Love Reading? You must go to Donsol and be inspired.

October 02, 2016 Travel

There are many reasons to go to Donsol, Sorsogon.  You can interact with the whale sharks when it is in season. You can also go to be awed by the fireflies in one of its evening river cruises. If you love reading, you can also go and visit San Jose Elementary School in Barangay San Jose and meet Teacher Ryan Homan, a reading innovator.

I am an avid reader myself and being one, I love visiting bookstores, especially when I am abroad, and reposting pictures of libraries from across the globe.  I always tag them as a bucket list. 

But, never have I imagined that a reading center in a nondescript far-flung barangay would amaze me as much Beast’s library in Beauty and the Beast.

Meeting Teacher Ryan

I didn’t actually google reading destinations, spotted San Jose Elementary School, and then booked a flight to Legaspi City.  It was a work assignment.

I was tasked to interview teachers from different parts of the country by one of my clients, Bato Balani Foundation.  It is part of the process for choosing the honorees of The Many Faces of the Teachers, an advocacy campaign that recognizes remarkable teachers whose spirit of excellence and compassion made an impact in their communities and students’ lives.

Teacher Ryan was the last on my list, and I had already gone around the country interviewing teachers from Manila, Olongapo, Laguna, Leyte, and Zamboanga Sibugay.

I was told that before his interventions, San Jose Elementary in Barangay San Jose had 28 non-readers and numerous slow readers. Students were frequently absent because of the weather, when they need to help their parents during harvest season, and because of the distance of the school from the students’ houses.  Teachers were mostly reporting only three to four days a week.

These changed when Teacher Ryan decided to return to his hometown.  It was not easy, though.  He had unconventional methods.

Journey to San Jose

We flew from Manila to Legaspi then stayed overnight at Nirvana Resort, one of the best places to stay in Donsol because it has an overlooking view of the sea and the nearby barangays. 

We were lucky because the owners of the resort are familiar with Barangay San Jose and they helped us arranged for our habal-habal ride.  From the resort, it was still about an hour of land travel. 

It was an interesting back ride on the habal-habal because we got to see more of Donsol’s countryside.  During my previous visit to Donsol, it was mostly the hotel and the tourist spots.  My excitement peaked when we got to our jump-off point, which is one of town’s lesser known rivers, but equally enchanting. 

We walked a bit to the school; our path snaking around the little humble community. It looked quiet, except for few people huddled in corners.  It was not a long walk, and people were kind to point us to the right direction.

A Reading Theme Park

At the school, we were welcomed by a “Reading Festival” arch and colorful buntings.  Teacher Ryan was waiting for us there.  He led us to his classroom, and after we settled in, I requested for a tour of what looked like a reading-based amusement park.

They have a reading bed, a comfortable space to develop the love for reading.  They also have another space that encourages kids to love reading – the reading garden. 

In another corner, they have reading stations, including Marungko Station, Full Station, Spin and Read, four Pictures / One Word Station, Reading Word Hunt, Word Recognition, and Reading Bingo. These are all fun ways to engage students in reading.  There are also set-ups for a mini theater and puppet show.  It was a wonderland for readers.

Let me just point out that these are permanent structures, and not made to impress me as an interviewer.   The decors are handmade by the school’s “parent-teachers,” and not store bought. 

The “parent-teachers” are one of Teacher Ryan’s innovations.  Early on his assignment at San Jose Elementary School, he got the parents involved, and made them responsible also for the children’s education.  There was reluctance, especially since some of the parents did not even finish high school.  But, he was able to train these “parent-teachers” into becoming his reading partners.

Aside from the parent-teachers, he also pioneered in his school the concept of “student-teachers.”

A Community Effort

With his “students-teachers,” we went around the community pushing a little cart, filled with books, which Teacher Ryan brings the community after class. 

Along the way, we passed by a community reading center and looked into one of the home-based reading centers. 

It’s amazing how Teacher Ryan was able to infect the community with his love for reading.  I was also impressed by the community members because they not only gave precious spaces in their little homes and allocated part of their meager resources for this, they also have painstakingly drawn, cut, and pasted all the artwork.

Going beyond

As if these programs were not enough, Teacher Ryan also has “balsa-basa,” a bamboo raft that goes to houses near the river as part of Teacher Ryan’s reading program. Sometimes, the students who reside by the river cannot attend classes and miss their reading times, so Teacher Ryan brings the books to them. 

We had a little cruise and we were joined by some of his “student-teachers” who shared with us some of their happy memories with Teacher Ryan.  It was actually tempting to dive with the other kids who chose to swim in those verdant wonders surrounded by lush thickets, rather than ride the balsa.

Then, we went on a trek to one of Teacher Ryan’s student’s house.  Teacher Ryan told me his “walk for knowledge,” is another similar program for out-of-school youths who live in the mountains.

Beside the house, under a big tree, I joined Teacher Ryan and the students for a little storytelling session. It rained as soon as we finished and we all had to take shelter in Teacher Ryan’s student’s house.  The kids continued reading, while I enjoyed watching Teacher Ryan, the kids, and the rain. 

A Reading Hero
There is really nothing a motivated person like Teacher Ryan cannot do.

I have been told that people really come to Donsol now to also see how a little community is now becoming the reading capital of the country.  There is really no place in the country, or in the world, who advocates reading as much as this formerly nondescript barangay.  And mind you, with very little budget.

And probably more are on their way, because Teacher Ryan has been chosen as one of The Many Faces of the Teachers 2016 honorees.

Needless to add, Teacher Ryan is also a storybook author.

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