasts. Beasts can be Beauties.
In the end, I was not a princess because of my cover—because of my clothes, or my shiny shoes, or my glittering headband. I was a princess because I felt that, yesterday, fairy tales were coming true. Barangay Holy Spirit is not a sly collective of slum areas; it was a magical kingdom with princes and princesses abounding in their books and stories. It was a place where noble families worked together to reap good lives.
And, yesterday, all of these came alive because of one true magic: the magic of hope.
Her name is Cherry Love Tarroza. She has jet black hair and bright, gleaming eyes. Attacked by the sweltering heat of the infamous Zamboanga sun, she has dark skin like most of her friends. Her smile is that of an angel.
Although she's already in Grade 3, she stands only as tall as a toddler. Mangled like the thick branches of an oak tree, her legs awkwardly support her lopsided walk. Her left leg is twisted outward to reveal a deformed foot. Her right leg is a stump with a thin ankle underneath.
To what can we blame Cherry's condition? The Chavacanos call it "pi-ang", referring to the unfortunate incidence of polio.
Polio in the States, or in any first-world country is welcomed with merely a sigh. With surgery, therapy, and numerous facilities and privileges for the disabled, any boy or girl like Cherry there would find their special needs taken care of.
But here in the Philippines, it's a different story. Polio is welcomed with a flood of tears and heartache. Where does Cherry sit in the public school classroom? What means of transportation can she afford to comfortably take her to places? How can she keep up in a country of long lines and lost pedestrian lanes? What treatment can we mention when her parents earn only from a humble carinderia in the outskirts of town?
But so far, what she lacks in body or wealth, she makes up for in heart.
Everyday, she walks 3 kilometers to school and then back, just to be able to attend class. She says she does this because she dreams of becoming an accountant someday.
On some days, she even hikes an extra kilometer just to borrow books from the KRIS Library. She is spellbound with our fairy tale books there. Her favorites are Snow White and Cinderella.
However, in all honesty, I want to tell Cherry something she doesn't know: she puts these fairy tale princesses to shame with her courage to fight adversity.
Her steps may be awkward, but I have no doubt that she will go far. She puts the cherry of hope on top of the biggest of obstacles.
We in KRIS Library want to help her. But we need your help too, in any way -- financial, educational, medical, etc. If you know of any way we could lend a hand, please don't hesitate to contact me through firstname.lastname@example.org or 09995609435.
I was scared at first.
The ArmaLite of the escort who sat beside me rattled as the old Pajero struggled on the rough road. The hired driver accelerated through the empty highway in order to, I understand, avoid any sort of intended blockage that could climax into a robbery or kidnapping attempt. My father had even announced that he would not be coming to the consequent event, just to be sure no one would be patiently waiting for him.
Where we were going, we were unfamiliar with. Where we were going, it was better to take some necessary precautions. Zamboanga may be provincial home to me and my family, but the name Nocum still reeks of the stench of Manila (where we really live). And hereabouts, "Manila", "OFW", or "US citizen" all mean the same thing to some -- money.
However, thanks to God, we had arrived safely at our destination: Lubigan Elementary School. It is as if the fog had lifted. I was reminded of the reason I had come here, the reason KRIS Library's volunteers had braved the risks that day -- and that reason is etched in the school itself.
The buildings were very colorful -- yet old and few. The dust and the mud commingled everywhere amidst the fierce Zamboanga heat. The comfort rooms were placed farther in the back, trailed by venomous grasses and shrubs. The CR's themselves consisted of a small bowl in the floor with no flush nor sink. For a population of 300 students, only 8 heroic teachers had stood up for the job. And what they had for a "library" was a very small compartment filled with unused children's booklets donated by USAID.
Furthermore, these students from Lubigan come from two of the poorest ethnic Muslim minorities in the Philippines -- the Yakan and the Samal.
The kids needed something -- anything -- that had to be better than this. The kids needed to go beyond and dream. Thus, KRIS Library gave them the best inducer for dreaming: books. Every story book is a new world, a treasure chest. Every encyclopaedia is the world at their fingertips. What we gave them in that day's Book Turn-Over Ceremony -- a set of World Book encyclopaedia, unused textbooks, and children's books -- would allow them to go beyond. They would allow them to read, learn, then dream.
Thanks to the patience of Teacher Nemie Chavez (who had contacted us), Principal Lilian Falcasantos, and the other school officials, the ceremony was a success. Through the messages of school and barangay officials, two amazing intermission dances, the touching book- giving, and the release of school supplies for each student, the event was highlighted by cheers, smiles, laughter, and inspiration. It would definitely be a New Year in Lubigan.
Through it all, absolutely no trace of my previous fears had remained. To be able to touch the lives of these children this season was a blessing. To be able to give to my Muslim brothers and sisters, at the dawn of a new year, is a solid step towards change.
I feared for my life, but in braving the risk, I had given life. Thank you and God bless, Lubigan Elementary School.
Two days ago, my family and I arrived here in Zamboanga City. After the long ride from the airport to the remote barangay of Manicahan, the first thing I sought to do was to behold the completed spectacle of the KRIS Library here.
Adorned with a glinting yellow parol in front, the door to the library was already open as about a dozen children were inside hovering over books and an intense game of chess. Several flew from shelf to shelf as their eyes zoomed from Science to History to Art in our simplified categories of selections. With around 10,000 books in our arsenal of learning, the smaller kids would usually pull up chairs to retrieve reading treasures shelved in nooks taller than them. And they would nestle themselves in the tables in the first floor. Going up the staircase, I smelled new varnish layered on the surface, and saw some more boxes of new books stacked in the corner. To my left was a wide space with a conference table and to my right was a busy computer room with three veiled Muslim girls chatting over their newly-made e-mail accounts. I then took a peak into a wide, clean guest room fit to be occupied by our visiting volunteers in the future. Finally, a little boy ran past me to go down to the comfort room. After he left, I checked out the two new comfort rooms for both genders whose glinting blue tiles and fixtures were kept clean for the kids.
