MANILA, Philippines—Heroes walk among us and they don’t wear costumes. They’re in plain sight, trying to make a difference and inspire others to do the same in a domino effect.
Efren Penaflorida is a 28-year-old teacher and social worker at the Palmridge School in Cavite who is one such hero, doing public service with a passion.
Penaflorida takes his passion beyond the usual five-day work week. During Saturdays he and dozens of other volunteer youngsters teach underserved and out-of-school youths in what he calls “Kariton Klasrum” (pushcart classroom).
‘School on wheels’
Penaflorida and his colleagues fill the custom-built pushcart with all the necessary educational materials like books, notepads, and writing implements. They then take the pushcart to places with many street children and teach them basic English, mathematics, and science.
Knowing that many of the children who “attend” his weekend schools are poor, he also includes lessons in hygiene and gives out soap. Some volunteers also provide free medical examinations and medicines to the underprivileged communities they visit.
He has been doing this for 10 years, starting when he was still a high school student.
Penaflorida founded the Dynamic Teen Company, a volunteer group aimed at encouraging youths to help underprivileged people, most especially other youngsters, by offering free lessons they would not otherwise get.
The mobile classroom has been replicated in other regions in the country; a version of was also established in Kenya.
The group has expanded beyond their weekend teaching activities and has helped in other youth-oriented support campaigns including counseling, values formation, human rights, and some medical missions.
It has also helped other agencies, including the Department of Education with its annual “Balik Eskwela” (back-to-school) program. The group’s network of volunteers, which has grown to about 10,000 members nationwide, continues to grow.
For his passion, Penaflorida was nominated early this year as one of the candidates for CNN Heroes, a tribute by the international news organization to selfless humanitarian acts of individuals from different countries.
And Penaflorida is getting a few steps closer to becoming the CNN Hero for 2009. He was recently pronounced as one of the top ten finalists and is closer to winning the $100,000 prize money.
Earlier this month, CNN organized a local meet-and-greet with Penaflorida in Manila to entice people to vote for him at the CNN Heroes website. On November 26, the CNN Hero of the Year will be announced.
But despite his popularity, Penaflorida remains humble. “I don’t doubt there are other heroes among us. What’s important is that we see others doing the same thing. I’m already thankful for everything,” he said.