NANAY SAYS: Petrichor and Basadours

By: Cris Evert B. Lato-Ruffolo March 09,2019 - 07:20 AM

Cris Evert Lato-Ruffolo

It was not the place I wanted to be in on a Wednesday morning, January 4, 2012. I was still on a vacation from my job in a non-government organization and I very much wanted to spend the rest of the day at home catching up on a few more episodes of the American medical drama series,  House, M.D.

But I was invited by Cebu City librarian Rosario “Ruth” Chua to be in her workplace to talk about the formation of an advocacy group.

The invitation letter that I received from Maam Ruth was quite vague. I did not exactly know what the advocacy group is going to be, what causes are we going to push, or why are we doing it in the first place. I only knew that I was there because Maam Ruth knew that I was active in the Inquirer Read-along program of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. I was also a familiar face because I have been a frequent library visitor — and then later, a volunteer — during my college days.

The Cebu City Public Library that you know now is nowhere close to the library that I used to step into several years ago.

When you enter the main door, a musty smell almost always welcomed you. It was a comforting smell that sent a signal to my brain that I am in a library and thus, I should keep my voice low and focus on reading and studying. It elicited the same emotions when I go out of the house when it is raining after a long period of drought and I breathe in a certain earthy scent when rain falls on dry soil.

The word for this “old, musty smell” is petrichor, a term coined in 1964 by Australian researchers and geochemists Isabel Joy Bear and Richard G. Thomas, who were studying the smells of wet weather. Bear and Thomas explained that the smell is a combination of plant oils and geosmin, a chemical compound which the soil releases when rain falls on the ground.

It is a beautiful word.

It is derived from the Greek words, petra and īchōr. Petra means stone, while  īchōr is referred to as “the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods” in Greek mythology.”

Beautiful, isn’t it?

As I basked in the petrichor glory of the Cebu City Public Library on that day, I saw a couple of individuals seated around a rectangular table in what is now the main reading room. After exchanging pleasantries, lawyer Melvin Legaspi discussed the reason why we were there: to form a group that will advocate for reading empowerment.

Noble cause.

But there was a problem, there was no concrete plan yet as to how exactly are we going to be reading advocates.

I made the easiest suggestion of all time: organize ourselves as a storytelling group and our advocacy will be to read stories to children because the habit of reading a physical book is lost to gadgets such as tablets, cellphones, and laptops.

Everybody agreed and the succeeding meetings were all about finding a name for the group and organizing our launching activity on February 25, the very same day that the country commemorates the 1986 EDSA Revolution that toppled down a dictator.

One of the co-founders, Jean Louise, suggested the name Basadours. I first thought it was not a catchy name, but it stands for “reading ambassadors,” and that was how we envisioned ourselves to be.

I was not even there when the official launching happened. I was somewhere in Negros for work when we — 15 young professionals — officially announced to the world that we are taking the plunge to form a group that is committed to spread the love of reading to children through storytelling.

We have been restless since then.

We have traveled mountains and crossed seas to read books, write stories, make art, sing songs, dance to music, talk to mothers, play with children, partner with companies, fight our bullies, beg for help, ask for support, call for action, speak to people of authority.

There were storytelling sessions that broke our hearts because we saw hopeless cases of corrupt leaders and close-minded individuals. But in the same situations, our hearts were mended by the hopeful looks of children, which gave us the very reason on why we need to push along with this advocacy. There are children everywhere, whose minds are ready to take in the stories that we read to them and absorb the values that we impart through these stories.

On the surface, what the Basadours do may seem like a task any do-gooder can do. It is a simple formula: you go to a community, bring books, read books, sing songs, do a bit of art and crafts, feed the children and then you leave.

Easy, right?

Not really.

It is because we are here for the long haul. We are stubborn about making every storytelling session as a platform to share to parents and guardians that they need to read to their children. As an organization that advocates for children’s rights and welfare, we have a child protection policy that places the children’s well-being as a top priority. Our partners are required to agree to this child protection policy.

We took a huge leap in mid-2017 when we were officially registered under the Securities and Exchange Commission as a non-profit organization. A big step from being just a volunteer organization. We have a Board, whose trustees are not receiving any salary. Our executive committee is being run by volunteers. We are blessed with partners and sponsors, who are supportive of the advocacy.

Last year, we were blessed with at least 10 new members, who are now taking key positions in the executive committee and are largely responsible for the sessions that we had all over Cebu — from the evacuations centers in the City of Naga to the children survivors of fire incidents in Barangay Duljo Fatima. We have the oldies, whom we fondly refer to as the “gors,” who remain active and committed seven years into this journey.

We turned seven years old last February 25, 2019. This is a journey fueled by commitment, love, dedication, and perseverance.

Whenever I think of the Basadours, I remember the smell of the library that welcomed me during our first meeting. It was the petrichor emanating from the old books that led me to that table. I am convinced that the stone and the “fluid that flows in the veins of the gods” had something to do with this.

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