Anao, Tarlac: The First Unang Aklat Municipality

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Anao, Tarlac is known as the Ylang-Ylang Capital of Tarlac. With its total land area of 2,387 hectares, this fifth-income municipality is the smallest in the province and is known for the ylang-ylang flowers it grows. For the Adarna Group Foundation, Inc., it has the added distinction of being its first Unang Aklat municipality.

AGFI first got to know Anao during the term of Mayor Ed Felipe. In its early years in Anao, AGFI launched its Unang Aklat Program and helped set up the municipal library. As Mayor Felipe’s term drew to a close, it was not clear whether the AGFI-Anao partnership would continue.

As it turned out, the partnership not only continued but became stronger. On November 18, 2016, Mayor Betty Lacbayan signed a Memorandum of Agreement for Anao to be an Unang Aklat municipality. This meant that all the babies of Anao would be part of the Unang Aklat program, the Barangay Early Literacy Program would be held for Anao’s various communities, Read sa RHU which gives out free book pockets and books as well as storytelling sessions would be carried out in its barangay health stations, and Unang Aklatan, a corner for an early literacy book collection, would be set up in the municipal library.

Mayor Ed and Mayor Betty have both explained that their support for AGFI stems from their observations that many kids in the Dolores Ongsiako Central Elementary School have a difficult time reading. But even with the support of the two mayors, AGFI would not have succeeded in Anao without Joey Astrero, the tourism officer of the municipality.

A nurse by training, Joey has stewarded the work of AGFI in Anao since AGFI first stepped foot in the municipality. It was Joey who asked Mayor Ed how Unang Aklat could cross over to Mayor Betty. And it was also Joey who explained to Mayor Betty the merits of the AGFI partnership and why it should continue to gather the support of the local government unit and its rural health unit. His involvement in the municipality’s nutrition project had convinced him about the importance of focusing resources on thechildren of Anao.

Anao is Joey’s hometown. Although he left Anao for his high school and tertiary studies, and even tried working out in Metro Manila after his graduation, he decided he wanted to live in Anao because he loves the municipality. He expresses this love through his commitment to the different projects assigned to him.

AGFI is fortunate to have Joey as point person. In turn, he says he hopes that Unang Aklat succeeds, “Sana tuloy tuloy ang programa kasi malaking tulong ito hindi lamang sa mga bata kundi sa mga magulang nila.

HOW BOOKS IMPROVE LIVES

I have always wanted to know if there would be an improvement in the lives of women if we educated them, and if we gave their children access to books soon after they were born, ” says Dr. Cristina “Teng” Espino, the lone doctor and municipal health officer in the fourth-class municipality of Samal, Bataan. Dr. Teng usually sees women patients in her public birthing clinic only when they are ready to deliver their babies. The women do not undergo prenatal checkups. “They arrive in our clinic on the day they give birth. They literally bring only themselves. Nothing else, not even money.

Little did Dr. Teng know that AGFI would soon be entering Samal with its Unang Aklat flagship program. After AGFI’s presentation of the Unang Aklat program to Mayor Generosa “Gene” de la Fuente of Samal, she invited the AGFI team to Samal to present the program to her LGU officials. Dr. Teng attended the presentation and expressed her interest in being a part of the program. For Dr. Teng, it was a way of getting an answer to her question about the role of literacy in improving the lives of her patients and their babies.

Unang Aklat was launched in Samal, Bataan, on October 21, 2013 during the mayor’s State of the Children Address. Since then, Unang Aklat has given out 783 age- and culturally-appropriate books to 343 children and 343 parents in the municipality, held 44 sessions on early literacy for parents, and trained 5 health care workers.

The implementation of Unang Aklat in Samal has provided a clear answer to Dr. Teng’s question.  “You could see how thirsty these children were for good, colorful books. You would see a young child pointing at something in the book to his older sibling.” she says. She also noticed that as the mothers learned how to read to their children, they also improved their reading skills and expanded their own knowledge.

If we could only save one mother from ignorance, I would be happy,

Thoroughly convinced about the role of literacy, Dr. Teng requested for assistance from AGFI to set up a reading room in the birthing center. The reading room opened on October 7, 2014 and now serves the babies and children who visit the Samal birthing center for consultation and health services.

 

WHAT IT'S LIKE TO BE A VOLUNTEER

Eli Camacho, product development manager of Adarna House and recipient of a 2016 National Children's Book Award for her Haluhalo board book, describes the day she volunteered for AGFI:

Children, books, and toys are a wonderful combination. I was fortunate enough to see this for myself when I joined AGFI’s Barangay Early Literacy Program in Sitio Dueg, San Clemente, Tarlac, last March 7. The remoteness of the place meant that my fellow volunteers and I had to meet well before sunrise and ride a military truck up an unpaved mountain road, wrapped in our hoodies to protect ourselves from the sun and stray branches. Our base for the day was a resettlement community of Aetas who had been displaced by Mount Pinatubo’s eruption in 1991. Armed with plastic bottles, beads, juice, biscuits, and books, we set up an assembly line and prepared to welcome the hundred or so women and children who had registered as participants.

After a short lecture on proper hygiene for the mothers and a storytelling session for the children, it was time for the arts and crafts activity: shakers made out of plastic bottles and beads. I walked around the venue, looking for little children who needed help dropping beads into their bottles. Later on, I kept the line in order when book-giving time came. Watching the children shake their finished bottles and dive eagerly into their books was a real delight. I knew that these toys and books, even if they lacked batteries and touch screens, would fill hours and hours of future playtime. I also realized (as AGFI already has) that it isn’t a long shot to think that a simple shaker and a book can make a big difference in each child’s life.

We ended the day tired, dusty, and wondering when our next opportunity to volunteer would come. We had just been let in on a big investing secret, and knew that the returns would be more than generous.