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The Real Magic of the BMRP at DLSL

There is, in school, this conceptually simple social responsibility program that is, however, immeasurably rewarding to all parties concerned. The program was thought of by the school’s former President, Brother Manuel Pajarillo FSC, and is called the Bookmobile Reading Program or just – by its acronym – the BMRP.

Considering that among the banes of education in the Philippines is the dearth of reading materials, the program, therefore, addresses a very basic need of Philippine society. Because the libraries of public elementary schools – particularly in the rural areas – are, at best, inadequate, then a most common-sense contribution to help address the problem is to have a library on wheels that goes around visiting these schools.

A used bus was donated to the school in 2006 and subsequently converted into a library. By and large, the books to be used by the mobile library were also donated by kindhearted individuals who wanted to help even in whatever way possible.

The BMRP made its first school visitation back in 2007; and has been making regular school visits since. Whenever it does, volunteers from among the students and employees tag along to read to the young pupils of the elementary schools and help them choose books from inside the mobile library. There are even those who volunteer to ride along as the BMRP mascot, a.k.a. Brother Buknoy.

The idea of volunteering had occurred to me before; albeit, it was not accompanied by a forceful enough conviction to actually make me go. This morning, though – and because I finally had the excuses that I needed – I finally went.

For one thing, the colleagues I currently work most closely with were going; and for another, the first group of alumni to volunteer was made up of former students of mine: Dondie Daval-Santos, Kristin Gardoce-Caibal and Dinah Bautista-Maravilla, all from the High School Class of 1986.

It turned out that I chose a perfect day to go. The trip was a short one to an elementary school in the small municipality of Mataas-na-Kahoy. Although summer has been starting to drop hints over the past couple of weeks that it is lurking just around the corner, this morning was pleasantly and surprisingly cool, even cold.

Upon arrival, the volunteers were all given a short briefing by Maricel Perez and Judith Alcaraz – both staff of the Community Involvement Office – before they were escorted to their assigned classes of Grade One pupils. Whatever awkwardness or nervousness any of the volunteers felt once each was finally in front of the children could not have lasted more than a few minutes.

Each of the volunteers was received with the wide-eyed eagerness of young people for whom every single moment shines with the magic of discovery and for whom the whole world begs to be explored. It helped, of course, that the volunteers were supplied with large colorful books that quickly captured all of the young kids’ interest.

One of the books was about going places; and so the volunteer asked the class, “Who among you has traveled and where did you go?” Ask a similar question in a class of high school seniors and you are probably met with disdain; anyone who volunteers to answer may even end up ostracized. In a class of Grade One pupils, the oddity is the one with the arm not raised. In response to the volunteer’s question, everyone wanted to be called.

One small child, when called, happily replied, “Tanauan!” That child will discover soon enough that going to Tanauan is not called traveling at all. Another child said, “Padre Garcia!” The child will also discover that going to Padre Garcia is still not called traveling. “Mindanao!” a third child proudly answered; in fairness, you have to leave land to get there.

Then one child said, “Germany!” Damn fool young braggart and liar, I was starting to think to myself; until I realized that the young boy had Caucasian looks and was probably telling the truth.

I was moving from class to class taking still pictures and videos; and the scene in one class was exactly the same in the next. All the pupils were totally captivated by the colorful characters that they were being shown on the pages of the books the volunteers held in front of them; and mesmerized by the stories that were being read out loud to them.

After the storytelling, the volunteers escorted their classes to the bookmobile so that each of the children could pick out any book that caught his or her fancy. Back inside the classrooms, the pupils were all instructed to read silently. But of course, for a student of that age, the joy is not in the reading alone but mostly in the ability to make sounds from the reading.

Suffice it to say that few of the students were making any real effort to read quietly. I would not have had it any other way. The joy was in seeing each and every one of the children devour the books in front of them with pure gusto as only children can muster. It did not matter that all the reading-out-loud resulted in a totally unchoreographed dance of sounds all around the four walls of each classroom that we adults like to call noise.

The volunteers, all apparently enjoying themselves, would sit down with the children who seemed to be struggling with their reading to help them along. It was all spontaneous, the instinctive reaction of all adults – bar the nut cases of the specie – to nurse along the young.

Personally, I do not think any of the young kids I saw today really needed any help to learn how to read. I thought their own elementary teachers had already done damned good jobs teaching them. They do need books; that much I could see. Having worked mostly with adolescents – and many of these had to be cajoled into holding their books, if at all – the irony of the morning was in seeing those for whom books hold the answers to the mysteries and excitement of life not having them. A tragedy, if you ask me!

However, I think the real magic of the BMRP is less about how it touches the children and more about the adults and young adults who volunteer to join the bookmobile trips. “I rather suspect,” I remarked to nobody in particular when we were driving home, “that the adults benefited from this trip more than the pupils.”

“Therapeutic!” replied one of my colleagues, her eyes shining with happiness. I say Amen to that.

[The Book Mobile Reading Program accepts donations of books and funds. Alumni who wish to join any of the bookmobile trips only need to get in touch with the staff of the Community Involvement Office. To read more on the BMRP, please visit the school web site at http://www.dlsl.edu.ph/.]

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