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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Helping build learners

The library has opened its doors to learners who need to think of the world beyond Dalligan, beyond Kiangan, and beyond Ifugao

The story of a community library came to me in late 2022 when my research on climate change was accepted for presentation at an international conference on language, culture, and history under the auspices of Kalinga State University in partnership with the NAKEM Conferences consortium and the University of Hawaii Ilokano Program.

I have not heard of this kind of an initiative of building community libraries in the past.

When I heard from outside sources that 12 community libraries in Ifugao were being built with the support of individuals and local government leaders that believe in providing access to learning resources to young learners, I felt envy for my Kalinga people.

I asked myself: “When are we going to have our own community libraries in Kalinga?”

Each day of my life as a classroom teacher, I am concerned with learning resources and resources for teaching.

Each day, I wish there was a dictionary on the shelf and easily accessible to learners when they want to check on the meaning of a word.

One good dictionary would be more than enough. But there was none.

One good book that is not a textbook would be more than enough. But none either.

It would take the collaboration of two Fulbright awardees to change this story of lack of basic resources in some of the poor public schools of the Cordilleras: Dr. Aurelio Solver Agcaoili of the University of Hawaii and Dr. Soraya Faculo, at that time the officer-in-charge of the Office of the Superintendent of the Division of Schools of Ifugao.

Dr. Agcaoili emailed Dr. Faculo to ask permission to conduct fieldwork among the people of Dalligan, one of the remotest villages of Kiangan, the surrender site of Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita of the Japanese Imperial Army during the Second World War.

Faculo replied, saying they could meet in her office in Lagawe, the provincial capital.

During that meeting, she mentioned her initiative of putting up 12 community libraries for the entire division of schools.

The libraries would benefit most the basic education learners that needed access to resources from kindergarten to Grade 6.

Agcaoili took the challenge of supporting that initiative with one condition: he would help put up the community library in Dalligan and will send books from a variety of sources.

The library would be supported by the members of the community, with barangay leaders providing volunteer work in putting the library that would house the resources to be provided by Agcaoili and the University of the Philippines Baguio’s Namnama, a student organization.

In February this year, Dalligan Community Library has seen the light of day with a formal inauguration and opening, and with Kiangan mayor Raldis Andrei A. Bulayungan and Dr. Faculo attending.

Today, Dalligan can proudly say they now have their own library with dictionaries, some thesaurus, a globe, and books for children.

I think of this event in Ifugao both as a schoolteacher and as a doctoral student of development education.

I can only imagine the children who, like my own hinterland communities in Kiangan, must walk on trails to get to the government school and there learn the rudiments of reading, writing, and arithmetic.

And learn as well that their Dalligan offers life, but that life extends to other villages, other communities, other peoples, and other towns.

It is this expansion of their sense of the world that I am thinking about, their acknowledgment and recognition that human imagination is boundless.

At this writing, Dr. Soraya has been reassigned to another division of schools, but the community library is standing still, its doors open to students who wish to explore and discover things beyond what their textbooks are talking about.

The library has become a sanctuary for learners.

It has opened its doors to learners who need to think of the world beyond Dalligan, beyond Kiangan, and beyond Ifugao.

Working with the village leaders, Agcaoili continues to support the community library by providing the most needed learning resources of students.

My studies in development education have brought me to new ideas about people development and community empowerment.

Perhaps this is one way to fill up the gap between resource allocation and the need of learners to be provided not only sufficiently but more.

I asked Dr. Agcaoili what moved him to stand with the Dalligan people.

He said this: “I have chosen to live with them and understand their life. I might as well do something to pay them forward.”

(The author is a public school teacher in Tabuk, Kalinga, now wrapping up her PhD in Development Education. She has received her master’s in education and is interested in her people’s language and culture and on the issue of sustainability and the indigenous peoples.)


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