Bringing thousands of books — and the improved literacy that goes with it — to a small Philippine Island village wasn’t supposed to be this difficult.
It wasn’t supposed to take seven years.
But, now that it has finally happened, with about 8,000 books gathered through Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, the children in this sugar cane-rich area are devouring knowledge like candy at a handful of hut-like “Children’s Corners” in several villages.
“They were exactly what we had envisioned from the beginning,” writes overjoyed Dubuque native Roger Slade Jr., by email from his office in Hong Kong where he’s Managing Director Asia Pacific for www.wowstuff.com, a toy company.
This is the fruition of a dream Roger and his wife, Julia, had in late 2005 on a frequent visit to her birthplace, Bungahin, a village of 200 people on Bacolod, an island in the Philippines about a 45-minute plane ride south of Manila.
Now that the library has come true, the couple is set to vacation in Dubuque beginning Friday and present a certificate of appreciation early next week to Kirkwood officials who helped make it all possible.
Roger came up with this idea when he saw the poverty of Bacolod, how it is so dependent on the harvest of sugar cane, how children had very little to do after school let out at 2 p.m.
You see, the life is one of hard work for eight months — the men sleep in the fields during the week and return home only on Saturdays — and famished poverty the other four months.
In early 2006, he told his son, Roger Slade III, about his idea for a library and asked him to collect a few books. Little did Roger know that his son, through girlfriend, Gina Gerleman, a student at Kirkwood who put out a collection box, would really get the ball rolling. Kirkwood happened to be culling its library book collection at the time — would Roger like some of those books?
“I said yes,” Roger writes. “Little did I know that two months later I would be arranging a 20-foot container load of 7,000 books from Iowa to Long Beach to Manila, and eventually to Bacolod.”
That’s when Roger learned about the Philippine political process. First a mayor agreed to construct a small library, then the next mayor wanted a “donation” to start the project. Four years and three mayors later, the Slades turned to La Salle College in Bacolod City and Katherine Salinas, one of Julia’s cousins, for help. The college took donated adult books and gave an equal number of children’s books for the village libraries.
Seven years, from country to country, from college to college, Roger writes, “The long road for the books to the children is finally complete.”
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