His Wealthy Healthy Outreach Program has educated and saved the lives of thousands of street children, (while overlooked by governments and the wealthy), his charity Championing Community Children programs with other child volunteers provides advice on better hygiene such as washing hands daily, brushing teeth twice a day, not drinking septic water etc. Kesz Valdez is a street child turned into a health advocate.
The Beginning of Cris Kesz Valdez’s Amazing Story
Kesz was born in Manila, Philippines in 1998, the third child in a family of nine children. Kesz’s was born into a family that was desperately poor; (his father a pedicab driver, his mum either begging or at home), so much so, that at the incredible age of two years old Kesz was forced out of the home to beg and pick through rubbish on Manila’s Captive dumpsite; where he would scavenge for food for the family. His family were so poor and Kesz was so unwanted that his family even tried to sell him. Unsuccessful, they dubbed him as “bad luck,” and even Kesz being so young his father would regularly beat him up believing Kesz was bringing bad luck to the family.
Kesz as a Street Child
By the age of four, to escape the abuse and beatings of his father, he would spend most of his days living on the street. He begged and roamed Manila’s Captive dump for food during the day. At nights, he would sleep wherever his little feet took him: shop door steps, on the streets next to dogs, and even on or inside open graves at the cemetery! His health was poor and his future was bleak!
Although small and vulnerable, Kesz’s story is not unlike many other Filipino children from impoverished families. Kesz would find himself among other children in a similar situation. With no adults around, the street children were prey to the local children gangs that ruled the areas.
Helped by a Stranger
One day whilst sleeping on the street, Kesz was approached by Harnin Manalaysay. Manalaysay was a street children’s educator who ran a local learning program for street kids that were unregistered and therefore unable to attend school. He had been doing so for over twenty seven years on top of his day job occupation as a marine engineer. Manalaysay’s program would enlist volunteer teachers and use mobile classrooms to bring education to the neglected, be that by the children’s parents, schools or local government in the poorest areas of Manila.
Manalaysay took pity on Kesz, took him home, tended Kesz’s wounds, gave him a bath and some new clothes and invited him to enroll in his school. Manalaysay then took Kesz home to his parents with the pledge that he would sponsor Kesz's food and schooling.
Kesz enrolled in Manalaysay’s mobile school program, however, he was forced back to scavenge in the dump by his parents and his beatings would continue daily because Kesz's earnings were not enough to support his father’s drug and alcohol addiction. Kesz continued to beg and scavenge for food during the day at the dump daily.
Rounding up at Club 8586
A tragedy occurred when he was five years old. Scavenging through the dump along with fellow scavengers and jostling around, Kesz was accidentally shoved and fell onto a pile of burning tires. The accident marked him for life with third degree burns on both his arms and back. As if that were not tragic enough, Kesz’s father would not offer any help to even take Kesz to a doctor or hospital because he still held the grudge and belief that Kesz was “bad luck” to the family. His mother was alarmed and she brought him to Manalaysay’s house (barefoot and naked). Immediately, Manalaysay took Kesz in and treated and dressed his burnt arms and back. In order to ensure Kesz’s recovery, Manalaysay then brought Kesz to a charity shelter for street kids called Club 8586 to recuperate.
When asked about the incident, Kesz replied "My father was angry when I came home and said I deserved it for being stupid”.
Months later, Kesz's mother would approach Manalaysay; not to ask out about her son’s health or wellbeing but to advise Manalaysay that both she and her husband no longer wanted Kesz back. Manalaysay made an offer and it was agreed that he become Kesz's legal guardian and mentor from that day forward.
Kesz Volunteers to Help Street Children
Under the guidance of Manalaysay, Kesz thrived in his new environment. Soon Kesz’s wounds healed and his school grades also showed signs of improvement. Kesz was enjoying his time so much at Club 8586 that he also became an active member of Manalaysay's learning program in which he offered to be a volunteer teacher, educating other street kids about the importance of hygiene.
For six years Kesz never knew his actual birthday, however, after some of his friends at Club 8586 did some research, they were able to find the date and together they celebrated his seventh birthday. When asked what Kesz would like for his birthday Kesz replied, “I wish to give gifts to other street children," for he wanted them to feel the same happiness he feels that magical day.
