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