New Life, Old Love: Spreading the Love for Books in New Zealand
Moving my entire family to another country was one of the most difficult things I had to do in my life. It was late 2015 when my husband and I decided to drop everything in the Philippines and start fresh in New Zealand.
Before we left, we both had thriving careers. I was the Director of Operations for a travel company and he was a Senior Cloud Engineer for a globally known anti-virus company. We were half-way through paying mortgage on a house we own. Our cars were fully paid off. We were living the good life.
So, making that jump was an extremely difficult decision. It was for our daughter. We knew she’d have a better chance at life if she was educated in another country. We did it for her. The first few years were rather difficult — it still is, actually. My husband had to focus on studying, while I was in charge of working and covering for our daily living expenses. There were many plus sides to living in New Zealand. The education for my daughter is free. Our health coverage is free. If I get pregnant, I could give birth for free. All my daughter’s vaccinations were update and were, again, completely free.
Then of course, there’s the side that most people don’t see about migration. Getting a job is extremely difficult. You miss your family a lot and holidays without them are dreadful. And the money is always an issue. We were used to having a lot of money and our standard of living wasn’t exactly frugal. So, this is how our story started:
My daughter grew up surrounded with all the books she could ever want. We had to leave those behind when we moved. In the first few months in our new home, we spent all our money buying the necessities to survive — a car, furniture, groceries. Books were not part of that list.
So we were out eating one time and there was a stack of children’s books at the restaurant where we were. They were free for the kids to take — to read while in the restaurant or even to take home. That used Dr. Seuss book was my daughter’s first book in New Zealand. She was so excited to finally have a book again.
My heart was broken in so many ways that day. I couldn’t afford to buy my daughter books anymore. This meant I couldn’t pass on something I was truly passionate about — books and reading. It really hit me how much we sacrificed to move to another country.
As we were preparing for bed that evening, I saw her watching some videos on my phone. One of which was Emma Watson secretly dropping books at the London Underground. She was a book fairy! In that instant, I knew I wanted to be one, too!
The Birth of Books on the Bus NZ
I contacted the organizers in London and they were happy for me to get it started in New Zealand. I started planning it during the last quarter of 2016 with a roll out date in January the following year. I needed the books, the stickers, the manpower for distribution and the marketing push to get this out there. I had my work cut out for me, but I was committed to it.
I didn’t even have the budget to build a website or to buy books when I started. I took what I had and put it to good use. My writing and digital marketing background got things rolling. I put up a Facebook and a Twitter profile for the cause. Then, I wrote emails and a press release. I also took one of the books from my personal collection, wrote a note on it about what I intend to do and left it on Auckland’s busiest train station.
A few days later, the wheels started to turn. I was interviewed for the country’s biggest entertainment website. Two days later, I was featured again in the most prominent broadsheet. The TV networks also lined up interviews. I had book publishers offering support. Individuals started volunteering their services. I was ecstatic! Two weeks into it, I had more than a thousand followers in Facebook and 200 books to start with.
A few weeks later — in March 2017 — the Book Fairies were officially launched on International Women’s Day. I was the official book fairy for New Zealand. I was one of 24 people to receive 25 of 1,500 books from Emma Watson’s Our Shared Shelf book club. Each book had a personal note from her inside. It was such as fantastic event and we’ve been growing the movement ever since. There are now thousands of book fairies across the globe.
I was happy to be making a difference. My goal was to make the library experience more mobile and more accessible to everyone. A year in, and Books on the Bus NZ has now distributed about 3,000 books in buses, bus stops, trains, train stations, ferry stations and even in the iconic Wellington Cable Car.
Before 2017 ended, a friend mentioned that it would be cool to have Filipino books in New Zealand, too! After all, I have been receiving book donations from the US, India, the U.K and Australia, why not the Philippines?
I contacted several publishers and got a positive response from Adarna House and Ilaw ng Tahanan. They donated several amazing books to our cause including titles such as Jose RIzal’s El Filibusterismo and Noli Me Tangere, Ibong Adarna, a collection of Severino Reyes’ Lola Basyang stories and over 50 books for children in Filipino, English and in both languages.
I wasn’t quite ready yet to release the books out in the wild and have some random person find it. I wanted it in the hands of young Filipinos living in another country. Philippine Ambassador to New Zealand Jesus Domingo also responded positively about placing these books in the embassy in Wellington and the consular offices in Auckland and Christchurch. A local library also said yes to expanding their current collection of Philippine Literature (which mostly consists of cookbooks and romance novels).
I’m doing more than just sharing books now. I am promoting Philippine Literature to a country where the Filipino is the 3rd largest migrant population. There are over 50,000 Filipinos living in New Zealand. And like myself, their kids are taking on a new culture. I would like to offer young Filipinos in New Zealand the opportunity to re-learn our own culture and our language through literature.
I plan to do this every time I travel back to the Philippines (hopefully, every year). Any donation of Filipino books — particularly about our culture and our own literature would be highly appreciated. A list of books you can contribute to our cause is below:
- Filipino-English Dictionary
- Filipino Cookbooks
- Children’s Books in Filipino/English/Dual Language
- Anthologies and Collections such as The Best Philippine Short Stories of the Twentieth Century
Some of our well-loved classics such as:
- Ibong Adarna
- Banaag at Sikat
- Florante and Laura
The work of contemporary authors:
- F.H. Batacan’s Smaller and Smaller Circles
- Bob Ong books such as ABNKKBSNPlaKo
- Amado V. Hernandez’s Ibong Mandaragit
- Nick Joaquin’s books such as The Woman with Two Navels
- F. Sionil Jose books such as the Rosales Saga
- Lualhati Bautista’s Dekada ‘70 and Gapo
- Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters
- Arnold Arre’s Mythology Class
Or any book or collection representative of Filipino writing excellence and the stories of our people would be highly appreciated. The aim is to start with a younger crowd of Filipino readers but to eventually move towards sharing our literature with Filipino migrants of all ages. It’s a big dream, but one we can all take part in.
If you would like to donate a book to Books on the Bus NZ, just order online from www.nationalbookstore.com or visit your nearest NBS branch. Then contact Ms. Jade-Ceres Violet Dolor-Munoz, the New Zealand Book Fairy and Founder of Books on the Bus NZ: facebook.com/booksonthebusnz or Twitter: @booksonthebusnz
About the Author:
Jade-Ceres Violet Dolor Munoz is a Filipino based in Auckland, New Zealand. She is the founder of Books on the Bus NZ, the official New Zealand book fairy and is a proud promoter of Philippine Literature. She studied Literature from De La Salle University. She comes from a family of writers (her great grandfather is well-known fictionist, essayist, poet and journalist in Spanish who won the Premio Zobel, her father is a newspaper editor and her mother is a Filipino children’s book author) which fostered the love for writing and books at a very early age. Today, she passes on that love to her 5-year-old daughter Jellybean, who is also an avid reader and a little book fairy. She hopes to spread the romance with the written word to total strangers in buses and trains as well as to fellow Filipinos in New Zealand looking to reconnect with their mother tongue.
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