So instead of asking for birthday presents (for himself), Kesz asked if he could give other children what he had, i.e. toys, candies and rubber slippers. That day Kesz and Manalaysay spent the day gifting various items and presents to other street children.
Kesz’s birthday became an annual tradition and and gave birth to the establishment of his own charity that he would call Championing Community Children and his presents, “Gift of Hope.”
Both Kesz and Manalaysay knew and understood that the street kids scavenging in the dump and begging were doing so not by choice but out of necessity to work and eat, just to survive up to the next day.
They would also regularly witness street kids scavenging in the dumps barefoot and therefore being susceptible to stepping on sharp objects (such as glass, rusty nails, metal etc.) that would not only cause deep wounds but could also lead to contracting tetanus and worse, to fatality.
However, with no ability to financially assist these children who travelled 30 miles a day to get out of the dump site, Kesz sought the advice of his mentor and guardian, Manalaysay.
With the assistance of Manalaysay, Kesz embarked on building a charity to raise funds from private donations to buy the basic living items the street children need on a daily basis, such as sandals, clothes, food and some toys. Along with this, Kesz and his friends from Club 8586 would also teach basic hygiene and nutrition tips as well as educate them on their rights against child abuse they may be experiencing from adults.
Cris Kesz Valdez’s Organizations
At first, Kesz gave out rubber slippers to children, to protect their feet. However, he soon realized they need more and he expanded his “Gift of Hope” package to include clothes, food (candy) and some toys.
Now in its seventh year, Kesz’s Championing Community Children charity has given out over seven thousand annual “Gifts of Hope” and received receiving increasing support from the wider community.
Kesz has also gone on to create his Wealthy Health Outreach with his intention and passion to educate street kids and those in slum areas of Manila on how to take better care of their health and hygiene. To do so, he has created five programs within his Championing Community Children charity which he delivers with his Club 8586 friends and other children volunteers which now continue to increase.
In the belief that for the slum children to be healthy so that they can make their own dreams come true, Kesz truly believes and acts on what he says:
“Poor health is a chronic problem for these children. Lots of them are malnourished and the children live and work amidst trash, sickly animals and open sewers. Not only are they exposed and susceptible to disease, they are also unlikely to be vaccinated or receive medical treatment. They usually cannot afford doctors or medicines. It is therefore extremely important for street children to look after their basic health, such as brushing teeth, keeping clean and treating small wounds.”
To ensure the health and hygiene information is passed on within the community, on a weekly basis Kesz and his team of volunteers with the Championing Community Children charity carefully monitor the group of street kids as well as continually instruct peers (in these slum communities) how to educate each other in areas of hygiene, nutrition, gardening and children’s rights. Thus this network of young caretakers and activists has continued to grow in popularity throughout the slum communities.
Cris Kesz Valdez’s Story of Triumph
Since its founding in 2005, the Championing Community Children has gone on to achieve great success. Today over 3000 children have been attended to by treating their wounds and the charity has handed out thousands of toothbrushes, reaching more than 10,000 street kids and those living in slum communities.
At the age of thirteen Kesz was invited to the Hague’s historic Knights Hall where he was awarded the 2012 International Children’s’ Peace Prize for his exceptional and courageous works have inspired entire communities and made significant difference in solving problems that affect children all over the world. Not only is Kesz the first Filipino to receive this prestigious award, he is incredibly the youngest ever laureate to receive such a prize. The award has earned him one hundred thousand Euros. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who presented and presided over the event, described Kesz as a "voice for the voiceless" and a "true inspiration.”
Returning home to the streets of Cavite, Manila, amidst the media frenzy that ensued Kesz, speaking in a soft voice, said:
"I help because I see myself in children, who roam and live on the streets, and some good-hearted people showed me love and changed my life, and I am just paying it forward."
Kesz’s plans now are to continue with his charity and at the same time, ensure that he doesn't get failing marks at school. Eventually, Kesz aspires to become a medical doctor, so that he can help more children, not only in the Philippines but in other countries throughout the world as well as he continues with his charity. The youngest peace laureate says:
“My message to children around the world is not to lose hope.”
Achievements & Awards
- 2005: Launched Championing Community Children with “Gift of Hope”
- 2011: Over 7000 gifts of hope delivered to street children
- 2012: International Children’s Peace Prize