Ermita Reading Center: Helping children find books to love 

By: Cris Evert Lato-Ruffolo March 30,2019 - 11:33 AM

The Ermita Reading Center is now a haven for children and youth who want to learn and enrich their knowledge on different subjects. / Contributed Photo

CEBU CITY, Philippines — It does not look like the ideal location for a library.

But Barangay Ermita, an urban barangay in Cebu City, is home to a reading center that serves the children and youth of the village six days a week, 12 hours a day.

At the helm of this learning space is Bartolome “Bart” Mariscal, a former encyclopedia salesman, who was given the role of reading center in-charge back in 2010.

“The reading center was born because it was required by the Barangay Council for Protection of Children. It was made possible by the efforts of the barangay and SK (Sangguniang Kabataan) officials,” shares Bart.

The reading center found a home in a two-storey building that used to be a day care center.

The daycare center was transferred to another building so the reading center and the SK office occupied the second floor.

Back in 2010, Bart says the reading center was only open twice a month when the SK had sessions.

Bart, who was 35-years-old then, was asked to be the reading center in-charge because he was an active religious leader.

He was also known as a former salesman of books and encyclopedia sets so the community might have thought that he knew a lot about books.

“But I did not know what to do. For two years, the reading center just sat there. I would encourage children to come and visit but I had no idea what to do. I worked on making the reading center beautiful during evaluation time but that was it,” he recalls.

Bart Mariscal, Ermita reading center in-charge, tells children that “My Big Box” will visit their respective sitios for storytelling and reading sessions. / Cris Evert Lato-Ruffolo

Bart, now 42 years old, admits that he experienced moments of self-doubt when fellow residents told him the barangay wasted money on the reading center.

“I tried not to mind what they were saying and just continued to serve. But I knew that I needed help and that I had to be trained on library work if I want to serve better,” says Bart.

In February 2012, he met members of Basadours, Inc., a group of volunteer storytellers who inspired him to learn more so he can be of better service to the community.

“It was the Basadours who referred me to the right people that made the library grow,” he says.

He was also connected to Rosario Chua, chief librarian of the Cebu City Public Library (CCPL), and Lorna Eguia, a librarian who used to work at the American Corner of the University of San Carlos.

From Eguia, Bart says he learned various ways in engaging people and how to categorize the books. With the help of CCPL’s Chua, Bart says they were able to get more books and support from various companies and non-government organization.

“Before, I used to go around the neighborhood to invite children to visit the reading center. Today, they just come here to read and study,” says Bart.

After school hours, the reading center would be packed with children, who research on their homework or projects. Some stay until the center closes its door at 8 p.m. to study for their exams.

To Bart, the reading center is a ray of hope for the children and youth of Barangay Ermita, an urban village located within the vicinity of one of Cebu’s high foot traffic destination, the Carbon City Public Market.

The Barangay Ermita Reading Center is located on the second floor of a two-storey building that used to be a day care center. / Contributed Photo

According to 2015 Census of Population, Ermita has a total of 8,451 residents. The village has five sitios: Ermita Proper, Kastilaan, Pig Vendor, Bato Proper, and Kawit.

Barangay Ermita is plagued with several issues.

On November 2017, then Barangay Captain Felicisimo “Imok” Rupinta was shot dead by motorcycle-riding men in the northern Cebu town of Liloan.

On July 2018, seven of its officials, including Barangay Captain Mark Miral, were meted with a one-year suspension ordered by the Department of Interior Local Government in Central Visayas (DILG-7).

This happened after the court found them to be guilty of grave misconduct based on a case filed by Yogi Filemon Ruiz, former Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in Central Visayas (PDEA-7) director, accusing barangay officials of failure to assist in their anti-drugs operations.

On February 5, 2019, fire razed at least 100 houses in Sitio Bato. It quickly spread to Sitios Pig Vendor and Kastilaan and took two hours to put out.

As the barangay only had two functioning village officials — acting Barangay Captain Efe Rupinta and SK Chairperson Rica Jaime — it has been a challenge to access the calamity funds, which could have been used to extend timely help to the fire victims.

There is a line of traysikad (pedicab) drivers in a corner located along Magallanes Street that will take passengers “inside” Barangay Ermita.

It is a narrow street leading to inner parts of the village. Passing by houses and sari-sari stores, visitors can see women playing Bingo and card games, men puffing cigarette smoke, while children run on the street. Some are barefoot and naked. They look happy, unafraid and unmindful of being hit by speeding pedicabs.

The Ermita Reading Center can be found at the end of the street; in an area which the locals refer to as “baybayon” or seashore.

It is an apt name for a location that is close to a body of water but is now the location of a basketball court. Near the court are shanties with a videoke machine and snacks for sale.

From this vantage point, residents of Barangay Ermita have a view of the road that leads to the South Road Properties (SRP), a mixed-use development owned and developed by the Cebu City government.

Bart Mariscal, Ermita reading center in-charge, makes sure that the children have enough time for film showing, storytelling sessions and research. The center is open Monday to Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. / Contributed Photo

Despite the various issues faced by the barangay, the reading center is still open Monday to Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Bart is the lone employee of the reading center, which makes him the all-around staff.

He organizes storytelling sessions, film showing, and tutorial hours.

Last March 10, 2019, in time for the National Public Library Day, he launched the reading center’s newest project which he dubbed as “My Big Box.”

He says the box contains storybooks as well as reading and writing materials that he will take around the village to make learning more accessible to the children.

For doing all these, Bart receives a monthly honorarium of P5,000, an income that he describes as a blessing as he is doing what he is passionate about.

“Kalipay nako sa pagserbisyo ilabina sa mga bata nga nagkinahanglan og attention ilabina sa pag educate nila. Ang akong gustong makita kay magdako ang mga kabataan nga managhan ang kahibalo,” he says.

(It is my joy to serve the children who need the attention, especially in helping educate them. I want to see the youth to grow up with more knowledge about different matters.)

Bart says the Barangay Council is supportive of the needs of the reading center and its users.

However, he finds it challenging to offer more services because he works alone.

But Bart goes beyond what is available. He is not afraid to approach people and seek for help.

Bart says that he is seeing a growth of users, who voluntarily visit the reading center. He says some children would even drag their parents to the reading center.

“When we opened in 2010, I had to approach the parents or guardians to bring their children. Right now, they go there themselves to read, to study,” he says.

Bart remains hopeful that the presence of the reading center will change the lives of the children and the youth despite the issues surrounding them.

Bart will go around the neighborhood to continue to spread the love for reading and learning to children.

Because like educator/author Frank Serafini, Bart believes that “there is no such thing as a child who hates to read; there are only children who have not found the right book.” /dcb

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TAGS: Bart, center, Ermita, Mariscal, Reading

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