MARAWI CITY (MindaNews / 29 May) — It isn’t all bad news in Marawi, and certainly not in the Mindanao State University’s main campus, where the once drab and dreary and ill-equipped University Library has been transformed into the students’ — and yes, Marawi’s — “happy place.”
“Grabe po ang improvement,” said AmerHassan S. Sanggacala, 23, of Saguiaran, Lanao del Sur; Mohammad Hartham Sarip, 20, an Iranun from Cotabato City; and Shohaylla Sarigala, 20 — all graduating students of BS International Relations – who took turns in sharing with MindaNews the many “good news” in the library, including the newly-installed charging station for laptops and mobile phones at the entrance of what is now referred to as the Banggolo reading room on the second floor.
“This week lang po na cut ang ribbon” (They cut the ribbon early this week), AmerHassan told MindaNews on Friday, May 24, a day after the second anniversary of Day 1 of the Marawi Siege.
There are now 16 available outlets for charging either mobile phones or laptops at this station – in addition to a few convenience outlets in another part of the reading room.
AmerHassan, Mohammad Hartham, Shohaylla and BS Social Work graduating students Gerald Amor, 28, of Davao City and Sittie Aleah Carim, 19, of Balindong in Lanao del Sur, admit they seldom came to the library before.
But with the changes introduced, it has become the “go to” place for students, their “second home.”
“That’s what the students call the Library now. Home,” says Elin Anisha Guro, Chancellor 1 for Research and Extension and OIC Director of the University Library since May 21, 2018. (Read Q and A withe Elin Anisha C. Guro)
Aside from the usual books, journals, study tables and chairs, the library provides free wi-fi, free water (plastics not allowed; bring your own mug or bottle container), prayer rooms and ablution rooms, several sofa sets, television sets for news and cable channels, a discussion room, a coffeebooker’s lounge (with free coffee if a professor or a visitor is kind enough to pay for a few cups for students), an indoor fountain, nooks named after Marawi’s “Ground Zero” landmarks.
AmerHassan says the library hours – and days — are longer, too – from 7 or 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. – and is now open also on weekends, unlike before when it was open only from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays to Fridays.
“I want to give kids as many opportunities as possible to take advantage of our services,” says Guro, who returned to MSU last year.
When the siege happened in 2017, Guro, then Director of the MSU Press and Information Office, was on study leave to finish her PhD at the School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne in Australia. She had earlier finished her MA-Media Studies at the New School in New York City as a Fulbright scholar.
MindaNews visited the library on August 30, 2017, while the war between government forces and the Maute Group was still raging. It was the second week of classes then and what is now referred to as the Banggolo reading room on the second floor was empty, a sight as depressing as the view of the war zone from the window. Few students were seen on the ground floor.
When MindaNews visited the library again in late 2018, students could be seen in different areas on both floors. Last week, on May 23, the Library hosted a “Meranao Spoken Word” festival at the American Corner to commemorate the second anniversary of Day 1 of the Marawi Siege.
AmerHassan and his friends explained only a few students were around, mostly those graduating and completing requirements, because it was vacation time already. On schooldays, they said, it would be difficult to find a table and chair.
Vacation notwithstanding, the ground floor teemed with students and the second floor was not empty. (The third has floor has yet to be fixed).
Gerald and Sittie Aleah were among the students inside the Banggolo last Friday, seated comfortably at this elevated corner called “Panggaw A Phaganadan Sa Ilmo.’ In this particular corner of the library, you can do as you please, even lie down on its rubber mat.
“Panggaw” means a raised bed or platform and allows students “maximum comfort in reading — sitting, squatting, reclining and even lying down,” according to the library brochure.
The Library, it says, “recognizes individual differences of learners and we provide them all the possible means of support that we could afford.”
“Here, students can opt to read using natural lighting while their backs are towards the Golf Course while natural light illuminates their reading materials and the breeze coming from the green expanse behind plays with their hair and faces, with their feet either fully stretched or in lotus position — whichever they prefer. It is also reminiscent of the hospitality of the Meranaws of old who do not offer guests just a seat but rather the best and most comfortable spot there is — the bed. Meranaws show their uber hospitality by telling their guests, ‘Indag ka san’ or ‘Please lie down’ (and make yourself comfortable).”
“Comfortable na talaga” (It’s really comfortable), says Gerald.
“Mas maganda na yung interiors” (The interiors are a lot better), adds Sittie Aleah.
Immortalizing Banggolo and other ‘Ground Zero’ landmarks
From the windows of the now brightly lit and colorful Banggolo reading area, one can see the outline of the now drab and dreary “Ground Zero,” that 250-hectare, 24-barangay main battle area in 2017, a far cry from what used to be a delightful view of colors (Meranaws are known for colorful buildings).
Residents of ‘Ground Zero’ have yet to return to their villages to either rebuild or repair their buildings although Task Force Bangon Marawi says they can do so per sector, between July and November this year.
“Ground Zero’s” landmarks are now being immortalized in the library.
According to Guro, the delay of the rehabilitation and the possibility of names of places being changed “inspired us to use them to preserve them and to remember them by.”
