24 March 2009

A CNN Pinoy Hero

Efren Peñaflorida
The Dynamic Teen Company (DTC) is an organization that is aimed at uplifting the lives of underprivileged children younger than themselves through education. Armed with only a pushcart full of books and other educational materials, DTC brings the classroom to children and educate in slum areas, dumpsites and even in the cemetery.

Formed in 1997 in Cavite by Efren Peñaflorida, DTC's mission then was to keep the youth away from trouble and vices. Their main tool: A pushcart classroom.

Stocked with books, pens, tables and chairs, DTC recreates a school setting in unconventional locations such as the cemetery and municipal trash dump.

Peñaflorida knows firsthand the adversity faced by these children. A middle child of a tricycle driver and a housewife, he grew up near the city’s open dumpster where he plays, and swims in the garbage beach when he was very young. But he says he refused to allow his circumstances to define his future.

"Instead of being discouraged, I promised myself that I would pursue education," he recalls. "I will strive hard; I will do my best."

In high school, Peñaflorida faced a new set of challenges. Gang activity was rampant; they terrorized the student body, vandalized the school and inducted members by forcing them to rape young girls, he says.

"I felt the social discrimination. I was afraid to walk down the street."

Peñaflorida remembers standing up to a gang leader, refusing to join his gang. That confrontation proved fateful. At 16, he and his friends "got the idea to divert teenagers like us to be productive," he says.

He created the Dynamic Teen Company to offer his classmates an outlet to lift up themselves and their community. For Peñaflorida, that meant returning to the slums of his childhood to give kids the education he felt they deserved.

"They need education to be successful in life. It's just giving them what others gave to me," he says.

Today, children ranging from ages 2 to 14 flock to the pushcart every Saturday to learn reading, writing, arithmetic and English from Peñaflorida and his trained teen volunteers.

DTC’s good deeds did not go unnoticed. In fact, the group won the Gawad Geny Lopez Bayaning Pilipino award in 2007 for its mission of educating children through its mobile classrooms in depressed areas, cemeteries and even in dumpsites in Cavite.

A year and a half later, it’s their founder's turn to be nominated as the first Filipino to be included in the international search, “CNN Heroes”. According to CNN’s website, CNN Heroes is a search for “people driven to exceptional achievement in service to others.”

Like Charice Pempengco and Arnel Pineda, CNN discovered DTC’s story through YouTube.

Last January, CNN, with award-winning producer Tim Shwartz visited the Philippines to do a feature on DTC and Peñaflorida.

Shwartz reportedly commented, “I knew your story was good. But now, I think it’s great.”

“Di ako makapaniwala na makapasok sa isang award giving-body na nagre-recognize sa mga kagaya ng mga batang nasa likod nito ngayon. Actually, ang mga totoong heroes dito ngayon itong mga teenager na walang kapaguran na tumutulong sa akin. Talagang collective effort ito sa gusto naming mangyari na maraming kaming matulungan,” he said.

Hopefully, the example set by Peñaflorida will serve as an inspiration to many politicians to stop politicking to serve selfish motives and do an honest work. More importantly, Peñaflorida hopes to inspire the youth and other organizations to be heroes by doing something good for the country.

To watch a video of and his group in action with their push cart classroom, click here.

To take a look at the slums where Peñaflorida and his group spend their Saturdays, click here.