IGFI and AGFI: Partners for Change


The ICCP Group Foundation, Inc. (IGFI) is the philanthropic arm of the Investment & Capital Corporation of the Philippines (ICCP) and twelve other corporations. It has six core advocacies - livelihood, community empowerment, job generation, environment, health, and education. For its education-related programs, IGFI’s main partner is Adarna Group Foundation, Inc. (AGFI). Deo Esmabe, Corporate Social Responsibility Officer for IGFI, shares his views about why he thinks the partnership works.

Deo says that when the two groups started working in 2017, he was struck by the approach of AGFI to literacy and education. Babies and very young children are given age- and culturally-appropriate books while parents and guardians attend learning sessions on the importance of early literacy. For AGFI, health and education go hand in hand; thus, most of its programs are carried out through rural health units and barangay health centers. Since IGFI’s primary goal as an organization is to empower the local communities where it operates, Deo believes that AGFI  helps IGFI get to know the members of its communities better through its early literacy work. These members become the communities’ agents of change. 

Both organizations value the role played by beneficiaries. The success of any endeavor requires the collaboration of everyone involved from the local government to all its stakeholders. But among all those involved, it is clear to IGFI and AGFI that the most important stakeholders are the beneficiaries because their time, efforts, and talent serve as the backbone of any project.

Finally, sustainability is a common goal shared by the IGFI and AGFI partnership. In Deo’s words, “Hindi mawawala sa panahon yung programa dahil laging mayroong batang nangangailangan, laging mayroong batang kailangan turuan, laging mayroong bagong nanay na kailangan ipaunawa yung importansya ng early literacy.”

At present, the partnership has brought the Barangay Early Literacy Program to Hermosa, Bataan, San Fernando, Pampanga, and Malvar and Sto. Tomas, Batangas, and Unang Aklat to Hermosa, Bataan. In terms of reach, the partnership has benefited one municipality, 401 families, and 20 health personnel; and has distributed 345 board books to babies. Soon, Unang Aklat will be brought by IGFI and AGFI to Malvar and Sto. Tomas, Batangas.

by: Maria Isabel R. Cañaveral




My first venture into children’s literature was an elective class I took up in college. Prior to that, I’ve never really seen children’s books as anything more than a source of entertainment and a way to pass time. Fresh out of college, I decided to apply for an internship in Adarna House so I could learn more about children’s literature. At the time, I only wanted to gain practical experience in writing for children.

I was assigned to Adarna Group Foundation, where I learned just how much a book can change a child’s life. Through AGFI, I was introduced to the merits of early literacy.  In terms of educational intervention, literacy programs catering to mothers, toddlers, infants, and unborn babies are practically unheard of, which is why I can say that AGFI is a trailblazer of sorts. Driven by its vision to make every Filipino child literate, AGFI, through its four core programs, promotes early literacy by distributing age- and culturally- appropriate books, training healthcare professionals, partnering with local government units and other like-minded organizations, and encouraging parents to start their children’s education at home.

More than just words on paper, what AGFI set out to accomplish is echoed in all that it does. Being an intern meant I could tag along in learning sessions, which allowed me to see firsthand how AGFI’s vision translates in real life. Every opportunity to work with people who’ve made it their mission to spread the word on the importance of early literacy is a learning one. Although run only by a small team, AGFI’s work in the communities it operates in are by no means small or inessential. By promoting early literacy, AGFI provides the children from impoverished families a way out of the cycle of poverty and dependency.

I used to be under the impression that the process of making a child literate entails big steps - deliberate attempts to teach literacy, substantial economic resources to afford good education, and constant guidance to make sure the children grow up to be smart and successful. Through AGFI, I’ve grown to realize how even the smallest changes -  a book given, a mother taught, a child’s interest sparked - can start a ripple effect - the book that turns into a small library, the mother that becomes an advocate for early literacy, the child that grows to love reading. AGFI’s work is proof that even with limited resources, there is something that can be done. Big hopes, after all, start with small steps.

By: Maria Isabel R. Cañaveral


What it Takes to Be First: From Adarna House to Adarna Group Foundation, Inc.


What does it take to be first? We like to think that we at Adarna House, the Philippines’ oldest and largest publisher of children’s literature, know a thing or two about this. When we first came out with Adarna picture books almost 37 years ago, there was no children’s literature to speak of in the Philippine publishing industry. We wanted to create that literature for Filipino children. Today, there are enough books being published, enough publishers to form a critical mass, and a growing community of children’s book authors and illustrators to merit the granting of a biennial National Children’s Books Awards by the National Book Development Board and the Philippine Board on Books for Young People. At the Manila International Bookfair, children’s book publishers now comprise a group on the second floor of the SMX.

The challenge to be first continues to drive Adarna House in everything it does. In 2013, together with its laboratory school, The Raya School, it established its corporate social responsibility arm, the Adarna Group Foundation, Inc. (AGFI).  Its vision: Every Filipino child, literate.

True to the Adarna tradition of being first, AGFI works towards its vision through four early literacy programs that introduces babies and very young children to their first books. Unang Aklat, AGFI’s flagship program, partners with local government units and uses the local health care delivery system to educate parents of children 0 to 3 years old about the importance of early literacy and how they can educate their child at home. Doctors and teachers bring lessons on early childhood pedagogy and development to parents and health center staff. Age and culturally appropriate books for children are given for free so that they can discover the joys of reading at home.

Other programs echo the same advocacy: Barangay Early Literacy Program (BELP) is a one day program of storytelling and music and movement activities for children in communities and institutions designed to bring in volunteers who will become future champions of early literacy.  Read sa Rural Heath Unit (RHU) aims to train healthcare workers to take advantage of their pivotal role in the community to spread awareness of early literacy and to equip them as well with skills in effective storytelling. Unang Aklatan helps municipalities put up community libraries that will cater to readers of all ages but with a special nook for early readers.

Being first does not come easy. The past three years have been daunting and AGFI has had to face challenges beyond the experience of any other NGO. But the work done has started to bear fruit.

To date, AGFI, through Unang Aklat, BELP, Read sa RHU and Unang Aklatan has reached 2085 families, 210 local government workers, 35 communities in Luzon, and has given out 5597 books. It has helped put up two community libraries in Bataan and Tarlac. To expand its reach, its partners now include established organizations such as Investment and Capital Corporation of the Philippines Group Foundation and San Miguel Foundation.  

Beyond statistics, there are the testimonials: the municipal health officer who believes that there is no effort too great to see one child learn how to read; another municipal health officer who has included early literacy milestones in measuring the wellbeing of babies in her municipality; the project coordinator who sees the AGFI projects as his way to show his concern for this community.

AGFI is fully aware that its programs form the very first partnerships with local governments units to promote early literacy. Thus, its efforts to implement monitoring and evaluation systems so that its work on the ground will result in replicable early literacy programs for other communities.

Based on the experiences of Adarna House and AGFI, what does it take to be first? A vision, hard work, communities around shared values, and evidence of tangible results.  

By. Emelina S. Almario and Ruth Martin-De Guzman

Anao, Tarlac: The First Unang Aklat Municipality


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.


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.