IRIGA CITY ? A big white truck brought the children of Mt. Asog to the city that Sunday morning, under the watchful eye of their tribal chieftain.
Shod in slippers, they gathered at the newly refurbished city library to listen to tales promoting proper nutrition and healthy living. As the storytellers put it, reading could be the key to freeing children of indigenous communities from a lifetime of being ?marginalized.?
Some 60 schoolchildren, mostly Aetas belonging to the Agta-Tabangon tribe, attended an Inquirer Read-Along session here last week.
It marked the second time the award-winning project reached out to Aetas, with the first session held in Bataan last March.
?I will stop eating junk food,? John Paul Manzanal, 13, a freshman from Zeferino Arroyo High School, declared after hearing ?Kan Magutom si Buchok,? a story written and read out during the session by Frank Peñones Jr.
The story is about a young boy who finally changes his diet?rejecting junk food and gorging on fruits and vegetables?after having a ?bad dream? in which he found himself with a big snake coiled around his body, a metaphor for hunger. The experience left the boy with a terrible stomachache when he woke.
An Iriga-based scholar and journalist, Peñones recited his award-winning work in the Bicol-Central dialect ?so the children can easily understand.?
?Kan Magutom,? which won first place in the children?s literature category of the 2005 Premio Tomas Arejola Para sa Literaturang Bikolnon, also deals with hunger as experienced by children around the world.
Peñones said his work was also inspired by a piece of folklore which holds that the spirit of young children who go to bed hungry tends to leave the body during sleep to look for food and runs the risk of being trapped somewhere, like in a rice kettle.
?Who among you also go hungry like Buchok?? the author asked his audience. The children pointed to some of their classmates.
Peñones said reading stories to children could go a long way in instilling good values.
It takes a generation
?I believe, as a saying goes, that it only takes one generation to change society. Telling stories close to the heart of the children, especially regarding the Bicol situation, would help make a difference in their future,? Peñones said.
?We should develop a culture of reading especially among the children. Those who read will know how to survive. Reading to children is giving them a sense of hope,? he said.
Another storyteller, Judith Balares-Salamat, a language lecturer at Camarines Sur State Agricultural College, read the story ?Ha-ha-hatsinggg!? by Dr. Luis Gatmaitan.
The story explains how the cold virus spreads from one person to another, and how simple things like hand-washing and handkerchiefs can help contain the spread of the illness.
Balares-Salamat said the story sought to correct misconceptions among children (and parents) regarding illnesses and their causes. It?s the virus, not getting wet in the rain, that causes colds, she said, citing Gatmaitan?s example.
?I learned a lot here,? said Flordeliza G. Galvez, 13, an Aeta from Bicol Trinity Mission Church based in Barangay San Nicolas.
?Now I know why I should take a bath every day,? added Jefferson Manzanal, 9, from Hansel and Gretel School.
?Reading stories to indigenous persons, who have limited access to mass media, could help raise their awareness and add to their knowledge,? said Balares-Salamat, who also writes an opinion column in the Bikol Reporter.
?Doing so would help them assimilate into society and broaden their horizons. In effect, they would (cease to) be marginalized,? she said.
The read-along session was sponsored by the Iriga City government and Bacoor Teletech Outdoor and Sual Powerplant Mountaineering Club.
The session was among the community activities organized by the outdoor club, including a medical and dental mission, feeding program, tree-planting, and cleanup drives, under its Tabang Asog (Help Asog) program in the city. Jonas Cabiles Soltes, Inquirer Southern Luzon