While a graduate student at USC Viterbi in safety and systems management, Dan Harrington, M.S. Systems Management ‘86, wrote a paper titled “Books for the Barrios.” His work dealt with improving the literacy rates of impoverished Filipino children. Not only did Harrington receive an “A,” but his professor commented “keep at it.”
The former Vietnam War Navy fighter pilot heeded the sage advice.
Harrington founded Books for the Barrios a few years before, in 1981, while stationed at the Cubi Point Naval Air Station in the Philippines. The nonprofit he founded collects educational resources like books and electronic devices from U.S. schools and publishers and distributes them to isolated public schools in the Philippines. Over the past 38 years, Books for the Barrios has donated over 16 million books in English and created over 70 “model-of-excellence” schools in remote and poor Filipino villages, Harrington said. In the process, Books for the Barrios has helped improve literacy rates of millions of impoverished Filipino children, he added, and continuously professionally trained all of the nation’s half-million public schoolteachers.
“The feedback one gets from each individual and the constant appreciation for what one has accomplished overall is fulfilling and satisfying,” said Harrington, who has visited the Philippines each year since BftB’s creation. “It’s a wonderful feeling.”
The lack of opportunity for so many Filipino youth, especially in remote areas, that Harrington witnessed while stationed in the Philippines inspired him to create Books for the Barrios. Initially, he hosted a fundraiser at a pool party. Over the decades, he continued to receive money from a variety of donors, including wealthy individuals, corporate grants and workplace donations. Over the years, Books for the Barrios has raised about $3 million in cash and $150 million worth of books. Donated items are shipped to the Philippines and delivered by trusted agents, like priests, to public schools in need.
“We find the most remote, deprived schools and serve them first,” said Harrington, who now lives in Walnut Creek, CA – Books for the Barrios’ current headquarters. “Sometimes they are in war-torn areas where people face starvation or have been forced from their homes, or half their population was poisoned or affected by natural disasters,” Harrington said.
The Books for the Barrios National Model-of-Excellence School Program has transformed 70 underfunded, low-quality schools into some of the best in the Asia, according to Harrington. At these schools, American volunteer instructors train the local teachers, who then can implement a more structured and advanced curriculum as a model for the rest of the nation’s schools. These “Model-of-Excellence” schools, he said, features lots of textbooks, computers and libraries.
“Everybody realizes education is the key,” Harrington said.
Harrington said USC Viterbi taught him what he needed to know to develop an international non-profit organization. Specifically, he learned how to assess an organization and expand its strengths and minimize its weaknesses.
Books for the Barrios, in addition to improving literacy in the Philippines, also works with refugee camps in three continents, training people to create sustainable NGOs.