Monday, August 13, 2007

Marathon, Education and Volunteerism

I have never run a marathon (42.2 kms.) in my life. I twice participated in a 5-k race, but I didn’t dare try the 10-k race. At my current physical condition, maybe I can finish a 42-k run-walk in maybe 8 hours or more. That is why I consider those winners of international marathons among the “supermen” in this planet because they can run 42-k in something like 2 hours and 10 minutes only, or an average speed of around 20 kph!

One of my good Filipino friends, Ramon “Monchit” Arellano, now an American citizen and residing in Bay Area, California, joined the San Francisco Marathon last July 29, 2007. I used to live in Monchit’s house here in Manila, along with other male friends, for a few months in the late 80s. That’s how I befriended him.

Monchit has been supporting the Books for the Barrios (BftB, program in Bay Area for a few years. This is a voluntary organization with one important goal: to bring excess books of school children in the US (particularly in California) to less-privileged students in the Philippines, especially those living in rural areas. BftB started in 1981, and for the past two and a half decades, has helped tens of thousands of students, many of whom should have finished college already.

Words got into Monchit that “Due to dwindling financial support in the wake of many natural disasters (Katrina, tsunami, etc.), BftB may be forced to close its operations this summer if it does not generate enough funds… after more than 25 years of providing quality education materials to remote schools in the Philippines.”

So what he did, he registered for the SF Marathon, opened up a website, First Giving ( with just a single purpose: he will run to raise awareness among his friends and other people, get donations for BftB program so that it will continue its mission and operations. Monchit targeted a modest goal of raising $3,833. So far, he has received $3,525, and the names, amount given, plus their comments, are all posted in his website.

Today, I got an email from him saying that he finished the SF Marathon in a time of 5 hours and 3 minutes. That shows that he’s more physically fit than me J. His story was published by the Philippine Consulate General Office in San Francisco ( ABS-CBN was also at the finish line to interview him and the news was aired at Balitang America!

I write this to salute my friend not so much for his stamina, but for his kind heart and his innovativeness in raising money for a very legitimate and specific cause – to help poorer children in the Philippines have access to free books that would otherwise end up in landfills. I write this to showcase another example of volunteerism – by BftB, by Monchit, by their donors, and other people who help in such kind of endeavor, that support for less privileged people can be done by private individuals, that ultimately we do not need big government that confiscates big money from our pockets to do welfare and charity function to poorer people through big bureaucracy.

One issue that can be raised when tens of thousands of those used but free books from the US will land in Philippine soil, is that will this not displace, even on a small scale, the local publishers, the local bookstores, and the people employed by them? Possible, yes. But local publishers and local bookstores have to grapple with higher prices of their books (which turn off some potential buyers, especially poorer ones) because of the various taxes that government imposes on them and the books that they print and sell.

And we go back to the subject of volunteerism. Many citizens distrust their governments, that is why their “contribution” to society have to be done by force and coercion, through taxation. While the same citizens trust their friends, or friend of their friends, and they can give on their free will, without coercion and force. In addition, they can choose which kind of charity they will support. Some guys support students from poorer countries and communities, some guys support poorer athletes from poorer countries and communities, and so on. And this is the essence of civil society – voluntary support for fellowmen, self-reliance, and no coercion to attain certain social objectives.

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