In 2019, the Manila leg of the Big Bad Wolf (BBW) Book Sale at the World Trade Center in Pasay drew some 300,000 visitors who bought over a million books.
This year, the global scourge brought about by the coronavirus (COVID-19) has raised a new concern: Would the same number of book lovers risk exposure to the virus in the BBW’s latest edition, which runs Feb. 14-24 in the same venue?
Would the 17,000 new books out of the 33,000 titles available at the event find the same welcome this year? It’s a challenge that BBW cofounder Jacqueline Ng has apparently turned into an opportunity.
“The coronavirus epidemic allows us to take the opportunity to be more careful,” she says at the event’s preview for VIPs and the media on Thursday.
“Our priority is to protect our customers and crew, so everyone, including the food vendors, will go through temperature checks and a generous spray of hand sanitizers (when they enter the venue). The sanitizers will also be available inside the hall. At the same time, we urge everyone to be vigilant. They can wear face masks and should wash their hands often. We want everyone to feel safe and comfortable” she adds.
“If we cancel, we can (no longer) hold it this year,” Ng says. “So we decided to go on, knowing that (the virus scare) might affect sales. We just don’t want to disappoint the people waiting for it.”
I join scores of early comers at the entrance which, by the way, is free for the entire 10 days, 24 hours a day.
I get stopped by a security crew holding an infrared thermometer and wearing a face mask printed with a toothy smile. He checks and notes my temperature. “Ok, sir,” he says, and waves me in.
A second security guy sprays my hands with sanitizer. Hardly enough, I think, but I rub it between my palms anyway.
Inside the cavernous hall, people young and old are milling around wearing what has become a common sight: disposable surgical masks. Unlike them, I don’t wear one because I find it uncomfortable. Besides, my two-week cough has dissipated.
I snap a picture of two young women loading stacks of books in the wheeled cart provided. They turn out to be staffers at the library of Assumption Makati. When I ask for their names, one of them quips: “Please don’t include me, my hair is a mess today.”
Spread out in the hall are other young women wearing brown aprons that enjoin customers to “Howl for assistance.”
Along with a number of young men, the women are volunteers from poor communities tapped by Gawad Kalinga (GK)–a nongovernment group that uses social enterprise to lift Filipino households from poverty and aid in nation-building–to serve as ground personnel at the book sale.
The volunteers are paid above minimum wage, says Francis Ilagan, chief operating officer of SouthDream Corp. (SDC), the logistics company handling the manpower and book deliveries for the book sale.
Both SDC and GK have worked together with BBW to mount the book sale for the past three years and have gelled so well that their bosses decided to form Gawa (the Filipino word for “to do” or “work”), a manpower pool for long-term projects.
GK chair Jose Luis Oquiñena reveals that, aside from cash donations from the book sale’s proceeds, BBW donates books to GK.
“We thought of bringing the books to poor barangays,” he says. “GK started building libraries in public schools where we gave the books. The children were overjoyed. They were excited, kasi bago ang mga libro, inaamoy pa nila (the books are new and they’d wind up smelling it).”
So far, Oquiñena says GK has given almost 18,000 books to eight or nine public school libraries in far-flung areas. “We also give books to hospitals with cancer-stricken children. Majority of the free books this year we’ll give to residents in and around Taal, Batangas who are affected by the volcano’s eruptions.”
Oquiñena points out that the respective objectives of BBW and GK fit like a glove since BBW aims to spread knowledge by promoting books and reading. “There’s a real hunger, or a gap, that physical books can fill. In 2050, the Philippines will have the youngest population in the world, with an average age of 21. From that age group will emerge our new leaders. Good leaders are good readers.”