Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — In one of the many alleyways in Makati, an old, slightly dilapidated house is home to almost three million books. The sidewalk in front of this house is also full of books, shielded by tarpaulins and plastic covers from the unrelenting sun and the occasional rain.
Inside the two-storey home, every corner and every wall is unsurprisingly filled with all sorts of literature, from magazines to hardbound covers, crammed in hanging shelves and stacked on the floor. “Here, we see it's just all over. No card cataloging, no indexing, as long as you need it, you can get it,” says Hernando Guanlao, or Mang Nanie as he is called.
Guanlao calls his home the Reading Club 2000, an “open, 24/7 library” that he started in the year 2000. Professionally an accountant and a former government employee, he was about to turn 50 during that year, and had what can only be described as a mid-life crisis.
“I was bankrupt, I was worried about my retirement age,” he says. “So I came up with this idea [to start] a library. I started with 50 books that I found in my cabinet, I displayed it in the sidewalk. And it multiplied by itself.”
Since starting, various organizations and individuals have then reached out to Guanlao to donate books. He realized that the library would be most beneficial to children, particularly street children, who didn’t have access to any form of education.
As time went on, many of his donors provided children’s books and he started reaching out to groups that may have more of these. The books, he says, have also gone to far places like Kalinga and Mindanao. He shares that recently, a person from a remote area in Albay got seven sacks of textbooks and encyclopedias for the children in their region.
The library is for everyone, as there is a wide range of books available to read, get, or borrow. He’s also seen people from different socioeconomic backgrounds visit his place.
“More or less, the cross section of our A, B, C, D, E, they come here,” he says. “The A, B donates, become curious, then the B,C,D and the kids like him,” he points to the kid reading in the corner.
The kid is one of the homeschoolers who visited Reading Club for the first time during our visit. Rose Velasco, one of the moms of the homeschoolers, says that they’re there to donate books to Mang Nanie and to also let their children learn about the culture of giving.
“Since marami kaming books, we wanted to share naman yung books with other children din. Tapos this is a good avenue for our children learn about giving and sharing,” she says.
Another mom, Clarisse Co, says that she likes how Mang Nanie highlights that learning should begin at home. “I like what he wrote in front of the house, nakalagay, ‘Learning begins at home’ so I think that’s very true. At a young age, children should be exposed to books so that they get to learn how to love reading and when they love reading, it would be easier for them to really learn.”
Guanlao reiterates the importance of this value. “It's the parents who should teach the kids. And that is not being practiced anymore. If you have money, you enroll the kids to Montessori, Brent, IS,” he says. “But learning from the parents, the mother, father, the grandfather, the grandmother, ‘yun talaga yung original source natin dapat. I treasure and value that.”
When asked what he wants for his library to become, he says that his dream is for his model — free books for all, library open for everyone — to be duplicated elsewhere.
“The key is you don't pay eh, so they have the privilege of just getting informed, or getting knowledge without much burden,” he says. “Can you just imagine the impact if [we had this] all over the Philippines?”