Retired Filipino accountant Hernando Guanlao has found a wonderful way to spend all his free time – he’s set up a public library right outside his home and he regularly hands out books to poor children for free.
Hernando’s little library is very relevant to the society he lives in, where many children drop out of school to support their families. He says that he set up the library to honor his parents and the only inheritance they left him – an insatiable love for learning. “As a Filipino who didn’t have the opportunity to go to other places, I wanted to do something before I turned 70 that would help other Filipinos,” he added. “And books are my means to do that, so I can bring people joy, and help them not feel left behind. It seems to me that the books are speaking to me. That’s why it multiplies like that. The books are telling me they want to be read… they want to be passed around.”
Readers are allowed to take as many books as they like, and return them whenever they please. According to Hernando, “The only rule is that there are no rules.”
Hernando started this unique initiative in the year 2000, as a ‘reading corner’ stacked with his own childhood books. You’d expect all his books to have disappeared in no time, but he actually ended up gathering more books, and the corner slowly evolved into an informal library with thousands of titles. He regularly receives donations of large boxes filled with books, without him even needing to ask. Every inch of his home is covered with books that he gives away for free, but more books always seem to make their way to his place.
According to Al Jazeera reporter Marga Ortigas, Manila has about 50 public libraries, but they aren’t easily accessible to everyone. “There are fees to be paid and strict rules to comply with before a library card is issued,” she said. “None of that applies here.” So Hernando’s reading corner plays an important role in the lives of children like 14-year-old Stella Monsanto, whose parents can no longer afford to send her to school. She helps her family earn a living by scavenging rubbish, and spends her free time reading books from the library.
“When you read, you forget time,” she said. “Because the pages take you away. And you can learn about other things through these books.”
Hernando is interested in expanding the concept of his library outside of Manila as well. In 2012, The BBC reported that he’d given several boxes of books to a man who was trying to set up something similar in Bicol province. He also helped a friend who wanted to set up a “book boat” library to serve the islands of Sulu and Basilan.
“You don’t do justice to these books if you put them in a cabinet or a box,” he said. “A book should be used and reused. It has life, it has a message. As a book caretaker, you become a full man.”
Hernando Guanlao’s efforts to improve poor children’s education remind us of other extraordinary individuals that we’ve featured on OC this year, like Kamal Parmar, an Indian factory worker who has set up an outdoor school for slum kids in Ahmedabad, or Saber Hosseini, the Afghan teacher who turned his bicycle into a mobile library and delivers books to kids in remote villages.
Photos: Reading Club 2000/Facebook