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‘Kuya Rey’ of The Storytelling Project Makes Reading A Fun Habit

Five things to know about Rey Bufi and The Storytelling Project.

Who was responsible for your love for reading? For some, it was their parents, for others, a teacher.

Then there are those who credit Rey Bufi. Founder of The Storytelling Project (TSP), Rey (or Kuya Rey to volunteers and participants of his program) created this initiative to “spark hope, inspiration, and imagination through storytelling,” says its Facebook page, “and to instill the love of reading and learning in all our TSP kids.”

Though TSP was formally established in 2012, Kuya Rey had been a storyteller since 2005, through a volunteer employee organization run by a company where he used to work. For eight Saturdays in summer, he and fellow volunteers taught reading to kids in public schools.

Eventually, he and his wife Grace (whom he met at the volunteer reading program) wanted kids to appreciate reading as more than a pastime. It had to be a habit—and it had to be fun. (Read: 4 Books To Teach Your Kids About Saints)

Since then, kids from the Mountain Province; Sison, Pangasinan; Dagupan; Laguna; and Masbate have discovered the joy of reading because of TSP. And it’s become more than just reading; it’s become interactive and experiential, too.

My Pope Philippines chats with Kuya Rey about TSP and reading’s impact on communities and his own life.

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Photo from The Storytelling Project Facebook

Kuya Rey didn’t used to read for pleasure.

Kuya Rey, whose family moved to Manila from Bicol, associated reading with schoolwork. “I wasn’t a reader in elementary and high school,” he says. At San Beda University in Mendiola, Manila, he double-majored in philosophy and human resources development, courses that required a lot of reading and writing. (Read: Student Who Made it to PH’s Top Universities Shares Her Study Habits)

The non-reader struggled in his first few years of college, repeating what he just read at least five times. It was a teacher who encouraged him to “read, read, read” and “write, write, write” and “start with what you’re interested in.” Kuya Rey, who wanted to become a lawyer, turned to novels by John Grisham. In time, he could understand assigned readings better and didn’t labor as much on his papers.

“That’s when I realized that if only I had gotten into leisure reading earlier, I would have a better appreciation of my philosophy course in college,” he says. “’Iyon ‘yung naging panata ko sa sarili ko: Ayokong maranasan ng mga batang Pilipino ‘yung naranasan ko.”

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Photo from The Storytelling Project Facebook

TSP remains a passion project.

Funding for TSP comes from the personal resources of Kuya Rey, Grace, and friends who believe in the initiative. (Publishers give discounted rates for their books.)

Core volunteers run the programs, but Kuya Rey is working on establishing a full-time staff and creating a sustainable organization in the next few years.

TSP doesn’t just teach reading.

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Photo from The Storytelling Project Facebook

In one activity, kids close their eyes as a volunteer reads a story. After the story, the kids illustrate what they imagined from what they heard. There are no right or wrong answers in this exercise in comprehension and self-expression. In another activity, a story about saving is supplemented with a visit from an actual bank manager. Participants are also provided with a play passbook for them to understand how debit and credit work. 

For the past two years, TSP has partnered with the Novaliches group AKAP Pamilya to bring care packages to orphans of the drug war. Each care package contains a storybook, coloring book, art materials, and Wi-Fi load so kids can watch the story on YouTube. “Storytelling can help the psychosocial healing of kids,” says Kuya Rey. (Read: Christian Leaders Urge Duterte to Face Accountability for Drug War Killings)

Reading made an impact on kids—and Kuya Rey.

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Photo from Rey Bufi Facebook and (background) Freepik

According to Kuya Rey, kids who were once slow learners and perennially absent from school are now excited to attend class and read, thanks to the safe and accepting space of TSP, which allows them to learn at their own pace. Parents who don’t read become part of their children’s new habit by listening to what their kids learned from a storytelling session with TSP.

As for the TSP founder, the former non-reader has now taken to leisure reading. Titles on his reading list include Starts With Why by Simon Sinek (“It helped me understand my role in The Storytelling Project”), Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth, and The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. In Iloilo, where he stayed long for a project, he read the Young Adult series of Janus Silang by Edgar Calabia Samar.

You can be a volunteer.

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Photo from The Storytelling Project Facebook

If you want to be a storyteller, you can join an orientation run by TSP’s core volunteers. TSP also has other committees that could use your help, like social media and programs, says Kuya Rey. And if you want to send a pledge to this worthy cause, each care package for an orphan of the drug war costs P300. 

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