MAKATI City, March 18, 2014—Sixty-one year old Hernando Guanlao of La Paz, Makati could well be the “Mother Teresa of Books”.
Like the Saint of Calcutta, the former accountant makes of his life one of selfless service to others, especially to the disadvantaged.
“It’s what Christ commanded, anyway”, said he, quoting a verse from the Gospels to drive home his point.
But while Mother Teresa trotted the globe to care for the sick and comfort the afflicted, Guanlao in his limited capacity as a retiree, educates a new breed of Filipinos by giving away books left and right to anybody who cares to have them.
What’s amazing is he does this for free.
“We often take books for granted, but few treat them as no less than a blessing from God. Let’s always thank Him for the chance to read books, because not everyone could have nor afford them,” Guanlao told the CBCPNews in an interview.
Such is his belief in the transformative value of education that he practically converted his front yard into a sidewalk library to the delight of all who drop by.
But his house/library is like no other in that it allows free access to everybody provided they follow what he calls his Rule Number One: “There are no rules.”
His “Reading Club 2000” witnesses countless children and adults, students and parents, professionals and even the unemployed trooping to his house/library everyday to rummage through dusty shelves lined with titles covering all subjects under the moon.
With or without him around, his house/library stays open as long as there are people coming inm either to browse, borrow, or take books.
“My patrons are glad to be able to get books for free in a country where the average high school textbook costs between P200 and P300,” Guanlao explained.
With sky-high prices of basic commodities like rice, it is unlikely that Filipinos would spend a cent on a brand-new paperback, when they are struggling just to put food on their tables.
While the books Guanlao owned from his accounting student days form the core of his library, truckloads of assorted reading materials handed down by generous donors from within the Philippines and abroad, who often refuse to be credited for their charity, make sure that it never runs empty.
Guanlao’s deep Catholic faith convinces him that “God will provide”. This is what also drives him to keep doing what he does.
He confided that he receives more books than he could ever hope to give away. There are so many individuals and groups who offer donations that he sometimes has to turn them down to avoid cluttering his house.
“An ordinary visitor would be seen leaving my house with a bagful of old books…And I don’t mind them taking with them as many as they want. That’s the reason why I started this in the first place,” Guanlao said.
“My only wish is that they would also be kind enough to share these books to anyone who asks. Books fulfill their use when read, not stored…They must be shared,” he added.
Apart from Guanlao’s neighbors and “barrio mates”, beneficiaries of Reading Club 2000 include survivors of typhoons ‘Pablo’ and ‘Yolanda’, and informal settlers in Payatas and Tondo.
He has also sent crates of books to as far north as Tabuk, Kalinga, to as far south as Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, where, Guanlao shares, school children treat books almost like luxury items.
He is also instrumental in setting up libraries and reading rooms in depressed communities across the country.
“I am forever grateful to God and my parents for the gift of education. Reading Club 2000 is my own humble way of paying back the generosity they have given me…As Catholic Christians, each one of us has to do our part in making this world a much better place than when we have found it,” Guanlao said. (Raymond A. Sebastián)