The children’s book that tells the story of a disappearing community

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“Kapit, Kapit, Bahay, Bahay” tells the story of the children and residents of Sitio San Roque, an urban poor community under constant threat of eviction. Photo by RISSA CORONEL

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — The United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child states that all children have the right to shelter and adequate living standards. But how do urban poor children in a community under constant threat of eviction even begin to assert their rights?

Sitio San Roque is among the urban poor communities that have been affected by Duterte’s “Build Build Build” program. Its people have been pushing back against forceful eviction since the Arroyo presidency, but as neighboring developments rise, their area and population have shrunk to make way for Quezon City’s Central Business District project. The area is currently flanked by towering commercial complexes, obscuring its entrance almost completely.

It is in this context that the children of Sitio San Roque grow up in; it is their story that the children’s book “Kapit, Kapit, Bahay, Bahay” aims to tell. The book, written by China Patria De Vera and illustrated by Gelai Manabat, is an effort launched by Kadamay (Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahirap) and the Save San Roque Alliance in the hopes that its story would shed light on the plight of Sitio San Roque.

“The book was the brainchild of Michael Beltran, the Information Officer of the Kadamay National Office. Matagal na niyang inisipang gawing children’s book ang kuwento ng mga bata dito. In-interview talaga namin ‘yung mga bata para makuha ‘yung mga kuwento nila,” explains Manabat.

Both De Vera and Manabat feel strongly about the need for more progressive stories in children’s books, particularly narratives that uplift children in marginalized contexts. “Advocacy ko kasi since undergrad ang pag-aaral ng children’s literature, at nakikita ko talaga ang need para ilapat na ang mga bata sa mga pangyayari sa panlipunan,” says De Vera, who is a member of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers and currently teaching at a Lumad School in Mindanao.

As for Manabat, she currently works for a children’s books publisher, which she sees as a good vantage point to observe trends in local children’s literature. “Kulang sa representation ang urban poor children, palaging children in the big city ‘yung nasa kuwento. But if you notice, rumarami na ‘yung mga books [on the matter], with one good example being Aklat Alamid which focuses on children from Mindanao.”

Apart from wanting to shift the focus in children’s literature, De Vera and Manabat have witnessed San Roque’s struggle firsthand. De Vera shares, “Years and years ago, as students, nag-immerse kami [sa San Roque] every summer. Nakita namin ‘yung pagbabago ng facade ng community: ginigiba ‘yung ibang mga bahay, nawawala ‘yung ibang mga taong kilala namin. Naging struggle mag-keep in touch sa kanila.”

The kids also participated in a banner-making activity after the storytelling session. Photo by RISSA CORONEL

“Kapit, Kapit, Bahay, Bahay” contains true accounts of the children and the San Roque community at large. The book opens with the story of Lola Baby, a long-time activist against the community’s eviction. De Vera explains that their protagonist is actually based on the many citizens of San Roque who persevere against forceful eviction: “Representative siya ng kabuuan ng mga nanay at tatay sa komunidad.” We follow Lola Baby’s narrative as she goes about a regular day, maintaining a feeding program, watering the plants, recounting the many jobs she’s held, until — Boom! — a demolition team bursts through their roof.

Of Lola Baby’s many jobs, she recounts that being an activist leader is her favorite. But one can’t help but think that her inclination toward activism is only due to necessity. In the book, it is still Lola Baby who leads the community in barricading against the demolition team.

De Vera shares that the overall story-writing process was done collaboratively with the residents of San Roque, as well as with Kadamay and Save San Roque. “We really wanted to integrate the name of [Kadamay] into the story because of their efforts to help San Roque. Nagkaroon kami ng bukas na talakayan with the orgs and the community na ito ang magiging daloy ng kuwento.”

One important aim of “Kapit, Kapit, Bahay, Bahay” is to destigmatize the urban poor sector. “Wala ang siyudad kung wala sila,” De Vera says. “We really wanted to humanize them, as they are a large part of the community, and of Quezon City’s economy and workforce.”

This shines through as the book’s child-protagonist narrates, “Naisip ko, kung sa malayo papalipatin sina Manong Jun, sino na ang magsesemento sa kabilang kalsada? Kung papaalisin dito si Manang Wendy, saan na bibili ng tanghalian ang mga guwardiya sa tapat? Kung itataboy sina Ate Tata, sino na ang magmamaneho sa mga traysikel na sinasakyan ng marami? At kung hindi na makakatira rito sina Kuya Boy, babaho ang mga bahay dahil walang kukuha ng mga basura nila.”

The last page of the book contains a typographic illustration of a song from an urban poor community, albeit not San Roque, that has been long-sung by its children in kindergarten: “Bahay namin, laging ginigiba / presyo pataas, sahod pababa, laging may demolisyon / merong karahasan, kulang sa edukasyon / kawawa naman, kawawa naman kaming mga bata / kaya naman, kaya naman kami’y lumalaban!”

“Kapit, Kapit, Bahay, Bahay” may not be a happy tale, but it is a true account of the struggles that Sitio San Roque has faced for over a decade — from being stigmatized as the urban poor, to being forgotten by rapid urbanization.

It is the story of Lola Baby, who can never abandon her role in rallying the community despite her age. Most of all, it is the story of San Roque’s children, being told in the hopes of a better future for them.


Kapit, Kapit, Bahay, Bahay” may be ordered through the book’s official Facebook page.