Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Pinoy slum teacher is a CNN hero (Written by Sabrina Oliveros)

Efren Peñaflorida , a 27-year-old Filipino teacher and youth worker, will be introduced today as a “CNN Hero” for providing Filipino youth growing up in slums an alternative to gang membership through education. The story of how Peñaflorida founded the Dynamic Teen Company (DTC) that has taught basic reading and writing to 1,500 children will be aired on the CNN talk show Larry King Live today, March 6, 6:00 PM Manila time.

CNN Heroes is an ongoing endeavor of the international cable news network to feature 32 difference-makers based on nominations submitted from all over the globe. The top 10 heroes for 2009, as selected by a panel of judges, will be honored at the end of the year. The international public will then vote for the Hero of the Year.

The CNN campaign with the slogan “Ordinary People, Extraordinary Impact” honors people who fit the bill of community crusader, everyday superhero, medical marvel and young wonder as well as people who are engaged in defending the planet, protecting the powerless and championing children.

Peñaflorida, himself once threatened by the dangers he now works to steer kids away from, belongs to that last category.

“High school was hell for Peñaflorida,” reported businessmirror.com and manilatimes.net. As a kid growing up in the slums outside of Cavite City, Peñaflorida lived in the shadow of local gangs who “constantly harassed and threatened” him, as they did other students in his school who wound up either joining the gangs or leaving school altogether. Still, Peñaflorida was able to enjoy a privilege—many of his peers had no chance at education in the first place.

Then, at 16 years old, he decided to “combine two problems to create a solution.” Together with three other high school students, Peñaflorida began reaching out to slum kids and laid the foundations for the DTC. According to dynamicteamcompany.org, Peñaflorida started his advocacy in 1999 by feeding and teaching slum children, as well as helping them stage performances and sell recycled products. As the DTC expanded over the last decade, Peñaflorida and his colleagues have realized their vision to “teach unschooled, labor-exploited and neglected children.” Former drug users, petty thieves and scavengers have all joined the DTC as volunteers, and thousands of unschooled children are now able to read and write.

Rhandolf Fajardo, who joined a gang in sixth grade, told CNN.com: “I thought I'd get stuck in that situation and that my life would never improve. I would probably in jail right now, most likely a drug addict—if I hadn't met Efren.”

Answered Peñaflorida: “They need education to be successful in life. It's just giving them what others gave to me.”

“I always tell my volunteers that you are the change that you dream and I am the change that I dream,” he added, noting that he wants to bring his “pushcart classes” beyond the slums of his childhood. “And collectively we are the change that this world needs to be.”

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