Thursday, October 22, 2009

Vote for a young hero


CAVITE CITY, Philippines (CNN) -- At 16, Rhandolf Fajardo reflects on his former life as a gang member.

Efren Peñaflorida's Dynamic Teen Company offers Filipino youth an alternative to gangs through education.

Efren Peñaflorida's Dynamic Teen Company
offers Filipino youth an alternative to gangs through education.

"My gang mates were the most influential thing in my life," says Fajardo, who joined a gang when he was in sixth grade. "We were pressured to join."

He's not alone. In the Philippines, teenage membership in urban gangs has surged to an estimated 130,000 in the past 10 years, according to the Preda Foundation, a local human rights charity.

"I thought I'd get stuck in that situation and that my life would never improve," recalls Fajardo. "I would probably be in jail right now, most likely a drug addict -- if I hadn't met Efren."

Efren Peñaflorida, 28, also was bullied by gangs in high school. Today, he offers Filipino youth an alternative to gang membership through education.

(Click below to vote for Efren. --Mari)

Vote now for the CNN Hero of the Year

"Gang members are groomed in the slums as early as 9 years old," says Peñaflorida. "They are all victims of poverty."

For the past 12 years, Peñaflorida and his team of teen volunteers have taught basic reading and writing to children living on the streets. Their main tool: A pushcart classroom.

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

Peñaflorida knows firsthand the adversity faced by these children. Born into a poor family, he lived in a shanty near the city dump site. 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.

Video Watch Peñaflorida and his group in action with their push cart classroom »

"Our volunteers serve as an inspiration to other children," he says.

The group also runs a hygiene clinic, where children can get a bath and learn how to brush their teeth.

Since 1997, an estimated 10,000 members have helped teach more than 1,500 children living in the slums. The organization supports its efforts by making and selling crafts and collecting items to recycle.

Video Take a look at the slums where Peñaflorida and his group spend their Saturdays »

Through his group, Peñaflorida has successfully mentored former gang members, addicts and dropouts, seeing potential where others see problems.

"Before, I really didn't care for my life," says Michael Advincula, who started doing drugs when he was 7. "But then Efren patiently dug me from where I was buried. It was Efren who pushed me to get my life together."

Video Watch Advincula describe how he met Peñaflorida in the slums »

Today, Advincula is a senior in high school and one of the group's volunteers.

Peñaflorida hopes to expand the pushcart to other areas, giving more children the chance to learn and stay out of gangs.

"I always tell my volunteers that you are the change that you dream and I am the change that I dream. And collectively we are the change that this world needs to be."

Voting is being conducted through an online poll at, ending November 19 (6 a.m. ET)


Bonnie Bonsai said...

Good morning Mari. This is very long and find this very interesting. I'll come back to read the whole story. First let me go to church first. Let's see how can I help. I am amenable to helping our poverished little children get educated even if they are schooled in a 'street school'.

My heart wanted so much to help. It is the greediness and corruption of people that prevented me from doing so.

I don't have much but my heart got plenty to share.

Thanks for this post and thanks for coming to comment my recent journey photos.

Nance said...

Kuya Ef is indeed a hero! I'll make sure to vote for him daily until it ends on 11/19. We need a thousand more of Kuya Ef ... changing one heart at a time!
Do you know, Mari if the winner receives a monetary award? That will be a big help for their group.

Mari said...


You can help by voting for Efren.


It's definitely a big help, if he wins. I hope he makes it to at least the top 10. His trip here though has to be out of his pocket.

Thanks you both for voting for him.

Ebie said...

He has my vote of confidence already!

P.S. Mari, I am glad you are back from your blog break!

Vk-mahalkaayo said...

good morning, mari,

i vote already for him........

I pray for his project in the phils.
"the Push Cart Classroom."
i viewed the vedio and the other links which you share here.

thanks for sharing the post.

dodong flores said...

Yes, let's vote for him. He's a true hero, a Filipino pride...

bing said...

i saw a documentary on him and his group on tv. really doing a great job for the Filipino youth. better than the trapos. and better than some of the so called 'educators'.

will vote for him. hurray for EF!

dodong flores said...

Hi, Ms. Mari. Happy Halloween!

It's a long weekend here in the Philippines...

Mari said...


Thanks for the vote. He's one hero we should all give a hand to.


Salamat sa boto mo. Tulungan natin ang tumutulong sa ating kapwa.


He's already in the top ten. Sana manalo siya.

It's All Saints' Day already. What do we say on this day? May all the Saints be happy? LOL


The 'trapos' and others are doing it for show...for photo op. LOL Efren is the real McCoy...a true hero.

Thanks for voting for him. He made it to the top ten already.

Vk-mahalkaayo said...

good day, mari,

just want to say, Hello to you.

have a nice day to you.

Hailey's Beats and Bits said...

this should inspire many!

Ebie said...

Hi Mari, I wish you would post some of your art work, I love them.

I hope you are not extending your blog break till next year!

Be well, my friend!

dodong flores said...

I hope he will win. I would have preferred him to win and show to the world our country through what he is doing than bringing our country to the limelight through boxing only...

Mari said...


Hopefully, it will inspire many more.

Thanks for the hop.


I will post some soon.

Thanks for the visit.


Let's hope he does win. God bless Efren.

Thanks for dropping by.

Hi! I'm Grace said...

I enjoyed reading this post, Mari. (Sigh.) I miss Philippines. :(

Vk-mahalkaayo said...

Hi Mari,

THANKS for the visit Ha?

malapit ng pasko, next sunday is already the 1st advent.
wala pa akong adventkranz?.....bili na lang ako ng ready made, ok na rin.

sigi, have a nice day.

backpacking philippines said...

the real hero oof this day but his homecoming was marred by grisly news from maguindanao.

it's also a stab at the government's total failure in providing this basic service :(