On a Mission to Teach Filipino Kids How to Read: Changing the World with Abby Patupat

This is a case study of a World Changer: someone who is living the life he or she wants while making a difference at the same time. Are you a World Changer? Share your story with us or read other World Changers' stories here.


World Changer: Abby Patupat

Project: Thousand Books Project

Facebook Page: Thousand Books Project


I've known Abby since way back in college. I had the privilege of working with her in a lot of projects, especially in publishing our student organization's bulletin. She's a really hard-working and self-motivated person. In fact, she has always been an achiever  a top student, a student leader, and, now, a model employee in a large multinational company. She's also added a lot of letters to her name: CPA (Certified Public Accountant) and, most recently, CIA (Certified Internal Auditor). But, more than her achievements and the added letters to her name, what sets her apart is her big heart for service to other people... especially to the next generation.

Tell us about what you do

“Thousand Books Project” (formerly the “Gift of Reading Project”) is the first phase in the literacy program that my college friends and I started. It’s about donating pre-selected, bilingual storybooks to communities where children need help in reading and writing.

Last year, we got sponsors to donate 54 storybooks to Gawad Kalinga* ("GK") Bicutan. This year, we’re starting earlier and we have more people in the team. This coming Christmas season, we aim to donate 18 sets of books, thus the new name “Thousand Books Project.”

* From the GK Website: Gawad Kalinga Community Development Foundation, Inc. ("GK") is a Philippine-based movement that aims to end poverty for 5 million families, by first restoring the dignity of the poor. (Carlo's note: GK builds houses and communities for the poor.)

abby with kid_final.jpg

How do you make money or achieve freedom doing this? If you're not making any money doing this, what do you do to support yourself?

I am a full-time employee so I work on this project with my friends after office hours and on Saturdays. It’s very fulfilling to know that outside of work, I can still bring value to the society. Teaching kids, preparing lesson plans and getting sponsors are time-consuming activities. But at the end of the day, I smile and go to sleep feeling thankful that the less fortunate kids have a chance to a brighter future.

How do you change the world doing this?

I said that donating books is the first phase, so now let me paint the bigger picture. The pre-selected books are the foundation of the lessons plan for our Saturday class curriculum.

Why do we need lesson plans? Many yuppies are willing to teach kids on Saturdays, but we can't expect full time employees to be available every Saturday pro bono (even I can't do that!). In addition, not everyone who is willing to teach knows what and how to teach. The solution is to provide lesson plans so that any volunteer will:

  1. be able to pick up where the previous volunteer left off and
  2. have ready materials and activities in teaching the kids.

This way, the literacy program will be sustainable and easy to replicate from one village to another.

What did you do before this?

After graduation and the Certified Public Accountant ("CPA") board exam, I just worked, worked, worked, and worked some more. I found myself looking for more meaning. I missed the lifestyle of “worthwhile busyness” that I used to have back in the University.

How did know about this opportunity? Who was your greatest inspiration or influencer?

Apparently, it wasn’t just me feeling that way. My friend Ronald went to GK one weekend to learn how he can volunteer in the community. He was told that GK needs a literacy program for the children in their villages. With the vision of creating a literacy program, he invited college and office friends to spend Saturday mornings to teach grade school kids Math and English. One of the volunteers who responded to the call was me.

Ronald and Abby

Ronald and Abby

What made you decide to finally join the cause?

I initially wanted to decline because I thought I had to commit every Saturday morning to teaching. But when Ronald explained that it doesn’t have to be every Saturday, just whenever I’m free, I finally said yes.

And I don’t regret that shaky yes I said two years ago. I am very inspired with what eventually became the mission of the program – to develop Filipino children who can read and will read. Teaching kids is not just energizing for me, it’s also a way of paying it forward. I cannot pay back every person who helped me get to where I am now, but I can help today’s children to have a better learning experience so they can also be motivated to excel and make a difference.

What was the most difficult challenge you faced when you were starting out?

There were about 10 of us teaching the kids in the first few Saturdays, and we all had the same challenge – we could not finish the lesson plans we prepared for each session. We were teaching Math and English the way we remember how we learned the lessons ourselves, and it was not very effective.

Why?

We could not relate to the children. We didn’t understand their interests. We didn’t know the shows they watch and the games they play. I felt bad when one of my students suddenly disappeared after I gave out the snacks, only to see him back and happy in his seat to tell me that he gave the food to his little brother. I felt frustrated that my students couldn’t understand “less than” and “greater than” only to find out that my instructions were not clear to them because we didn’t even have the same understanding where is left and where is right.

The challenge is that, while our hearts are into teaching, we did not know what and how to teach. This also led to confusion and less impact when recruiting more volunteers. How can we expect to bring in more non-teacher yuppies when we can’t even explain what they are expected to do with the kids?

How do you cope up with your challenges?

We realized that teaching is both an art and a science that we have to understand as we create the program. We consulted with professors from the Literacy Department of University of the Philippines ("UP") College of Education, and boy, we got more than what we asked for. We attended a few lectures together with teachers who were getting their masters. In addition to understanding theories on education, we sang nursery rhymes, identified new cartoon characters and read children’s books. After those sessions, we committed to write more relevant lesson plans by using stories that GK children can relate to and are written in both English and Filipino.

What was the biggest lesson you learned from doing this?

The biggest lesson I learned is it’s okay to take it one step at a time in life projects, as long as you move forward. I have a Type A personality, so not being able to teach kids on a regular schedule and taking too long in writing lesson plans used to grind my gears. Remember my fear to commit? I would get disappointed with myself whenever I had to skip sessions or when I can’t meet my target number of lesson plans written. I guess it’s more of a fear not to deliver. I stopped punishing myself for not progressing as fast as I wanted to when I realized that the literacy program was adding to my stress instead of making me feel good overall. After all, writing under a lot stress diminishes the quality of my work, and I don’t want to give the children half-baked lessons.

Has the journey been worth it?

A long journey is still ahead of me and of my co-volunteer friends. But if I get transported back in time, I’ll be fine starting over again and I won’t change my direction. This literacy program is something I really want to complete, and that’s where I get my drive for the Thousand Books Project.

What's next for you?

What next for me, in one sentence: I will finish the lesson plans. Different people can bring different things to the table. For me, what I can contribute are the lesson plans using the storybooks. I’m doing it one storybook at a time, and my Type A personality is cringing at my pace, but I’ll get there. It’s a commitment to my volunteer friends, to the book sponsors, to the children and to myself.

Your advice to aspiring World Changers

I encourage aspiring World Changers to try these “cooking tips”:

  1. Start with a tablespoon if a cup overwhelms you. Start your life project small if you’re risk-averse like me.
  2. Set aside if needed but don’t forget about it. You can have other priorities in life, and it is okay to change focus when your situation calls for it. But don’t let go of the dream and don’t just throw away what you started.
  3. Add salt and pepper to taste. Try out different ways to achieve your goals, adjusting your style if you see an aspect is not working. But if something major is off...
  4. Review your entire recipe. Perhaps you still need to learn more about the subject matter of your life project so you need to consult with experts. Combine their insights with your ideas so you can come up with something that can finally work.

How can they reach you or how can they join your revolution?

If you’re interested in changing the world by shaping young minds, join our revolution by becoming a sponsor/volunteer. Check out our Facebook page to know more about Thousand Books Project and message us.