Books not War Project

Assalamu Alaykum! (Peace be upon you all)

Let me talk about the recent successful project we had just this June. It was coined "Books not War: A 'give-a-book' project for the children of Sulu". I will share in this humble post how the project started, how we planned it, the struggles we experienced and finally, how we reached the finish line, Alhamdulillah! 




It started with a Message


Last October 2015, I received a message from a reader of this blog (and my other blog Tausug 101) telling me about her plans. She organized this project where they would collect used books to be sent to less fortunate children in the far-flung areas. By then, they already created an FB Page entitled "Books not War", so we kept that title until the very end. And of all the provinces in the country, they chose Sulu to be the beneficiary. It was indeed a simple yet very generous act of kindness from their part and I was really touched. Maa sha Allah! How wonderful it is to have such people with kind hearts! May Allah reward them with His bountiful blessings, Ameen.

So yes, I cannot and will not claim the sole credit for the success of this project. For it all started from there: A group of friends lead by a woman with a kind heart. To those people we owe our gratitude for the initiation of this project. Magsukul tuud kaniyu!

"Why Sulu?" I asked Ms Reann Dannug (or Andie Yan in FB, the one who messaged me). And she simply replied:

"I don't know. I don't know why pero, my heart is in your place (Sulu). I want the world to know that Sulu is not always 'bad' as most people see it in the news."

This was the main motivation for the creation of the project: We have a few people who wanted to prove to the world that we are actually fighting a greater 'war': The war against ignorance. The war for literacy and education. Education, not war. Books, not bullets. Books, not war.

So how am I supposed to say "No" to that? *teary eyes*

Where it all started....


Months of Planning


It was then that I was officially added to the group. I became an admin of the FB Page and was introduced to another core mover of this project, sir Michael Cuaderno, a former soldier and who also created the FB page. It was later known as BnW an abbreviation of "Books not War".

Of course, every project requires tedious planning and BnW was not an exception. We had to decide on how to collect the books, who will be the point person, etc. Should we limit them to books only or can we accept monetary donations? Who will be our beneficiaries? And how do we bring those books/supplies we collect here to Sulu? These are just a few of the many problems we had to solve back then. Honestly it was hard at first, but having a few dedicated people working together and through prayers, Alhamdulillah we were able to find solutions one at a time. (Read this: We haven't even met in person yet! We discussed all these online!)

There were a few months when all of us became so busy with our own lives (I am still a medical student after all, I had to remind myself that very often), so there were days that our progress slowed down. But our definite target was already fixed: Send whatever we have at hand to Sulu by summer (May) of 2016 before school begins in June.

Among our first posters in the page

The Kids of Pandami


Being the guy who came from Sulu, I was given the gargantuan task of finding the first beneficiary of this project. I never really had a prospect at first and I was already asking some friends in Sulu as to which school would benefit most from this. We all have these criteria in mind as to how we choose the place: First, it should be a functioning primary school; second, a school that is less fortunate than others, i.e. it is situated in a far-flung area that are often neglected; and third, it should be relatively safe.

It took me a few weeks to finally decide on one school: the Southern Philippines Islamic Institute Foundation (SPIIF)-Pandami Branch in Pandami, Sulu. It is a make-shift school wherein the land and the buildings were donated by a generous family for the small community in Niyug-Niyug, Pandami. What do I mean by "make-shift"? The first of their classrooms was once a storage room ("bodega") where coconut husks and other farm products were stored before being brought to the market. That said family decided to make a better way to use that room and transformed it into a classroom for kids to learn how to read and write. It all started there.

Yes. This is their first classroom. The Bodega-turned-classroom way back 2 years ago. There were some improvements on my last visit.

Inside that classroom are these little angels. Here saying their closing prayers (Surah Alfatiha) with their teacher before going home.

Years later, they applied and got affiliated with a private institution with the same name in a nearby island, Siasi. Although considered "private", all the facilities were donated by a few generous donors. Their enrollment fees? Nada. It's all free, as long as the kids are coming from that small community and their parents are willing to help bring their child to school every day. The teachers' salaries I believe were managed by the institution we mentioned.

As of this year, they now have 4 levels: from Kindergarden to Grade 3. They only have 3 classrooms shared by more or less 50 kids ages 4 to 7 years old. The last time I was able to visit (around 2 years ago), they only have 2 classrooms while the third room was still under construction. This school was nearby my grandparents' house in Pandami, so I am somehow part of the neighborhood.
They also participate in such programs in nearby schools. Photo sent by their teacher.

