By Pepper Marcelo
With so few resources, a worthwhile dream has taken shape which has transformed the lives of some of our country’s youth. Through the compassion and dedication of Efren G. Peñaflorida Jr. and his group, Dynamic Teen Company (DTC), teenagers from Cavite are being provided with much-needed education, school supplies and a support system to help them overcome their poverty and realize their potentials and goals.
“I discovered in the lives of many successful individuals that the doors of opportunities opened when they embraced the love for learning. They used education to free them from poverty and slavery,” Efren tells Planet Philippines in an interview.
For more than a decade now, Efren – nicknamed “Kuya F!” – and his volunteers at DTC have been educating street kids by traveling to depressed areas via a pushcart packed with books, pens and a blackboard.
The group was founded by Efren and several of his teenaged classmates in 1997. Efren himself came from a poor background; his father was a tricycle driver and his mother a laundrywoman. As a poor kid growing up in a depressed community, Efren’s high school days were marked by gangs and gang-related violence.
“Being bullied, persuaded to join gangs and experiencing social discrimination, my heart grew cold and I became bitter beside the fact that I was really scared too,” he says.
Despite the insistence of some of his schoolmates to join their gang, Efren steadfastly refused, bravely choosing at an early age to help others that were caught in the same predicament. He says he was influenced by a mentor who worked in Club 8586, a Christian volunteer mission designed to help street kids and jail inmates.
“He taught us to lead other people to become better. He taught us every principle he knows by exemplifying it to us all,” he says, adding, “I copied him and he aided me. I enjoyed the feeling and the fulfillment I’m getting.”
Efren and his friends initially brought food to the children, but quickly saw a need to go beyond their need for food. There was another deprivation they saw – hunger for learning. That’s what pushed them to conduct literacy classes to out-of-school youths.
Their early efforts were greeted with skepticism by those around them. “Before we were used to being ridiculed for what we stand for, we were being discouraged by our own families, teachers and peers. Making a stand then was very hard.”
His family was especially not excited about his project. “You are just wasting your time,” he recalled in interview with Philippine Daily Inquirer.
What began as a modest gathering of 20 or so of his friends seeking an educational alternative to gangs, eventually grew to hundreds of members teaching more than 1,500 children. The group works in the depressed areas of Cavite city, specifically the Cavite City Public Market, Himlayang Caviteño Cemetery, a former city dumpsite, and an area where the Badjao tribes congregate.
DTC has three pushcarts, amusingly nicknamed Kari, Toni and Trio. Their “K4” project consists of four facets: Kariton, Klasrum, Klinik and Kantin.
The Kariton is the pushcart, or pedicab, itself; the Klasrum contains a modest library, chairs, tables and chalkboards, packed with school supplies and educational toys to be used in teaching; the Klinik is hygiene orientation project run by registered midwives and professional nurses who are DTC alumni that provides supplies like soaps, towels, toothbrushes, combs and shampoo; and the Kantin which provides food supplies.
They recently added another “K” – Komlab, for science and computer learning.
Admittedly, raising money to sustain such a burgeoning endeavor can be difficult. DTC members and alumni organize events like recycling drives and performances to sustain their organization. They also rely on other charity groups for support.
Still, Efren is proud of the fact that such a young group comprising mostly of teenagers lacking the necessary funds can accomplish so much. “They seem more organized and more effective than some professionals in public service,” he says. “They are propelled by their passion for change and their compassion for the impoverished kids who were like them.”
Efren and DTC have gained numerous awards and attention in recent years, including the Gawad Geny Lopez Jr. Bayaning Samahang Pilipino Award in 2007; Ten Accomplished Youth Organizations (TAYO) by the National Youth Commission of the Philippines in 2008; and the Outstanding Volunteer Award given by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) and the United Nations Volunteer Program (UNVP), also in 2008.
Last February, Efren achieved his biggest citation yet: being named as one of CNN’s Heroes, for “people driven to exceptional achievement in service to others.” Efren’s story was featured on the international news network, and was himself interviewed by popular talk show host Larry King.
Efren was happy for the worldwide recognition of his and DTC’s hard work. “Now, after CNN exposure, many of our critics became our admirers. The skeptics became believers. It’s funny though, how things turn around with media exposure and write ups.”
He hopes that the publicity will have a positive impact on the portrayal of the Philippines in the global media. “What I wish to receive as benefits to this international recognition are that more youths no matter how poor they are will be given fair chance to succeed in life, and that the Filipinos will no longer be stereotyped and be seen as ‘a nation of compassionate servants’ pushing for positive change!”
Currently, Efren works as a teacher in a private school to support his own family. He serves as DTC adviser, mentor and trainer and conducts weekly consultation and volunteer upgrading training. The 28-year-old visionary has plans of transforming their trademark pushcarts into a more stable, grander foundation for learning.
“Our mid-size dream is to be able to build our own educational center and haven for children so they could be rehabilitated and reformed,” he says.
Specifically, he dreams of having a center with wide grounds, plenty of bedrooms, a studio, a play/activity center, a big library, a clinic, a chapel and an auditorium, and a garage to park their K5 pushcarts. “We would like the children to experience having a place to exercise their rights freely and learn life-changing principles.”
Efren believes that the DTC is a catalyst for a “new revolution,” where anyone, no matter the age and background, can make a significant change in society.
“You can help us in a million ways, only your imagination can limit you,” he says. “Help by adapting the system, tell our story, be inspired and inspire others too, put up your own cart of learning, send us stuff we can use, help us build our dream center, and many more ways. Remember that you are the change that you dream and together, we are the change that this world needs to be.”
(For more information about DTC, visit http://dynamicteencompany.org)