MANILA, Philippines – A Filipino has received international recognition for his innovative effort in educating poor children.
Efren Peñaflorida, who started the “Kariton Klassroom” to bring education to poor children, has been named CNN Hero of the Year, the cable news network announced yesterday.
According to the CNN website
, Peñaflorida was selected after getting the highest number of online votes, which reached 2.75 million in seven weeks.
The 28-year-old teacher from Cavite City bested nine other contenders from different countries.
Peñaflorida received the award from actress Eva Mendes at the conclusion of “CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute” held at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood on Saturday night in the US.
He received $100,000 cash to continue his work with his group, Dynamic Teen Company, according to CNN.
The cash prize is on top of the $25,000 bonus that Peñaflorida received after he was included in the top 10 CNN Heroes.
“Our planet is filled with heroes, young and old, rich and poor, man, woman of different colors, shapes and sizes. We are one great tapestry,” Peñaflorida said in his acceptance speech before an audience of about 3,000.
Peñaflorida urged the crowd to “be the hero to the next one in need.”
He also called on them to “serve well, serve others above yourself and be happy to serve.”
“As I always tell to my co-volunteers… you are the change that you dream as I am the change that I dream and collectively we are the change that this world needs to be,” Peñaflorida said.
As a child, Penaflorida chose education over gang life in Cavite City and vowed to create a way for other children to make the same choice.
Peñaflorida said he was occasionally bullied and beaten by street gangs, which prompted him to decide to come to the aid of street children and rescue them from poverty and neglect through education.
Peñaflorida created a program that brought books to children in slums and on the streets, and the 10,000 members of his Dynamic Teen Company have brought reading, writing and hygiene to 1,500 youngsters.
“My message to children of all races, please, to embrace learning and love it for it will embrace and love you back and enable you to change your world,” Peñaflorida said.
Peñaflorida’s group was first recognized after it won the Bayaning Pilipino award for its heroic work in bringing education to poor children in Cavite.
Since 1997, more than 10,000 volunteers are now helping in educating more than 1,500 kids in depressed areas in Cavite.
The group later launched the “Kariton Klassroom,” an innovative way of bringing the classroom to the children in the depressed areas.
The pushcart classroom is now complete with teaching aids, blackboards and even folding tables and chairs to allow children to sit and read materials provided in a mini-library – a far cry from the humble effort of loading the books and school supplies in large plastic bags.
Peñaflorida now earns a living as a public school teacher in Cavite but still continues his pushcart classrooms on weekends where volunteers have started teaching the street urchins of Manila.
Peñaflorida recalled that he and other volunteers had to endure discrimination and even being branded as “trash collectors” with their pushcarts whenever they carry out their noble mission.
The public, however, took notice of Peñaflorida’s ingenious way of bring education to poor children by nominating him to the CNN’s list of heroes for this year.
Peñaflorida was a member of Club 8586, a youth group in Cavite that financed his elementary and high school education.
When CNN early this year announced its annual search for Heroes, Club 8586 nominated Peñaflorida.
CNN’s Blue Ribbon Panel sifted through 9,000 nominees from over 100 countries, and soon narrowed down its choices to 28. On Oct. 1 (Oct. 2 in Manila), CNN announced its top 10 finalists for its Hero of the Year. Peñaflorida made it.
A brief moment of triumph
Peñaflorida said his inclusion in CNN’s Top 10 “gave Filipinos a breath of fresh air, a brief moment to cheer and celebrate,” since the Philippines was still reeling from the weeklong floods and devastation wrought by storms “Ondoy” and “Pepeng.”
During gala night, the top 10 CNN Heroes, chosen by a blue-ribbon panel from an initial pool of more than 9,000 viewer nominations, were each honored with a documentary tribute and introduced by a celebrity presenter, according to the Web site. Each of the top 10 Heroes received $25,000.
The finalists were selected by a panel that included former US secretary of state Colin Powell, Whoopi Goldberg and Ted Turner. The winner was chosen online by the public, with nearly 3 million votes cast.
The presenters during gala night included Nicole Kidman, Kate Hudson, Neil Patrick Harris, Pierce Brosnan, Dwayne Johnson, Mendes, Randy Jackson, Greg Kinnear, George Lopez and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
Grammy Award-winning artist Carrie Underwood, R&B crooner Maxwell and British pop sensation Leona Lewis performed during the gala event.
CNN anchor Anderson Cooper hosted the event that would be shown on Nov. 26, at 9 p.m. EST on CNN.
Before the announcement of winners, Peñaflorida told ABS-CBN that if Filipinos wanted to see change, they should start within themselves.
After receiving the honor, Peñaflorida said more poor and uneducated children will benefit from the award.
He said 90 percent of the cash grant would go to Dynamic Teen Company and the remainder would go to the Church.
“Nothing for me. I was here to represent the poor children (of the Philippines),” Peñaflorida said.
He added the several politicians who have started courting him after making it to the CNN’s top list would not make a difference.
Peñaflorida vowed to continue his work and offer himself as an example of an underprivileged kid who fell victim to violence driven by poverty and yet found a way to lift himself up.
For him, seeing the smiles of the children who rush to meet him when they spot his humble pushcart is enough reward for his efforts.
The Caviteño teacher could be hailed as another icon like boxing legend and seven-world titleholder Manny Pacquiao to many Filipinos.
But for Peñaflorida, as this year’s CNN Hero of the Year, the real heroes are the volunteers of Kariton Klassroom.
“And of course, for the Lord that allowed me to receive this award. He is the reason why I am here,” Peñaflorida said.