With the Kindergarten and Grade 1 pupils of SPIIF. 2 yrs ago. Now they have grown up so fast! (see photos below)
This was taken inside of the newly built classroom.

I presented this to the group and we all agreed. We then talked with the acting Principal and they were grateful to be chosen for this small project we started. And the rest, as they say, was history.

And blessings flowed like a river...


After finally deciding on the school to send our books, we started upgrading our FB Page, because that was our only source of spreading the news! haha. So we started designing our logo (the first photo above), then went online. Maa sha Allah, the support we received from interested people was overwhelming!


The first few batches of received donations.

We started receiving numbers of messages and pledges. Some where asking how they can help. There were already books sent to us (we even received tons of College books even though we kept them that our target beneficiaries were no less than THIRD GRADERS! haha). And the most touching of all, we received a total of Php 23,500.00 to cover for the other school supplies and the shipping fees of the books. Volunteers from Manila and Zamboanga also helped out in collecting books in their areas. We could never do it without them.


Volunteers from Zamboanga City on an event.

The books we were able to collect from Zamboanga City. Magsukul!


Some interesting books that the kids will surely love :) Thank you po Dr. Ismael and friends!


By May 2016, we were able to collect dozens of books, bought school bags and school supplies for the kids and everything is ready to be shipped to Sulu. Alhamdulillah, an idea that once started as a dream was now turning into reality. :')

The way back home

June 2016. I had a 2-week break before internship begins. So I took this one-time chance to personally deliver the books to Pandami. Most of the books and school supplies were already delivered through a local courier (Maraming salamat, LBC! haha), but they can only send them to Jolo, the capital town of Sulu. The rest of the way to the kids in Pandami? I had to bring them all the way there by boat.

Here's a rough estimate on how one can reach SPIIF in Niyug-niyug, Pandami, Sulu. From Jolo, one must ride a 6-hour trip by commercial marine vessel to Siasi, Sulu, Then from Siasi island, you have to ride a boat (around 20 minutes) to Pandami island. From the Hambilan Port in Pandami, it would take another 30-minute ride by Tricycle to reach Niyug-Niyug where the school is. I am very much thankful for the recent development of roads in Pandami. Way back years ago, going to different barangays was a definite struggle. Alhamdulillah, my trip to Niyug-niyug was smooth and fun :)

From Jolo to Siasi. 

Choosing the boat. From Siasi to Pandami.

On our way to Pandami Island (in background)


Ready for another ride?
(Another donor donated the Lawanit to be used as the kids' chalkboard.

Thanking the past government for the new concrete roads making things easier for everone, Alhamdulillah.
Notice that there are no households nearby throughout the stretch of this road. That's a usual scene here in Pandami.

And finally, it reached them


I do not have much words to say anymore. Let the photos here tell you what happened :)


Touchdown. Arriving at Niyug-niyug. Some of the kids were already waiting for us :)

Okay kids, the first ones to arrive will have the opportunity to pick the color of backpack you want.


Teachers and parents alike helped us in sorting out the items before distribution.
 It was chaotic, but fun.

The kids enjoying their new books :)


The author with the SPIIF kids, their teachers (at the back) and
 Hdja. Nisah Sampang-Sahial, the acting Principal (in front, third from right).

Marching orders.
The happy kids of SPIIF showing off their new school bags filled with school supplies and books.
They are now ready for their first day in school!



A final message of thanks

Again, in behalf of the Books not War team, we are very much grateful to all those donors, volunteers and supporters. For without all of your efforts guys, we could never make it here. I can no longer name you all, but please know that we are very thankful. Magsukul tuud kaniyu! And most importantly, without Allah's blessings, of giving us strength and compassion to help, we won't be able to make this humble project a success. Innalhamdulillah! (Indeed, all praise be to God!)

What this project taught me?
Making things possible do not really require great numbers of people or resources. It simply needs a few number of dedicated people who will never falter even when faced with the greatest obstacles along the way. What mattered most is that deep in their hearts, they have that burning love and compassion to help those in need, regardless of their backgrounds or differences.

Will there be a second leg of this project? A Books not War, Part 2? A lot of people were asking us.
We don't know yet. As of the moment, let us say we are looking forward to more similar projects to come. :) See you by then in sha Allah?


#BooksnotWar
Checkout and like our FB Page: Books not War

Comments

  1. This is a very inspiring story Ahmad. I'm very proud of you.

    ReplyDelete

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