Walnut Creek Group has been promoting literacy abroad since the 1980s
Four decades after a philanthropic flame was lit in the hearts of Walnut Creek couple Nancy and Dan Harrington, the light continues to shine. The all-voluntary association they founded in 1981, Books for the Barrios, has improved the quality of education for generations of young children in underserved areas, with a focus on schools in the Philippines.
Started by the Harrington and US Navy families stationed in the Philippines in 1981, the organization is distinguished by a coordinated program connecting American children who participate in the organization and donate thousands of books to their distant peers.
To date, Books for the Barrios (booksforthebarrios.org) has sent over 16 million books overseas. Hundreds of children in East Bay schools have taken part in field trips to pack books and other educational learning materials or have held fundraising events that pay for shipping costs.
As the program expanded and the urgent and critical need for quality teachers became evident, the Harringtons implemented advanced training and curriculum for educators through national teacher training conventions, gradually transforming what were 73 underdeveloped neighborhood (neighborhood) schools into model international schools of excellence.
The Nationwide Education Development Program was officially commissioned by the Philippine government in 2001, resulting in 1,500 model school class teachers of excellence who now provide a rigorous and professional curriculum and practice. . Nancy Harrington added that Books for the Barrios has a powerful environmental and educational purpose.
“Our program has diverted over 300 tonnes of books from landfills each year,” she says.
Her husband said there are “three pillars” to defend a basic education platform in countries where free education is not always guaranteed: access to books and teaching materials. ; implementation of instruction from the age of 5 to 10; and dictionaries.
“The books were like white elephants when we first shipped them to the Philippines because the students couldn’t understand them and the teachers didn’t know how to use them. Now, by shipping the teaching methodology with the books, teachers know how to use them.
With dictionaries – English is a second language there – students learn word definitions, pronunciation and application and a new language that expands their vocabulary and understanding of the world, said Dan Harrington.
Nancy Harrington notes that “We do not send any books on American history, religion, or books in languages other than English. Children in the Philippines need to learn their own history before learning ours.
She recalls visiting a classroom with the couple’s two sons during the six years the family lived in the country while her husband was a pilot for the US Navy.
“They were exactly like American school children, except the kids would have a blank notebook and pencil but no books.”
Because there is often corruption and corruption in the region, they found that many people in the country do not trust the sincerity of fundraising to support education. Unperturbed, Nancy appealed to American children and families, urging them to “think globally and act locally” to donate books. It’s important to note that Books for the Barrios has remained entirely voluntary, so all funds raised through grants, foundations, and individual donors are used exclusively to ship the material to the Philippines.
After working out of their garage for years, a talk Dan Harrington gave to a local chapter of the Rotary Club resulted in a member of the public standing up and proposing the use of a warehouse at Concord to store and pack the items. books.
“We shipped a container that weighed 58,000 pounds each month,” he recalls. “We used boxes of apples and when the containers got to the Philippines they separated the books and made kits for each school. (In a process that continues today) the criterion is to place kits in the schools most in need, to document them and to ensure that they use them, not just to store them. “
A team of local field volunteers work with the county education department to ensure that resources reach their destination and are used. Dan Harrington said people continued to drop books during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There is no real change in protocol. At the other end of the spectrum, the teachers have set up a system where the children can collect the materials.
Despite statistics and anecdotal evidence suggesting that Books for the Barrios has increased the prospects of hundreds of children across the country, Nancy Harrington says fundraising remains a formidable challenge.
“It always has been there,” she says. “The community has always loved that this American company wanted to do this, but there is corruption. Here, when we apply for grants, people appreciate that all the money is spent on shipping, not on staff salaries. The foundations were amazed by us.
She says the effort has been “a providential call” from the start and that fortuitous giving occurs remarkably often. One day it was a neighbor with four children who moved and donated art and office supplies, children’s books and reference books.
“And she gave us $ 500, just like that,” she said. “She came back three weeks later and donated another $ 500.”
There are emails and Facebook posts from adults who participated in the packing tours as a child and express their gratitude for the opportunity to give. Most special are the messages received from young adults in the Philippines who are now working in professional fields – nurses, doctors, teachers, civil servants – instead of remaining illiterate and living in great poverty as farmers, fishworkers. or agricultural and domestic workers.
“They didn’t have to drop out of school by the age of 10 and be where they are helpless and subject to abuse in any way,” said Dan Harrington.
The association’s immediate activities, among others, include maintaining the leadership and managing the 73 sites of excellent schools, continuing to recruit American teachers and students in what they call “a peace initiative.” service ”and the launch of a school library campaign for Muslim children living in poverty in the town of Jolo, in the southern Philippines.
The library will be dedicated to the sergeant major of the US Army. Joseph Curreri, a man who served and died in the war-torn Mindanao region, whose passion for reading and children will live on with the legacy of the library. Curreri’s mother, according to Nancy, phoned and offered an initial donation of $ 500, sharing stories of how her son had often asked for packages of flip-flops and books to be sent to the children who he said did not had neither shoes nor reading materials.
Asked about the most powerful literature and philanthropic role models they themselves encountered as children, Dan Harrington said the most influential was a childhood lived mostly in southern Jim Crow and his parents always reminding him that “There are inequalities and crimes against people in America, and you should do something to lift up the oppressed.
Nancy’s imagination was roused by the issue of National Geographic Magazine which she said “made me wonder about the world.” But the internal flame that continues to burn in his heart was first ignited and forever alight when traveling at the age of 24 to the Philippines and meeting students whose eager minds were ready to learn, to the except for the lack of books to learn and teachers to show. them how.
Lou Fancher is a freelance writer. Contact her at [email protected]