Today, KRIS Library - Manicahan is not just a hub of reading and learning; it is now also an internet oasis in a quiet town where our beneficiaries have at their fingertips so much instant information and so many opportunities. Today, the library is not just a library: it is a complete home -- of literacy, of joint learning, of peace.
This is the spirit of expansion displayed not only by the library there, but also by the KRIS Library organization as a whole. Including Manicahan, we now have five libraries. KRIS Library - Quezon City has been remodeled with a roof and new shelves of books to accommodate the multitude of children coming from Barangay Holy Spirit's vast slum areas. Meanwhile, the foundations for the libraries in Brgy. Tungawan and Brgy. Timbabauan (that both stand near MILF camps in Zamboanga Sibugay) have been forged. Construction will hopefully be underway in 2012. Furthermore, KRIS Library - Rizal, built in the relocation area for poor victims of Ondoy and fire incidents in Metro Manila, is up and running thanks to our partnership with several Claretian missionaries. And beyond the libraries, thousands of smiles have been sparked and a hundred minds ignited with our numerous books and school supplies distribution, and our prolific scholarship fund that has already given 101 scholarship grants from elementary to college.
Definitely, much has been done. We have taken our advocacy to new frontiers. We have reached further. And we owe it all to you.
KRIS Library, without its sponsors, media partners, volunteers, and many supporters, is nothing. Your every book, your every peso, your reaching hands have gone a long way to uplift education for thousands of children in the Philippines. You, dear KRIS warrior, have made an impact in the life of a child who could be the next Jose Rizal, Albert Einstein, or Mahatma Gandhi; you had helped us give the opportunity of a lifetime. Peace, they say, is a long, complicated process. But we believe this is a good start.
More than three years ago, my family and I arrived here in Zamboanga City. After the long ride from the airport to the town of Manicahan, the first thing I sought to do was to arrange logistics for the upcoming soft opening of KRIS Library - Manicahan. Back then, we were unsure if we could keep the advocacy running. Back then, we couldn't believe we could reach this far. But then we found out the many amazing things people go all the way for to be able to help out.
Now, I am typing from an internet-connected computer in KRIS Library-Manicahan. The place buzzes with life even as Noche Buena is a few hours away. Two of our KRIS scholars huddle between a group of younger lads and teach them the alphabet. Upstairs, veiled Muslim girls who knew nothing about computers three years ago are now expertly discovering their way online.
I have no doubt: this joyful season, KRIS Library owes itself to you, because the wishes of many children this Christmas have already come true.
Last November 4, I attended the National Library of the Philippines' (NLP) National Book Week celebration. The event's primary objective was to award particular high school libraries in Metro Manila for their excellent services to their students; but, on a side note, I was also recognized jointly by NLP, the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA), and the Philippine Librarians' Association, Inc. (PLAI) for my own work as a volunteer librarian and facilitator for KRIS Libraries all over the Philippines. Because of this humble recognition, I was greatly motivated to do more in promoting and making more accessible literacy and education for the less fortunate Filipino youth.
However, that award is not what I would like to focus on in this piece. What touched me as well during the event was the keynote speech delivered by Prof. Felipe De Leon, Jr.--chairperson of the NCCA. Simply put, his speech was about reading.
For a man with a collection of 10,000 books at home, he lamented that, as a Filipino, he is an exception to the rule. To put it boldly, he said that Filipinos don't like to read. Why? Because Filipinos are kings in the arena of social connections. And reading is usually not something that requires social connections--it is a lonely affair. But we love to socialize. We love to communicate. We love to gather. Because of this trait, we are the Number 1 in the world for online social networking. Because of this trait, our culture of texting is indispensable. Books for Filipinos? No way, we would rather just watch a movie with family or friends.
Later on, in his speech, he said that, in order to promote the idea of reading to Filipinos, we should use these 'cultural peculiarities' to our advantage. If they want to be social, we'll give them social reading.
Coming upon this realization, I discovered that 'social reading' is what we have been unconsciously cultivating in our KRIS Libraries. Early on, our primary objective was to build an environment of learning among youth of different religions in order to promulgate peace as well as education. The learning we had envisioned was a shared learning; a learning that not only taught, but also brought people together. Back then, we were thinking: if a Muslim boy and a Christian girl grew up together through books and computers in our Libraries, would they be hostile towards each other as they grew older? I don't think so. Also, in KRIS Libraries outside Mindanao (Quezon City and Rodriguez, Rizal), the libraries have become these communities' collective symbol of hope. The children are helped by volunteer teachers and parents; and the children are also helped by other children.
Truly, throughout our KRIS Libraries, we have formed reading ecosystems that are not only social but also interdependent. And in interdependence, every single part has to cooperate. Otherwise, all fails.
If we aim to use this social peculiarity almost unique to Filipinos, it is time to adopt change. Libraries should cease to be the strictly quiet monasteries where book-readers converge alone together. They should instead buzz with activity, from planning projects to critiquing works to tutoring to story-telling; they should come alive. The peculiarity of the ideal Filipino library is that it is not about about the books. It is about the people.
This was and will continue to be the vision of KRIS Library. We hope with renewed vigor that other libraries will see the same.
Arizza Ann S. Nocum, 18, is the Administrator of KRIS Library - a role which had earned her accolades from Zonta International, the National Library of the Philippines, the Senate, and more. An Oblation Scholar, she is currently taking up BS Industrial Engineering in the University of the Philippines.