Notes from the Field

Family Legacy in Mindanao Inspires Community to Better Education

September 7, 2011

When Ireneo O. Pinzon and his family moved in the 1960s to Isulan, a rural town in Mindanao in the Southern Philippines, not a single library existed. Even 50 years later, the Southern Philippines continues to lag behind the more urban islands to the north. The literacy rate in South Central Mindanao is 10 percent lower than the urban centers in northern Philippines at 87 percent, and in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, the rate is about 30 percent lower at 69 percent. Access to books and educational materials also lags behind the north. Despite challenges in the region largely brought about by years of armed conflict, high poverty rates, and poor governance, Mindanao has seen great improvement in terms of access to books and education – in no small part due to the determination of people like Pinzon.

Soon after settling into rural life in Isulan, Pinzon was appointed as municipal secretary. His deep interest in education, along with his position in the local government, drove him to write letters to organizations in the United States requesting books, as none were available to the public at that time. Within months, he was pleased to see that the first boxes of books had arrived.

Over a short period of time, Pinzon began transforming his house into a reading and research center open to the community. In addition to the books that he acquired, Pinzon, known in town as the “walking encyclopedia,” subscribed to Reader’s Digest and Time Magazine to augment the library collection.

“Our parents taught us to value books,” recalled one of Pinzon’s daughters, Grace Pinzon-Janiya, who still lives in Isulan and works as a project officer with the Provincial Government of Sultan Kudarat. Our Books for Asia team met her recently when The Asia Foundation, with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), held five different events with local governments across southern Philippines where 28,000 books were donated to schools and libraries.

“It was a time when there was no electricity, and my father brought the Petromax as the source of our light where all nine children could read the books,” Grace recalled. After the children finished the books and as new titles arrived, her father donated the older ones to Isulan Elementary School. The library still serves the local community today.

The majority of the children, including Grace, attended Kalawag Institute high school, which is now King’s College of Isulan. Most of the books at the school during that time were donated by organizations from the United States, including Books for Asia. According to Grace, the books were so limited that students had to borrow them and return them the following day for others to use.

On Sept. 9, 1995, King’s College of Isulan decided to give some of the old and outdated books to students, who were instructed to pick one each. Grace’s daughter, Shalom, then a first-year high school student and now a lawyer, picked the book entitled Language Skills – Grade Nine by Chapman & Cauley. When she opened the book, she found her aunt’s name, Ruth, written in the borrower’s card from when she borrowed the book in 1974. Surprised, Shalom brought the book home and presented it to the family.

Mindanao books legacy

Grace Pinzon-Janiya shows off the book entitled “Language Skills - Grade Nine” which was published in 1947 and carried down from her family.

Upon realizing the historical significance of the book to their family they decided to keep it. Shalom wrote her name and signature in the borrower’s card. Grace’s grandchildren are now using the book as a supplement to their English-language studies. The family later learned that the book was donated by The Asia Foundation through the Philippine Public Schools Teachers’ Association during the late 1960s.

“To some, it might just be an ordinary book, but to our family, it has enriched our education,” Grace said.

Improving the quality of education in the Philippines cannot be done by the government alone. With the current administration’s battle cry to promote public-private partnerships and multi-stakeholder collaboration, especially in the delivery of basic services such as education, we are hopeful this will further support rural communities such as Isulan to have better access to quality education.

Reynald S. Ocampo is The Asia Foundation’s assistant program officer for the Books for Asia program and Kriszia Lorrain Enriquez is an assistant program officer for the local governance program. They can be reached at rocampo@asiafound.org and kenriquez@asiafound.org, respectively. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.

One comment on this post:

  1. Eufemia Munn:

    How can Shalom Science Institute in Balabagan, Lanao del Sur avail of Books for Asia? Balabagan is a coastal municipality 6 kms from Ramos Hwy mid-way between the cities of Cotabato and Marawi. There are two public schools – 1400 pupils – no library. Shalom has a small one which I started in 2001. My garage here in Medical Lake is full of boxes of books to ship in balik-bayan boxes but shipping cost is high. I came out of retirement to help build SSI which has been my mission during the last 12 years. In order to earn funds to build classrooms, I taught in China for 4 years and in Chile, for 2 years. My role as development and education consultant continues so I spend a great deal of time in Balabagan.

    How? Could you please let me know? I’d be glad to write a grant proposal.

    Thank you for your kind attention.

    Eufemia Munn
    Medical Lake, WA

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