“If places such as Lilod, Raya, Padian and Banggolo — all part of the Most Affected Area — will be replaced by new names, then the future generation will not know them at all and that means that these places will soon be forgotten. Aside from that, using these names will be a constant reminder to us of what we have lost and what need to be recovered as soon as possible and not be relegated to the background,” she told MindaNews.
As an example, Banggolo “was such an important cultural space of the Meranaws that its loss in and of itself already comprises a gargantuan loss.”
The Banggolo reading area “aims to mimic that hustle and bustle of people at the real and original Banggolo, hoping that through its new name, most students would converge at the said place for study, discussion, debate and discourse. It is in the exchange of ideas that great things can happen through collaboration and discourse.”
“Pengnalan,” the discussion room, is available for small group meetings while the “Panggaw” area can serve as stage for events such as the Pagana Meranao, a traditional Meranao feast, for the iftar (meal to break the fast) on May 29, initiated by the International Committee of the Red Cross Iligan Office, in partnership with the University Library.
The first step at transforming the library into what is now the students’ “second home,” the “happy place,” began with a fresh coat of paint, recalls Guro.
The walls are now brightly colored — at least two with Sarimanok artwork and the ceiling at the Coffeebooker’s Lounge which has a painting of the legendary Omakaan, — have all become “instagrammable,” including the multicolored steps based on the cover of the Darangen books, and different versions of “welcome” on the stairway to the second floor.
The Sarimanok is a mythical bird in Meranaw tales and one can have a photograph between the bird’s wings in flight (by the stairway) or with the bird itself (in the Banggolo).
Omakaan is the legendary giant who can stop the flow of Lake Lanao with just one hand. Staffmembers of the E-library at the Raya A Torogan instruct visitors on how to take a selfie or groufie with the giant.
Aside from coffee, one can have a fun way of measuring one’s height through a painting of books piled up on one side and on the other side, at the foot of the giant.
The design of the stairway is based on the cover of the Darangen books, a reference to the fact that Darangen, “used to be an integral part of the Meranaws’ way of life … a compendium epic that originated from the Meranaw tribe and declared by the UNESCO as a masterpiece in the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.”
Guro and her team — Soraya P. Manamparan, Sittie Saadia M. Muti, Faishanie P. Macalantong, Ahlam Rohaima A. Usodan, Sorayyah. M. Casanguan — went to work immediately after Guro was appointed OIC Director on May 21, 2018.
Four months later, on September 24, they had a “soft re-launching” of the University Library, this time with a new signage outside the building, in three languages: English (University Library), Arabic (script) and Meranaw: “Torogan A Ilmo Sa Pantaw A Mareg” which literally means “Home of Knowledge in MSU.”
On its re-launching, the Library’s theme was “Moving Boundaries: Re-living, Re-claiming and Re-creating Meranaw Tradition, Culture, and Language.”
Another four months later, on January 25, 2019, the University Library received the “Outstanding Library Program of the Year Award” for 2018 from the Philippine Association of Academic and Research Librarians, Inc. (PAARL) “for its outstanding campaign and efforts in promoting information literacy at the Mindanao State University; for creating programs that strengthen the relationship, enhance communication, and forge better connection between the University Library and its community; and for its initiatives to promote and preserve the Meranaw culture for the future generation.”
More than just the physical transformation, the University Library has also initiated programs that include reviving the story-telling tradition of the Meranaws, including activities for children displaced by the Marawi Siege and children from various schools, tree-planting, spoken word festival, poetry reading, malong day, film showing, workshops, posting of notes on the freedom wall, even hosting a board games competition.
On April 8, the University Library launched its “New Spaces and Art,” this time with the theme: “Transforming Lives: Re-imagining, Re-tooling, and Re-creating the University Library.”
The activity was actually a launching of so many projects, including the provision of a separate water pump for the library, to ensure a steady supply of water for the students’ academic and religious needs, for the ablution rooms and for the maintenance of cleanliness in the comfort rooms.
The ablution rooms are the first established in an office in Lanao del Sur and was pre-launched on March11.
The University President. Dr. Habib Macaayong, approved the library’s request for a separate water pump and a dedicated 75 KVA transformer.
Several murals were also introduced on April 8. The Omakaan mural at the Coffeebooker’s Lounge which is not just a mural for height measurement but also an “artistic homage to the oral literature of the Meranaw;” a mural by Jeho Bitancor on the Marawi Siege on display at the American Corner Digi-Hub where many students converge for the free wi-fi; the interactive Sarimanok in flight on the wall of the Darangen stairway which “turns the person into the Sarimanok in flight, soaring above the clouds,” reflecting the dream of the University Library “to be the Sarimanok reaching the highest height in serving its patrons; and the Kamais mural showing a cart of corn for sale, to pay tribute to those young vendors who were a “special part of MSU student life” and to “instill love for the environment to present-day MSUans.”
The graduating students say it would have been nice if the library had been like this when they were in first year, but as Gerald puts it: “This is very good para sa newcomers. Dito na sila pupunta” (This is very good for the newcomers. They will come here).
The creativity of Guro and her team of librarians has been acknowledged not only by the PAARL which gave the University Library the “Outstanding Library” award in January but by the students who have found a home in this “happy place.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)