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.