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  • Brother Armin’s love story

    By Neni Sta. Romana Cruz
    Philippine Daily Inquirer
    Saturday, July 5th, 2014

    It was an unusual morning of launches at last week’s “Booklatan sa Eskwela: Tuloy ang Basa” at the Makati Elementary School Library Hub. Booklatan is a regular reading outreach program of the National Book Development Board (NBDB) in partnership with the local government and similarly committed nongovernment organizations to call attention yet again to the importance of reading and the urgency of making books available, especially to public school children. For how else can we foster an appreciation (take note that I am restraining myself, and not even talking about a love for reading) for books?

    This time, additional emphases were made in workshops on reading in the mother tongue about local culture, soft-sell strategies to promote literacy and more efficient library management, starting community reading centers, literature in the K-to-12 curriculum, storytelling, laughter yoga, and a creative writing workshop for students. All that in a day? Yes, and a book fair, too, in two venues—the school where the Library Hub is housed (fittingly so, as the Hub, with librarian Fatima Delfin, is one of the more successful models we have today) and the equally busy Fort Bonifacio Elementary School.

    Education Secretary Armin Luistro was leaving for Japan at noon that day, but how could he miss the occasion? The NBDB was launching the little comic book featuring his romance with books. Happily, comic books today, having achieved a degree of legitimacy, no longer have to be read on the sly. The genre has gained acceptability because there is no stopping young readers from wanting to read them. They are especially attractive to reluctant book readers who are so easily overwhelmed and discouraged by large chunks of text on a page. It’s easy to see why comics and graphic novels are so popular today, speaking as they do in the language of the youth in a very inviting format.

    Last year, with the expertise of popular cartoonist Manix Abrera, the NBDB embarked on the “Tibok ng Utak” series to highlight reading advocates like Brother Armin that the youth can identify with. The first was on indie cinema artist Esperanza Cabral, followed by the feature on the all-girl band Flying Ipis. (It must be mentioned that last year was also a milestone year for two NBDB publications: “The Book of Beginnings,” its 2014 Writing Journal, and the “Book of Endings,” the 2013 Annual Report, won bronze distinction for R. Jordan P. Santos at the Adobo Design Awards of the advertising industry. Leaves were used as a metaphor for the life cycle and, of course, for the leaves of the pages of a book. Who can match the excerpts from literature in their inside pages?)

    The “Tibok” comic book on Brother Armin is no less poetic. It talks of his being a quiet child growing up in Lipa, Batangas. His universe literally expanded when he chanced upon class projects left at home by his teacher-aunt. He read one on the stars and it blew his mind to think of the big, wide world. “Grabe, Kalawakan!” he says. There were books that spoke to him—“The Little Prince,” “The Prophet,” even required reading like the “Noli” and “Florante at Laura.” He discovered Asian philosophy, even dabbled in poetry, but was all the time inclining more and more to literature in Filipino.

    Probably the meat of the four chapters is the three real-life stories he loves to narrate from personal encounters, for these tell him how much “hunger for reading” the Pinoy has. There is the construction worker holding sanding paper in one hand and a book in the other. There is the avid child reader, perched on a typhoon-felled tree, carefully turning the pages of a book warped by the floodwaters. And still another child lamenting rainy evenings because these meant he could not read beneath the streetlights.

    A second launch was the unveiling of Brother Armin’s poster as the NBDB’s latest reading advocate. If students, as research says, need reading role models to motivate them toward literacy, who is a better and more familiar reading model than the education secretary? His belief that reading enriches the soul serves as caption for his photo. He issued a caveat regarding the poster: not meant for any election.

    Both the comic book and the poster are distributed free of charge for school libraries at NBDB special events.

    Our reading advocate himself had a noteworthy project to launch: the Department of Education library database that maps the locations of public and private libraries in the country. As expected, this is a work in progress in close partnership with the Philippine Librarians Association headed by Beth Peralejo. To date, the public school libraries are said to number 9,855. The number staggers in the light of the state of reading especially in that sector, but not really when one thinks 47,000 schools. The logical next step is to look into what books these “libraries” house. A basic question: Are there books there that will lure students to read?
    After this directory, we will all know what behooves all of us to do next.

    Neni Sta. Romana Cruz (nenisrcruz@ gmail.com) 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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