Filipino-Australian founder Samantha Bonney bridges the Philippines’ learning divide through book donations while raising environmental awareness in Australia
Tracing her roots from the island province of Negros Occidental, Samantha Bonney often travelled to visit extended family in her hometown. She grew familiar with the daily hardships of life in the Philippines during these trips, but once they were over, she would return to Australia and look forward to the opportunities waiting for her. Giving back didn’t come naturally at first, until Samantha discovered the unbelievable amount of books that end up in landfills in Australia that other people would consider treasures.
Samantha founded the Give-A-Textbook (GAT) Foundation, a Melbourne-based non-profit charity that actively distributes books from Australia throughout the Philippines. Run by volunteers, GAT Foundation started six years ago and has since been able to donate over 60,000 books to libraries, schools, organisations and community groups.
She recalls setting up the foundation with no clear direction except the memory of her encounter with an elementary school teacher back in Negros Occidental. With research and the support of the Australian community, Samantha found her purpose: to change the future one book at a time.
Giving books a second life
In a 2016 case study published by the Centre for Public Impact, it was estimated that the shortage of textbooks in Philippine high schools was so great that eight children had to share a single copy. The high cost of textbooks is a key barrier, preventing schoolchildren from owning adequate learning materials which hinders their education further.
With most public schools having little to no funding for libraries, their reference materials would be stored in dilapidated classrooms that received poor maintenance and easily affected by extreme weather conditions.
The GAT Foundation strives to donate quality and new books to meet the learning needs of students. Through local NGO partnerships and corporate social responsibility projects, these literacy materials are distributed to schools to empower individuals and promote lifelong opportunities that are aligned with the education curriculum in the Philippines.
“The GAT Foundation has given the City Library an opportunity to support our community outreach program called “Brigada Aklatan” by providing books to the public schools and barangay reading centers in our city. These institutions lack quality books and it’s been wonderful to be able to provide books that are almost brand new, high quality and relevant to learners’ reading needs”. – Stella Micullar-Fetiluna, City Librarian, Negros Occidental, Philippines.
Increasing environmental outreach in Australia
Prior to the pandemic, the GAT Foundation had been involved in over 70 distribution projects since 2016. While organising activities have been a challenge over the past two years, the cross-cultural collaboration between Australia and the Philippines continues to extend beyond book donations. In Melbourne, volunteers would organise book drives and collect reference materials such as dictionaries, thesauruses, children’s books, atlases and high school textbooks for Maths and English, among others. Not only will the books be sustainably reused – giving them a second lease on life will also save more trees in the long run – 750 trees saved per the GAT Foundation’s calculation.
Celebrating milestones with the Australian Embassy in the Philippines
Commemorating Philippines-Australia Friendship Day is one of Samantha’s favourite events. Since 2018, the GAT Foundation has provided 1,150 books to the Davao City Library Mobile Bus Library and an elementary school in Davao. Fostering a community that supports children’s education and lifelong learning is central to the mission of the GAT Foundation. Through the support of the Australian Embassy of the Philippines, Samantha values every opportunity to share knowledge about Australia, symbolised by the books donated as a token of friendship between Australia and the Philippines.
Despite the cultural differences, Samantha believes that her heritage is a huge influence on her willingness to work hard and solve challenges faced by underserved communities in the Philippines. Through the GAT Foundation, she hopes to not only bridge the learning divide with books, but also to raise awareness about the positive environmental impact that rehoming books will have on the Australian community.