Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hero


“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.”- Efren Penaflorida

Efren Penaflorida, a Filipino teacher from the province of Cavite, was recently hailed as the "CNN Hero of the Year." In a time when our country needs heroes to inspire a nation that seems to have grown numb from all the evils in our society, Penaflorida's heroic efforts to bring education to those who have limited access to it are magnified a thousand times more.

Penaflorida created the Dynamic Teen Company as a teenager to provide basic learning to children in the slum areas who otherwise would not be able to attend classes in the regular schools. His tale is that of a boy who grew on the wrong side of town but not on the wrong side of life. Pressured and bullied by gangs to join their pathetic fold, thinking that in their measly attempt to look tough, they can claim the respect that they could not get through formal education, Efren refused to join them and kept his self-respect, keeping his focus on creating a brighter future for himself and his family through earning a diploma.

Providing himself an education would have been praiseworthy enough, but the fact that he decided to look after the education of the kids who are in the same boat he was on once is truly heroic. He didn't have to. No one asked him to. Nobody would say anything if he hadn't. But he did. He chose to be a hero. While trying not to fall himself, he caught everyone who was falling as well. Philippine national hero Jose P. Rizal has been rolling in his grave for so long now as he watches our society become more corrupt as time goes by, from wherever he is. This time, he must have flashed a wide smile.

They say to whom much is given, much is expected. Efren Penaflorida, to whom life gave little from the start, gave so much more than possible. While people talked about how so many children could not get access to regular education and while politicians debated just how much budget the Department of Education should get, he made a kariton containing educational materials and went to where the kids who can't go to school live. When everyone was shouting fire and running like headless chickens, he was the man who went to get a bucket of water.

I hope the worldwide recognition Efren has gotten serves as a bucket of cold water hurled at the people who have contributed to the reality that lead Efren to create his "Kariton Klasrum." Is the government a party to this current status quo, of course yes. There are still so much that can be done to be able to provide basic education to all Filipino children. The Philippine Constitution provides that "The State shall protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels, and shall take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all." This isn't an empty promise, this is a contract which everyone is accountable to.

There are also the parents who keep on having children that they know they cannot support and provide education for. I find it despicable how couples can so stupidly decide to have more kids without even considering whether they can provide a good life to their offspring. That's like a general sending his troops to war knowing they will all get slaughtered. How can you truly love something that you won't even provide a decent chance at a decent life for?

The list of parties that share blame could go on and on. It'll just be a sad thing to enumerate. But we can easily figure out where things are going wrong. And sometimes, we find that we ourselves are also to blame. From voting for the wrong people for the wrong reasons, not being vigilant about our rights, to being too caught up in a consumerist world to notice the person beside us needs help, we add to the problems of our country without even realizing it.

What I hope Efren Penaflorida's victory eventually does is to make everyone feel a sense of guilt over the state of our society, as opposed to apathy and hopelessness. Sometimes, a semblance of guilt can really help in developing a person's character. In the Philippines, being referred to as "walanghiya" is common already. It's a word thrown around so easily now that it seems to have lost its meaning. It shouldn't be. It was created to be an insult. People should learn to feel guilty again. Has our society really gotten so bad that we can no longer care? Wala na ba talagang pakialam ang mga tao? Wala na ba talaga tayong hiya?

Efren and the Dynamic Teen Company are doing their heroic efforts without anyone forcing them to. They are also doing it while looking for nothing in return. The only thing they want is for kids to learn. Through this, they are not just teaching, they are saving lives, they are saving souls. They are giving our nation a chance at a glorious tomorrow, one child at a time. They are pulling our collective fats out of the fire.

When asked whether he wanted more support for his group, Penaflorida said he didn't want any. All he is asking is for people out there to do something similar to what he is doing. That was an answer that showed how selfless Efren was. This isn't a guy who wants fame, money, or power. He's a guy who wants to make a difference. How I wish all those running for public office was like him.

Hoping to latch on to the popularity of Efren, the government's knee-jerk reaction was to call for the creation of more "Kariton Klasrums." I believe the government is totally missing the point. The pushcart classrooms of DTC are meant to serve as band-aids to the battered and bruised educational system in our country. People can create more pushcart classrooms to help the government. But the government itself should stop thinking that its job is to create more band-aids. If society is sick, the Philippine government's job is to find the cure. Individuals can win battles here and there, but only through the use of the machineries of government can the war be won. Why create more Karitons when it has the budget to create schools, hire more teachers, and purchase more educational equipment?

Thank you very much Efren for all you are doing to help educate children in your province. Thank you for bringing recognition to our country. Thank you for achieving something that we, the Filipinos, can be proud of as a nation. And thank you for being a hero to me.

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