DAGUPAN CITY, December 6, 2003 (STAR) By Eva Visperas ó Thanks to the Caltex Mentor Program: Drive Toward Literacy, children from poor families here like 13-year-old Armida Nebrida and 10-year-old Fabian de la Cruz now enjoy reading.

"Ako na ngayon ang nagtuturo magbasa sa mga kapatid ko pagdating sa bahay (Iím now the one teaching my siblings to read when I arrive home)," says Armida, the eldest of a brood of seven.

A Grade 6 pupil at the Central Elementary School, Armida is a daughter of a carpenter and a laundrywoman.

Like her, Fabian, the eldest of three children of a widow, also a laundrywoman, admits that he used to understand only a little of what he read.

Now, he says he enjoys his lessons. "Tinuruan din nila ako tungkol sa Panginoon (They also taught me about God)," he says.

Helping public schoolchildren like Armida and Fabian enjoy reading is the mission of the literacy program of the Caltex Drive Team Volunteers which has benefited at least 58 pupils of eight public schools here. Thanks to 34 mentors who, despite their busy schedules, took time out for four consecutive Saturdays starting Nov. 15 to spend six hours tutoring the children on reading.

The program was launched on Nov. 4, 2002 at the J. Zamora Elementary School in Pandacan, Manila. It was later brought to San Pascual Elementary School in Batangas and in this city.

The Caltex Mentor Program bagged the prestigious Quill Award for Community Relations barely four months after its launch.

The programís local partners were the Dagupan Bangus Jaycees, Kiwanis Bangus, Lady Bulldogs of Calasiao, Liwawa ed Asinan Foundation and local retailers of Caltex and their families.

Cherry Pinga, Caltex corporate communications officer, says the program is unique since more than the usual financial sponsorship for community projects, it offers "sweat and time equity" and "bonding between the teacher and his student."

"We want to eliminate non-readership and we want to hit the critical mass. It is a labor of love," says Criselda Legaspi-Robles, Bangus Jaycees director for special projects.

"It was very enlightening and very enriching for all of us," adds Pantig, who, along with her 14-year-old son, was one of the mentors.

Last Saturday, the schoolchildren and their mentors gathered here to determine if they have met, or even exceeded, the programís 80 percent average success rate.

The project has measurable results. There are tests and post-tests to check how many of the students coming from Grades 1 to 6 have learned to read ó and read with comprehension.

School officials also conduct an assessment test at the end of the four sessions to determine not only the progress of the pupils but also the effectiveness of the mentors.

"We became a part of the childís life. We are happy because our volunteers gave their personal time and we are pleased with the results," says Karen Esguerra, the first woman president of the Dagupan Bangus Jaycees.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved