A Child Champion in the Philippines uses books as therapy to reach out to children and their families in the urban poor communities of Cebu City. This unique approach was born out of her love for books and the good news from the Bible.
Children’s book author Dr. Seuss knew the value of reading.
“The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you will go,” Dr. Suess wrote in his popular book, “I Can Read With My Eyes Shut.” Most people know that reading books can take you anywhere you can imagine. Reading also means gaining knowledge and wisdom that can lead to success.
Reading also can bring healing through an approach called bibliotherapy.
Bibliotherapy refers to the practice of using books to help people cope with problems such as emotional conflict, mental illness, or changes in their lives, according to John T. Pardeck, author of “Bibliotherapy: An Innovative Approach to Helping Children.”
His book focuses on alternative ways teachers or mentors can provide interventions in children’s lives by giving them books they can relate to.
After kids read a book or are read to, the teacher engages in related follow-up activities such as creative writing, arts and crafts, discussions, and role-playing.
The art of bibliotherapy is exactly what a Child Champion in Cebu, Philippines, is practicing, reaching out to kids living in poverty in her community.
Ma. Lorna Eguia, a librarian for 26 years and director of Sapangdaku Hope Center in Cebu, advocates bibliotherapy to reach out to poor communities and promote literacy and God’s Word to children to bring hope and life transformations.
Yet it was more than her passion for reading that led her to start bibliotherapy, she says.
“It was destiny. I did not choose this, but God led me here,” Ma. Lorna says.
Books Help Kids Cope With Trauma
The bibliotherapy project started in 2013 when Ma. Lorna and her husband, Pastor Joey Eguia, also a librarian, founded a program called Books in Bags, in which a mobile library fills bags with books to deliver to communities to promote literacy among children and families.
The program was in response to declining reading habits among Filipino children and to raise awareness of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.
The books the Eguiases carried promoted good values and faith-forming lessons like Bible stories to bring change in the lives of kids in poverty who were not exposed to reading at an early age due to the absence of books at home.
Their program involved storytelling, poetry reading and writing, arts and crafts, music, and games.
Books in Bags eventually evolved into creative ways to promote bibliotherapy. For instance, when Typhoon Haiyan and a destructive earthquake hit the Philippines in 2013, Ma. Lorna and Pastor Joey brought Books in Bags to evacuation centers to help children cope with the trauma of these disasters.
Typhoon Haiyan was one of the strongest typhoons in Philippines history and brought a high death toll and massive destruction.
The couple also promoted bibliotherapy at summer literacy festivals. They also promoted bibliotherapy when the oldest library in Cebu City celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2019, and 100 children from the Hope Center where the Eguiases worked were invited to celebrate through storytelling, making crafts, making pusu (rice cakes), and sharing music.
The event was also an opportunity to call on volunteers to become champions for these children. Ma. Lorna and Pastor Joey’s children invited their classmates to volunteer for these activities.
“It’s not true that children do not like reading,” says Ma. Lorna. “It’s instinctive when they are provided with books.”
Bibliotherapy activities also led children to other activities in the Hope Center like medical checkups and eating nutritious food.
Rising Above Pandemic Hardships
With a strong purpose of promoting literacy and spreading God’s love to the children through bibliotherapy, the Eguia family and other Child Champions in Sapangdaku Hope Center rose above the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Help OneChild bring hope to an “invisible” group of people, the Badjao, in the Philippines:
Even though there were limitations in face-to-face gatherings during the pandemic, Sapangdaku Hope Center was able to continue their developmental programs using online platforms. They conducted weekly online storytelling and games over the web-based application, Zoom. They called this activity Hope Story Hour as it teaches children Bible-based lessons and activities.
Since most children do not have access to gadgets such as laptops and cellphones, Hope Center volunteers gathered some of the kids in a house or under a makeshift tent and set up a gadget for these children to share so they could join an activity.
Ma. Lorna also set up a garden library which she and other Child Champions used as a place to connect online with children and their families by encouraging them with Bible verses, sharing experiences, and sending them smiles and virtual hugs.
The connection also inspired families to set up personal spaces for reading and relaxation in their homes.
There were also online group gatherings for prayers, cell groups for boys and youths, and book studies for both children and caregivers.
Books in Bags Become Bags of Hope
Widespread lockdowns during the pandemic created a serious economic downturn that adversely affected poor communities.
Most parents who are day laborers lost income when construction and other companies ceased operations. So, Sapangdaku Hope Center distributed Bags of Hope that contained not only reading and learning materials, but also food like rice, chicken, canned goods, and instant noodles. They also distributed vitamins to boost the children’s immune systems.
When some restrictions were lifted and people could start gathering again, Child Champions organized a Reading Camp on a nearby mountainside where kids experienced camping, including sleeping in a tent, sharing stories, and roasting marshmallows.
The children also enjoyed storytelling, games, arts and crafts, and slime making. It was a day full of fun and new experiences that surely eased the pandemic anxieties these children felt – which is the purpose of bibliotherapy.
“Children did not know that reading is infused with these activities. It was just free flowing. They chose any activity they love to do,” Ma. Lorna says.
Bibliotherapy Heals, Inspires, and Transforms
Ma. Lorna believes that reading books can be therapeutic and deliver important messages to kids in hard places.
“Bibliotherapy is always on my mind and heart,” she says. “But at the back of my mind, it ministers to them.”
One mother shared during their book study of Paglaum (which means hope): “I will not worry anymore, because God is with me and my family, in the midst of this very hard times in [the] pandemic!”
In the community, the Child Champions can now also mobilize families to join environmental causes like river preservation and cleanup drives. Ma. Lorna shares the importance of sharing experiences and learning as part of bibliotherapy.
“Reading is not enough; we also need to talk about it. This is our way of sharing who we are and what we do in OneChild,” she says.
With the efforts of Ma. Lorna using bibliotherapy to raise next-generation leaders, the former beneficiaries of Books in Bags are now volunteers who are leading small children to become leaders, too.
This Is Hope in Hard Places
Ma. Lorna Eguia is the epitome of a Child Champion with a holistic vision for the children and her community. Bibliotherapy not only addresses a child’s cognitive development, but it also positively affects his or her physical, socio-emotional, and spiritual development.
“As a Christian, I want to make an impact in nation transformation by bringing books and the message of the good news to children,” she says.
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