(This piece was published in GMA News Online last November 27, 2012)
Efren Peñaflorida Jr. wears a lot of hats—social worker, teacher—but his most recognizable one is that of a CNN Hero of the Year.
It was an award that he received in 2009 for his Kariton Klasrum advocacy. He has been doing this since 1997, when he established Dynamic Teen Company with his friends, Jefferson Bernal and Reezel Alconcel Fajardo. He was only 16 then but he already knew the value of education, having grown up in an impoverished area, and experiencing the challenges that came with it.
Unknown to many, Peñaflorida was a victim of bullying when he was young and it was the main reason why he got into mentoring. Instead of retaliation, he empowered himself and his peers through community activism.
He received support from Club 8586 Inc., a non-profit organization in Cavite City, which was founded by Peñaflorida’s mentor, Harnin “Bonn” Manalaysay. In fact, Club 8586 is the mother organization of Dynamic Teen Company, which offers education and community development as an alternative to gang life, especially for children from five to 15 years old.
Through youth awareness projects, the group has been providing community service to kids who are in need. They organize talent enhancement programs and self-development activities, and introduce the concept of youth importance, self-understanding, and teen moral values to the kids. “We send school-age kids who dropped out back to school,” Peñaflorida told reporters at a luncheon on Nov. 7.
The Kariton Klasrum project has pushcarts that are stocked with books, writing materials, tables, and chairs, which bring education to poor children. This mobile classroom teaches the kids different topics—from math to proper hygiene. It also provides basic medical treatment and food.
The project hopes to convert drop-outs and out-of-school youths, and bring them back to mainstream education. The Kariton Klasrum currently services 800 kids, and around 85 to 90 percent of them have gone back to school and some have also volunteered for the group’s projects.
With his positive and winning attitude, Peñaflorida continues to pursue his advocacies—not only in education, but in youth, environment, livelihood, culture, peace, and health as well. Even after winning the CNN award, he continues to do volunteer work, inspiring people through his deeds. In fact, he can add another feather to his cap, as he has recently been chosen brand ambassador for Alaska Nutribuild 345 with its campaign, “Isip Winner, Kilos Winner.”
As a youngster, Peñaflorida did not choose the easy way out. He could have dropped out of school because of his family’s dire financial state and succumb to gang pressure, but he chose a different path.
He became a mentor and organized the now well-known Kariton Klasrum, which incidentally is being replicated in other parts of the metro such as Caloocan, Novaliches, Pasig and Manila. He continues to inspire others with his winning attitude—one pushcart at a time.