“…the problem is people can’t afford to buy them.” These words still echo in my head.
I was three weeks into a month-long tour of the Philippines, hosted by Rotary Clubs. Every day, I visited another Rotary-supported school or community; schools that couldn’t afford books for their libraries and children that couldn’t afford books of their own. These visits left me wanting to do something more constructive to help.
One idea was, once back home in the UK, to ask people to donate books then ship them over to the Philippines. “But you would have to raise money to cover the cost of shipping, if you can raise money why not just use it to buy books here.” the same voice, the same Rotarian was telling me. I knew he was right, the idea wasn’t practical.
I never anticipated that six years later, one of the clubs that hosted me, the Rotary Club of West Bay, would be distributing books to schools; books that are published and printed in the Philippines, and, written by me. I have to hold one of the books in my hands to remind myself that it is real. To believe that I am an author of children’s picture books published in the Philippines; picture books about the animals that are found only in the Philippines.
I have worked in wildlife conservation in the UK all my adult life but the wildlife in the Philippines never fails to astound and astonish me. Whether it’s wide-eyed tarsiers or wide-mouthed whale sharks, shimmering fireflies or vibrant sunbirds; glimpsing just a little of this wildlife sparked my imagination. It began with my daydream of a parrot dreaming of sailing the seas on a pirate ship. Little does he know, as he sets off on his travelling adventure, that he will discover his true home. Along the way Danao the parrot meets some of the unique animals of the Philippines.
The word unique is often over-used but with thousands of animals that are found nowhere else in the world; the Philippines is unique. These animals, and the children I met visiting the schools, are my inspiration. I never intended to write stories but the animals became characters in my mind and I wrote down their adventures. I never intended the stories to be published but my enthusiastic Filipino friends encouraged me and the lovely people at The Bookmark, Inc. liked the stories and agreed to publish them.
My daydreams about parrots, pigs and pangolins – species that live only in the Philippines – are now in real books beautifully illustrated by Jonathan Ranola and Ingrid Tan, and, some of my own illustrations.
Perhaps, as you read this, one of the books is being read by a child in a school in Bay in Laguna. Thanks to the Rotarians of the Rotary Club of West Bay, nine elementary schools in Bay have copies of my books ‘Danao’, ‘Mayumi’ and ‘Pipisin’. The elementary schools are: Puypuy, Tranca, Masaya, Sta Cruz, Bitin, Paciano Rizal, Putho Tuntungin, Maahas and Sto Domingo.
The books were purchased with funds from selling the books in the UK to family friends, with donations from the Rotary Club of Lindum, Lincoln (who are also donating books to schools in Lincoln) and with donations from my parents and myself.
Thank you everyone for helping children learn more about the endemic wildlife of the Philippines! And thank to the Philippines, the people and the wildlife, for being my inspiration!