Filipina Teenager in San Francisco spearheads book-sharing project for her young kababayans

In a country where books and magazines are luxuries for the common man, the recent gift of books to Filipino children sent by a young Filipina and her friends who study and live in California, is a most welcome act of generosity.

Heading this most noteworthy undertaking is Madison “Maddie”  Evangelista, a straight-A student at the prestigious St. Ignatius College Preparatory in San Francisco, who solicited books of interest to children and teenagers.

 Maddie was initially inspired over the summer when she began teaching English to young Chinese children in Chinatown in San Francisco where English was their second language. What began as just a way to earn community service hours towards her high school graduation quickly became a passion project for her.

She thought of her mother country, the Philippines, and wondered what she could do to help its needy youth. While brainstorming ideas with her friends, she  called her grandmother, entrepreneur-civic worker Maria Lourdes “Baby” Antonio, to ask what she could do to help Filipino children. Immediately, her Lola Baby replied, “Send them books and magazines because that’s what they lack in many barangays.”

This was all the inspiration Maddie needed to figure out a way to get books to the Philippines. She quickly began reaching out to friends, family, and anyone that would listen, asking them to donate any used books or magazines they were willing to get rid of. She immediately began recruiting donors and, in a quick turn of events, quickly amassed hundreds of books to send to the Philippines. This was only after the first week!

Maddie asked her father, James “Jay” Evangelista, to help arrange the transport of the books to the Philippines. Jay, in turn, sought the help of his cousin Eugene Antonio and aunt Fely Mariano Sanchez, owners of Manila Box, a shipping company specializing in transporting freight from the US to the Philippines. Within a week, the first box of 150 books was being picked up to be sent to the Philippines.

Within a month, five boxes containing another 700 books would be on its way to the Philippines with more books continuing to pile up in the Evangelistas’ garage each week. This shipment is expected to arrive before the Christmas holidays, which will be a pleasant surprise for the beneficiaries. The initial book shipments will benefit the children of St. Joseph Home for Special Children in Barangay San Jose, Tarlac City, headed by Sr. Leoncia Mateo. Maddie’s Lola Baby and her Assumption and St. Theresa’s College friends have been supporting this orphanage for a few years now, having been introduced to Sr. Leoncia Mateo by Dr. Restie and Chit de Ocampo of Tarlac, Baby’s loyal sponsors and partners in her Starkey Hearing Missions in Tarlac.

Also to receive the books are schoolchildren in the municipality of Anao in Tarlac. Mayor Lita Aquino of Moncada introduced them to administrator Rowena Apolto of Amor Village in Anao, which then Tarlac First District Representative and now Philippine Special Envoy to the UNICEF, Monica Louise “Nikki” Teodoro, established in 2007.

Book shipments have also been earmarked for the Hooked on Books (HOB) Library 12 in the barangay of Cabbo, Penablanca, Tuguegarao City, Cagayan. Looking forward to receiving these gifts of knowledge and literacy are Tita Tiongson Olalia (STC HS ‘66 classmate) and daughter Atty. Viva Guzman who, with her doctor husband, settled in the latter’s hometown in Tuguegarao and started the HOB Library.

MaDdie’s Lola Baby (right) with her Starskey Hearing Mission partner, Dr. Conky Quizon.

Happiest person

Of course, the happiest person upon the arrival of the first box was Maddie’s lola, Baby Antonio, a volunteer civic worker who brought the Starkey Hearing Mission in 2014 with Dr. Conky Quizon to the province of Tarlac. With her extensive experience in community work, she was aware of the absence of “reading centers” in remote areas, and became concerned about the literacy/comprehension problem of Filipino children not only in Tarlac but also in other parts of the Philippines. She welcomed the opportunity and was very excited to work with her eldest apo on this project.

To widen the reach of this book distribution project, Baby sought the help of her friends and former classmates from Assumption and St. Theresa’s College. Forming her core group are Cita Tuason, Ditas Reyes and Josie Bautista David.

Lending their support are Cecile Ongpauco, Chary Locsin, Charrie Pacheco, Leonor B. Locsin, Clarita Chander, Wyona Patalinghug  and close friends in Tarlac, Elsie Gamueta and Ason Fronda, all regular Starkey mission volunteers thru the years. Having learned of Baby and Maddie’s latest cause-oriented endeavor, they and the regular Tarlac Starkey Hearing Mission Sponsors have offered assistance such as storage facilities while awaiting distribution of the books, delivery to the barangays and most importantly, ample space that will serve as reading centers.

Baby explained that through this book solicitation and distribution project that her granddaughter Maddie initiates: “Filipino children, along with their lolas and mothers can learn to read English books and magazines. In the process, they will acquire knowledge at the same time sharpen their English reading comprehension and speaking ability.”

Madie’s Lola Baby with her Assumption and St. Theresa’s classmates visiting the Saint Joseph Home for Special Children, a beneficiary of the book project

Reading centers

Furthermore, she explained that the reading centers, Silid Aklatan, that will be put up by Tarlac sponsors also welcome donations such as used or even damaged computers and laptops, and educational gadgets (since they are cheaper to repair here in the Philippines), art supplies, and supplementary literacy skills development kits and other educational materials. 

“The young people who update their gadgets with the latest models can always send to us the ones they have no need for anymore. I assure them that there are many young Filipinos who will be happy to receive and use them,” Baby said.
 She clarified that “we are not accepting cash donations, only educational materials.”

Meanwhile, Maddie continues to inspire and recruit her classmates and friends to help in her endeavor. Along with two other close friends, she has started a Social Club in St. Ignatius called the Global Reading Project with the mission of spreading books to underprivileged children around the world. In so doing, several are following her lead and will send books to their native countries as well. The club has grown to 75 members and they are planning to have a large book drive in the near future.

With the summer break over and Maddie is busy once again in school both for academics and team sports, she makes time to teach English to children in the evenings via Zoom. And of course, she works closely with her Lola Baby to assure the shipment of books throughout the year. She is looking forward to coming home to the Philippines during her next summer break and visiting each learning center to meet up with and read to the children and beneficiaries of her book project.