the little team that could

Here be Monday night's Quill crew:
L-R: Sir Chito, Me, SPR, Ruth, Margie, Ta Nitz, Ms Miner, Bianca, Ate Ellen.
This photo taken from Ms Margie's Facebook post. Thank you!
Let me start by saying that this time last year, we were literally on our knees, packing boxes to be shipped to some 20 other venues outside Metro Manila in preparation for the 25 simultaneous sessions last Dec. 4.

Of course, last year, while dutifully checking lists and counting notebooks and cutting packaging tape and printing labels, we weren't even thinking about the Quill awards -- what we just wanted to do was, of course, just send out the 60 boxes to the 20 venues and just get this thing off the ground.

(But really, my choice moment, and I will never tire of retelling this: I found myself sitting in an Inquirer truck at 4 in the morning outside the domestic airport, waiting for a man I knew only by name, whose family was boarding a flight to Batanes. As we all know, that flight eventually got canceled -- I woke to a 9 am phone call telling me that, and I spent most of that day looking for another guy to take those boxes to Batanes, because, hey, it's From Batanes to Tawi-Tawi. Batanes was not an option, it was a requirement.)

It's been roughly a year since we pulled that off, with the help of hundreds of Inquirer employee-volunteers, partner organizations and of course the Inquirer bureaus. In last year's Post-Mortem, I wrote:
That said -- I wasn't kidding when I said many hands have kept us afloat -- what I've seen in the past few months while organizing this thing is something I'd never forget. I guess it's true what they say -- Build it and they will come.

They all did. And as they say, the rest is history.

At the time, I knew I was in the middle of something huge, and last Monday, when the team bagged an Award of Excellence at the Philippine Quill Awards, and was eventually named Overall Winner for Division 1 -- there are a few things that could rival the utter joy of that moment. More than the trophies and the photos and being on stage and all that -- it's the fact that the team was there to celebrate together that really got to me.

2011 Philippine Quill
Division 1 - Communication Management
25 Simultaneous Inquirer Read-Along:
Telling the Story to Empower,
To Inspire from Batanes to Tawi-Tawi
Philippine Daily Inquirer

You know how they say that you're the sum of the people you spend the most time with? Well, how about this: Since 2007, I have been spending a ridiculous amount of time with the most creative and hardworking group that I have ever had the pleasure of working with, and as with all things that end up to be surprisingly amazing, it all started with a small idea.

(Rest under cut, with Photos!)

Over the course of the years -- we're turning five in May, and can you really believe that it's been only a little over four years? -- I have learned plenty from being a part of the team behind the Inquirer Read-Along: I have learned to be more flexible and more able to recover from things unexpected; I have learned a hundred and one ways to deal with kids without blowing your top or laying a hand on any of them. I have learned how to organize and keep my sanity from one weekly meeting to another, and how to talk to other people so that they accept your requests without hating you (hehe). I have learned to look at (or many times, for) the bigger picture, to be more receptive to ideas, to think out of the box. To not be afraid of challenges, and things that involve hard work.

Above all -- this team has taught me to not shy away from things that seem impossible. It's important to stress that when the idea of holding TWENTY-FIVE simultaneous sessions was first broached, the first thing that hit us was: "THIS IS GOING TO BE BLOODY IMPOSSIBLE."

Yet, a year or so later, here we are. You know how they say, Impossible is nothing? Yep. I believe that.


This year, in keeping with the theme, Let's Continuously Outdo Ourselves, we just capped a two-day marathon of events we called the Inquirer Read-Along Festival. In a nutshell, it involves not one, not two, not even three, but SIX READ-ALONG SESSIONS held one after the other in a single venue, the GT Toyota Asian Cultural Center in UP Diliman.

As with last year's 25 simultaneous sessions, the idea of holding a storytelling festival was hatched in May, when we sat down with our regular partners during the Read-Along's fourth birthday party. They noted the absence of a storytelling festival for a couple of years now. A storytelling festival? Now this was an animal we didn't know. And just like that, the challenge was accepted.

Formally, we started planning for the Festival in August, and truth be told, I actually looked forward to sitting in those weekly meetings with the seven other relentless people that formed the Festival's "Core Group". We scouted venues, wrote letters of invitations, made phone calls of every sort. We suffered rejections, we waited for confirmations that never came. Just this Friday, we were actually afraid that there wouldn't be kids to attend our sessions (we continuously prayed for this over the weekend -- now the joke is that we overprayed. Hehe.) Just this Saturday, we screened 25 storyteller applicants for the first ever Read-Along storytelling contest. On Sunday, we were still checking and rechecking that we have enough resources (tokens, giveaways, etc) for each event.

The result: Three read-along sessions for Day One (Three readings involving representatives from the Japanese, Spanish and South African embassies; a segment with Cesar Montano; a segment with international beauties from Miss Earth 2011; sessions with Kuya Rich of Alitaptap, Sophia School teachers, Ate Dyali and a super-special Living Museum of Well-Loved Storybook Characters from Sophia School students that ought to bring some variety shows and event openings to shame)

For Day 2, we had a seminar for some 200 public school teachers and daycare workers, a special Junior Inquirer read-along event, a storytelling contest, a mini-concert from Gary V himself, and a Fright Night session complete with faux-bonfire, costumed UST students, and comedian Jon Santos.

At the Entrance, before everything started
Outside the venue that morning
The calm before the storm. GIANT MUSHROOMS!
With kids from Al-Salaam Peace Community, Sophia School teachers and the Living Museum Kids

Right now, I'm still a bit woozy from all those early mornings, but in all -- my body is tired, but my mind's on overdrive. Magpapahinga lang po saglit -- but I'm sure when we come back, we'll be full of new ideas and really -- I can't wait for what's in store for us in 2012. =)

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