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Bicolano librarian strengthens education access in isolated communities

By Mari-An Santos, Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Antonio L. Morada started his college enrollment day at Bicol University with no chosen career track.

His teacher encouraged the book-lover to sign up for Library Science.

Now the 44-year-old librarian, working with the Department of Education’s Region V, has been named one of the Outstanding Public Officials and Employees of the Civil Service Commission’s Honor Awards Program for 2022.

“Beyond the call of duty” is an understatement for the scope of Morada’s efforts to promote education in one of the country’s poorest regions.

The Albay-based librarian combined his love of learning and an active lifestyle to lead his family and fellow bikers into focusing on both the intellectual and physical needs of students and their families.

But it took colleagues a few years of pushing before Morada consented to be nominated for the prestigious annual tilt.

“I didn’t want people to think that I was doing charity to become famous and be awarded,” he told Rappler in a mix of English and Tagalog.

He agreed when friends and peers told him that winning would mean more supporters for their advocacy and a broader service reach.

Family and beyond

Married for 15 years, Morada looks at his family – wife Ais and their three children aged 14, 12, and 10 years old – as the foundation of charity work.

The whole family pitches in for repacking and distribution work. Service and family life go together.

On Christmas Day 2020, they first went to deliver a bicycle to a beneficiary and then went on a family outing.

“Maganda po na tumutulong ang mga anak ko, dahil tumatatak na po sa isip nila ang pagtulong sa kapwa,” Morada told Rappler in a phone interview. (It’s good that my children help so that charitable work is ingrained in them.)

Over the years, Morada, who rides an NMax, found like-minded individuals who were as passionate about service as they were about motorcycle rides.

In 2019, the Alliance of Riders with Advocacy for Learners (ARAL) was established, with Morada as chairman. They have since launched Ride for a Cause trips to different parts of Bicol.

There are many components of Project ARAL.

Through Shelter for Learners, ARAL provides a roof over the heads of students and their families. So far, they have built new shelters in Sitio Tambac, Maonon, Ligao City; Libod, Camalig; Calayucay, Sto. Domingo; Talahib, Daraga; Cagbagong, Legazpi City and Esperanza, Sorsogon.

They have also renovated homes that are in disrepair.

Bikes for Learners helps students who live far from their schools with their transportation to lessen the odds of dropping out.

ARAL also has the Transportation Allowance for Scholars to subsidize other students’ transport costs.

Groceries for Learners provides food packs containing rice, noodles, canned food, and other groceries to 25 learners monthly.

The group also has the School Supplies for Learners and Uniforms for Learners components.

One beneficiary has already graduated from college, Morada said.

Learning realities

The Dangal ng Bayan awardee goes around different schools, learning about the needs of students, teachers, and their families.

Groceries for Learners was borne out of the knowledge that many students come to school hungry.

The first Bikes for Learners beneficiary was a student who Antonio came upon on the street, trying to fix a bike he borrowed to go to school.

Uniforms and School Supplies for Learners stemmed from learning that some students with limited resources faced bullying.

Morada and friends were still looking for other ways to improve students’ access to safe, supportive, and motivating learning environments when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country.

“Sa panahon po ng pandemic, ang bahay ang nagsilbing classroom at library ng ating mga mag-aaral,” said Morada. “Base sa pananaliksik, importante po ang maayos na kapaligiran sa pag-aaral.”

(During the pandemic, the home was transformed into a classroom and library. Research has found that one’s environment is crucial for learning.)

In November 2020, Morada spearheaded a charity ride in the aftermath of Typhoon Rolly (Goni), which affected close to 400,000 persons in Bicol.

Riders from Camarines Sur, Sorsogon, and Albay participated in the Bangon Bicolandia Relief Operations. They distributed food packs to more than 3,000 families.

After this, Morada’s group launched more Bangon Bicolandia distribution events.

Library of kindness

ARAL’s charity rides, varying in size and scope, occur almost weekly.

Their charity work is not confined to the region.

They went to Batangas after the Taal Volcano erupted in 2019 and sent aid to communities affected by Typhoon Odette (Rai) in 2021.

Morada, of course, has never forgotten his roots.

Located beside their home, The Library of Kindness is a project in development.

“Nabuo po ito dahil librarian po ako, gusto ko rin na related sa akin ang ibang charity ko.“

They hold storytelling sessions and provide help to children needing assistance.

A range of students visit the library from nearby Camalig South Central School, Camalig National High School, and Daraga Community College.

The Moradas make the library accessible on Saturdays and Sundays and weekday afternoons, after their school duties.

“Gusto natin na matulungan ang mag-aaral na makatapos para mabigyan sila ng kakayahang harapin ang mga pagsubok sa buhay,” said Morada. “Alam po natin na kapag ang isang tao ay nakatapos ng pag-aaral, mas malaki ang oportunidad na magkaroon ng magandang trabaho,”

(We want to help students finish their education to equip them to face the world. When someone has a good education, more opportunities are made available to them to find gainful employment.)”

Morada describes ARAL’s objective as People Development/People Empowerment.

“Nangangarap po tayo na ang mga library user natin pagdating ng panahon ay magiging produktibo na miyembro ng komunidad at may magandang pananaw. Pag sinabi po natin na produktibo, ibig sabihin ay may matatag na trabaho, responsible na miyembro ng pamilya, at higit sa lahat may kakayahang tumulong sa ating kapwa,” he explained.

(We hope that library users–all learners–will, someday, be productive members of society and have a good outlook on life. Productive, meaning, they will have gainful employment and be responsible family members, and most of all, will be capable of helping others. We want them to have many opportunities to improve their lives.)

Morada asked for a mention of his frequent collaborators: Angels Helping Hands International, Steelmax (in Silang, Cavite), Generous Triskelion, General Ola Eagles Club (GOEC), Mayon Triskelion Riders’ Club, Anduyog Riders’ Club, Association of Road Advocates Nurturing Growth through Knowledge Action Discipline Advancement (ARANGKADA-Bicol), United Bicolano Riders’ Alliance, and Adler Women’s Mission.

He also thanked his colleagues at the DepEd ROV office for their support – from financial contributions to providing time to help put together food packs and join in the distribution to communities.

He expressed gratitude to regional director Gilbert Sadsad, assistant regional director Ronel Al Firmo, Curriculum and Learning Management Division (CLMD) chief Ankie Bulalacao and colleagues in the unit, the Philippine Librarians Association, Inc.-Bicol Region Librarians Council and National Board of Trustees.

Morada’s work has a long way to go. Long-term goals include livelihood training programs and building a boarding house for less fortunate learners.

As his DEpEd Bicol peers told him, success can bring in more supporters. Those interested in helping Bicolano students and their communities can contact Morada.


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