ELEMENTARY STUDENTS from public schools in Manila and the Camanava areas lined up at the Main Lobby of the Cultural Center of the Philippines on Nov. 20 to each receive a children’s book titled Kwentong Karapat-Dapat. The children then went to the corners of the lobby and a buzz started filling the air as they read from the book aloud.

It was the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child when the Center for Art, New Ventures & Sustainable Development (CANVAS) — a nonprofit organization that promotes children’s literacy and appreciation for Philippine arts and culture — held its regular book distribution program.

Iba yung sound (The sound is different). There’s this buzz. Tapos lahat sila kasi binabasa nila [ang libro] sabay-sabay. Nakakatuwa. (All of them are reading the books at the same time. It’s amusing),” CANVAS founder and executive director Gigo Alampay told the press while the children were having lunch after the book giving activity.

Featuring artworks by Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan (Ang INK), the book is inspired by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child treaty which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989. The articles were re-written in English and Filipino in child-friendly language.

CANVAS began its literacy programs in 2005 upon the publication of Elias and His Trees by Augie Rivera, an adaptation of French writer Jean Giono’s book The Man Who Planted Trees (1953) about a man who planted trees throughout his life.

Mr. Alampay said that seeing the film adaptation of Giono’s book when he was in college inspired him to create a Filipino adaptation in print.

“The success of that first book, however, led us to other books, which later led to more books, new programs, and to even bigger dreams,” Mr. Alampay said.

Last weekend’s book giving activity was part of Batang Karapat-Dapat, a mini festival on the rights of the child which was held from Nov. 20 to 23 at various areas of the CCP where dance, art, theater, and music workshops for children were conducted.

“We believe that art has a social developmental potential for them,” he said.

Alongside the book distribution, CANVAS holds a story-writing competition three to four times a year as part of its literacy program, with the books geared towards nine to 12 year old children.

“The [story] is based on an artwork, which we commissioned from [an] artist… we release the image on the Internet and then hold the story writing contest,” Mr. Alampay said. “The winning story will become a children’s book [to be] illustrated by the same artist.”

The organization has previously worked with National Artist for Visual Arts Benedicto “BenCab” Cabrera, Elmer Borlongan, Rodel Tapaya, Farley del Rosario, Roel Obemio, Plet Bolipata, Daniel dela Cruz, Manny Garibay, and Dex Fernandez.

Mr. Alampay likens the love for literature to the metaphor of throwing a pebble in a pond. “You don’t know where the ripples will end,” he said.

“If you throw a book out there, it can capture the imagination of children and maybe one child will be so inspired,” he added. “If they love books, they will keep reading. They will keep learning.”

In line with its program is the One Million Books for One Million Filipino Children campaign which “aims to inspire in children a love for reading by donating its award-winning books to public schools, hospitals, and disadvantaged communities throughout the country.”

To date, CANVAS has produced 30 titles and distributed 250,000 books in partnership with volunteers and partner organizations and communities from Ifugao to Basilan.

CANVAS has eight books lined up for 2020, as well as participation in public art exhibitions.

That afternoon, Mr. Alampay joined the children for a live storytelling of three CANVAS-published books done in collaboration with three arts groups: Anino Shadowplay Collective’s Mga Kuwentong Karapat-Dapat which is its interpretation of the book Tahan na Tahanan about a child who learns her family is moving house; a dance by Daloy Dance Company accompanying Nadia and the Blue Stars, about how a child shows her village how to recover after war; and Anima Tierra which accompanied the environmental tale of Inang Kalikasan’s Bad Hair Day with percussive beats, vocals, and traditional music.

For more information, inquiries, and donations, visit www.canvas.ph. CANVAS books are available at Fully Booked and through its website. Merchandise is available at www.lookingforjuan.com. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman