A Mentor at 16
At 16 years old, Efren is already into community service. With the help of Club 8586, Efren founded the Dynamic Teen Company (DTC) to help the youth channel their time to worthwhile undertakings instead of getting embroiled in drugs and gang wars. In 2007, 10 years after he launched DTC, Efren started a project called Kariton Klasrum—Pushcart Classroom in English. As time went by, he was able to convince more and more teenagers to join his crusade of bringing education to street kids who had no means of going to school. The project he organized with his two friends soon had 10,000 people helping in carry out their mission.
Named CNN Hero of the Year
Efren’s work became globally known when—among the 90,000 other nominees—he was shortlisted in CNN’s Top 28 Hero of the Year Finalists in 2009. Although elated, he took the nomination with a grain of salt, knowing that there are other 27 people to choose the winner of the prestigious award that comes with a cash prize of 100,000 dollars. Efren had the biggest shock of his life when online votes were counted and he was named 2009 CNN Hero of the Year.
It never occurred to Efren that what he has been doing as a fulfillment of his dream would land him to fame and catapult him to celebrity status. As far as Efren was concerned, he was just doing the work that made him really happy and enabled him to touch lives. Winning the prestigious CNN distinction was a hefty bonus to what he views as an already full existence, having been able to change many lives for the better with his unassuming pushcarts that do not only bring knowledge, but also instill good values to kids who are given up for potential troublemakers and labeled as society’s burden.
Efren’s Early Biography: Life in the Slums
Born on 5 March 1981 in a poor family, Efren Peñaflorida, Jr. has seen life at its worst. His parents had him shortly after their eldest son, Edward, was born. His father, Efren Peñaflorida, Sr., barely earned enough as a tricycle driver. To augment his measly income, his mother, Lucila Peñaflorida nee Geronimo, would sell fish crackers to small-scale stores within their community. Efren’s sister would be born much later.
Their family was among those who live below the poverty line. Having spent his childhood in a neighborhood near a cemetery and a dumpsite, Efren had no semblance of a decent environment fit to raise a child. The stench of the rotting garbage no longer bothers him. Some of his neighbors, desperate to get a roof above their heads, make do with living in vacant tombs. It was the kind of life no sane parent would wish for their children to have. But as much as Lucila and Efren, Sr. wanted to provide their kids with a healthy environment to grow up in, they couldn’t afford to pitch their tent somewhere else. Just eating three times a day was already a struggle for the family of five.
Being a bright kid, Efren has won a World Vision scholarship, which enabled him to go to school without the pressure on his parents to shell out an amount for his matriculation. Considering that he went to a public school where fees were very minimal, most of his classmates dropped out due to lack of resources. Luckily for Efren, he was endowed with above-average IQ.
Efren Gets Bullied
As a young boy, Efren enjoyed going to school. He loved to read, which further enriched his knowledge and creativity. His subjects did not give him a hard time because he learned fast and was a diligent student. What made school daunting were the bullies that littered their streets. As he had to walk to school, he often passed by kids who were out of school. They went in clusters and called their groups gangs.
Since Efren was among the handful of children who kept on attending school, he was singled out by kids who felt envious of the privilege he was given that was denied to them by their circumstance. As a result, they get back at Efren by making his way to school something to fear. They intimidated him and called him names in the hope of provoking him and inciting bloody fistfight. But Efren knew that he didn’t stand a chance with those kids who eat gang wars for breakfast.
So instead of fighting back, Efren opted to ignore them. He was labeled as a coward by the kids around him. Efren didn’t really mind, however, Edward his brother did. For Edward, Efren was a fool for allowing those kids to talk down to him. No matter what Edward said to convince him to retaliate, Efren chose to keep quiet whenever insults were hurled at him.
An Unhappy Home
Unfortunately, even for a kid as mild-mannered as Efren was, a chaotic home life could turn someone into a monster. When they began experiencing financial distress, his father and mother often got into word war, which made Efren question the purpose of his going to school. It came to a point when he felt so downtrodden that he no longer saw the point of pursuing his studies. It didn’t help that his environment was riddled with adults who were not much of a role model for a boy who was seeking someone to look up to and take after.
Joining Club 8586
Everything was reduced to routinary for Efren who was sinking deeper and deeper into depression without anyone noticing the alarming change. It was during that point in his life when he met Harnin “Bonn” Manalaysay, founder of Club 8586. Kuya Bonn, as he would later call him, saw him on the streets one day while he was doing an outreach activity in their area. The mild-mannered Bonn approached Efren and gave him a sandwich. What he initially intended to do was convince the boy to participate in his project. Efren’s animosity, however, caused Bonn to back off. But not for long. Bonn saw Efren again and invited him to join in a prison outreach activity. He wasn’t really thrilled by the idea of doing something kind to the lawbreakers. It was through Bonn’s ministering that his heart was softened. Contrary to what he used to believe, he saw the prisoners as people who have made bad choices in their lives. Whatever the reason is for their landing behind bars, Efren was certain it had to do with the lack of guidance.
That realization led to his involvement in Club 8586 as one of its youth volunteers. In return, Club 8586 shouldered his secondary and tertiary education.
Founding the Dynamic Teen Company at 16
Efren’s work at Club 8586 continued to flourish. His home life, however, remained far from inspiring and encouraging. Edward took his spending time in the Club against him. It often became the bone of contention at home with Efren not having time to help with housework. To settle the arguments, Efren did his best to help with the chores at home while studying and also doing volunteer work.
Things started to get busier when he founded the Dynamic Teen Company (DTC) through the initial funding of Club 8586. Rezcel Alconcel and Jefferson Bernal, his friends from Club 8586, helped him establish DTC in 1997. DTC was Efren’s way of reaching out to kids who, aside from being poor, had no hope for a better life. He sees himself in them and wanted to do what Kuya Bonn did for him.
Finishing School with Flying Colors
In spite of being thinly spread with housework, studies, and DTC, Efren graduated from high school with several distinctions. He then enrolled in San Sebastian College–Recoletos de Cavite where he graduated in 2000 with a degree in computer technology. Efren went on to pursue a course close to his heart—teaching. With the help of scholarship grants from different entities, Efren completed his Secondary Education degree from Cavite State University Cavite City. The humble educator went on to graduate cum laude from the university.
Launching Kariton Klasrum
Ten years after DTC was established, the now professional teacher, Efren, introduced the Kariton Klasrum. Asked by Asia Society Philippines how Kariton Klasrum or Pushcart Classroom works, Efren explains:
“The Kariton Klasrum has five stations: two classrooms teaching literacy skills and values formation. Then there’s a clinic—where we treat students with minor cuts and scrapes and teach basic hygiene—and a play center filled with books and educational toys. At the end of each session, we send them to the “canteen” for snacks. Food used to be the primary motivation for the kids to attend classes. Now they’re more excited to read books at the play center. That’s why we’re making the computer lab an extension of the play center (At the time of the interview, DTC had just received a donation of two laptop computers and mobile internet access). All the computer games are educational. [Once they’re used to it], we’ll teach them typing and how to use the internet for research, and make it an extension of our literacy program as well.
We [the volunteers] did the curriculum ourselves. I collaborated with other Education majors; we follow the Montessori method, which is the teaching method I use in the private school I teach in. Our alumni nurses developed the module on First Aid.
[Like regular schools], we have an enrollment period every May. Students are committed to attend for one school year, and we require parents to sign their enrollment forms.” (Source: Asiasociety.org)
Since its inception, the Kariton Klasrum is now composed of 10,000 members all working towards providing impoverished children and teenagers basic educational guidance that would revive their interest in attending school once again. What Kariton Klasrum wants to achieve is to awaken the youth’s desire to dream of becoming an accomplished individual. Efren knew that with the kind of environment most of those kids have, it’s very easy to forget about getting education since getting food in their stomach would always take precedence.
So in his pushcart, he’s got food prepared to distribute to expectant to children to get them to listen and participate in class. He has books and basic school supplies, such as pencils, crayons, and paper to help learning become more enjoyable. They also teach kids how to observe basic hygiene. His pushcart has soap and toothbrushes for kids to use.
Winning the 2009 Hero of the Year Contest
Because of the dedication he displayed, he was nominated by someone from Club 8586 in CNN’s search for Hero of the Year. Knowing how prestigious the award was, Efren did not really expect to make it to the initial screening. When he got a call from CNN, informing him about becoming a finalist, Efren was dumbfounded. And when he was announced as CNN’s Hero of the Year on 22 November 2009, he was overcome by joy.
Touching Acceptance Speech
Standing in the podium before thousands of spectators, Efren emotionally delivered the following speech:
"Our planet is filled with heroes, young and old, rich and poor, man, woman of different colors, shapes and sizes. We are one great tapestry. Each person has a hidden hero within, you just have to look inside you and search it in your heart, and be the hero to the next one in need.
So to each and every person inside this theater and for those who are watching at home, the hero in you is waiting to be unleashed. Serve, serve well, serve others above yourself and be happy to serve. As I always tell to my co-volunteers ... you are the change that you dream, as I am the change that I dream, and collectively we are the change that this world needs to be."
Given a Hero’s Welcome
Finally, since he began his Kariton Klasrum, the people in their neighborhood began to understand just how important education is to the youth. It had to reach global attention first before Efren was appreciated by his neighbors. When he got back to the Philippines, Efren was conferred the Order of Lakandula by then Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. He also took home the 100,000 dollars cash prize from CNN which he used to “buy a small lot for the Dynamic Teen Company’s Kariton project, send volunteers to college, and tithe.”
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Club 8586, Inc.
- Dynamic Teen Company
- Kariton Klasrum
- Kariton, Klasrum, Klinik, Kantin (K4)
Awards and Achievements
- World Vision's sponsored-children
- 1997: Founded the Dynamic Teen Company
- 2000: Graduated with highest honors from San Sebastian College–Recoletos de Cavite
- 2006: Graduated Cum Laude from Cavite State University Cavite City
- 2007: Launched Kariton Klasrum
- 2007: Awarded the Gawad Geny Lopez Bayaning Pilipino
- 2008: Named NEDA and UN volunteers programme
- 2009: Received ASEAN TAYO Awards
- 2009: Named CNN Hero of the Year
- 2009: Received the Order of Lakandula Conferred by Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
- 2009: Chosen to be part of the Philippines 21 Young Leaders Initiative Class