Last week, I had the privilege of volunteering for the Kariton Eskwela (School on Wheels), headed by DTC’s (Dynamic Teen Company) Efren Penaflorida. Because of his passion for teaching out of school youth and giving the poor and underprivileged a chance to receive good education and improve their lives, Efren or ‘Kuya Ef’ to the kids won the 2009 CNN Hero of the Year.
The same organization, nurtured Cris ‘Kesz’ Valdez, winner of the prestigious International Children’s Peace Prize, for championing the rights of street children in the Philippines. He himself was forced to scavenge at the dump site at the age of two. Now, he’s helping many other street children improve not only their health but the overall quality of their lives. I had the privilege to meet this kid and talk to him before he went out to visit the street children with fellow volunteers. I must say that he’s one very inspiring kid. He speaks very politely and knows how to communicate with adults. Every weekend, he goes to dump sites and depressed areas to visit the street children so you can tell that he’s dead serious about helping them get out of their miserable situation.
It was truly an interesting day. From Manila, I had to ride the bus with a friend who was kind enough to accompany me to Cavite. I got to the Kariton Building at around 7:30 am. I was greeted by Jake Fernandez, the Volunteer Coordinator. After several minutes, my fellow volunteers started coming in. Most of them are in college, some are in high school. But what binds them together is their commitment to meet every weekend and to spend their time teaching out-of-school youth without expecting any payment.
I met a volunteer who has been teaching kids for one year. I asked her what motivated her to join and she said that she used to be out of school like the kids she’s now teaching. The volunteers have helped her so much and encouraged her so that now she’s back in school and is even giving back to the community.
I also met Jay who has been a volunteer for years. I think he’s a very good storyteller. He was able to share a lot of things with me including how the organization started and what it was like at first. During their first few years, the volunteer teachers only carried a travel bag where they put the books and other resources they would use to teach. However, it was such a hassle to carry the bags as they were really heavy. One day, they thought of using a kariton or a pushcart to carry the books and other things they would need.
That day, we brought three pushcarts. Nic housed the first aid kit and Trio, the other pushcart, had different books, stuffed toys, some chairs, the big container for the food, and other materials for teaching. It was quite a challenge to bring the push carts to the venue, esp. when we had to cross the street intersections. It’s a good thing that jeepney drivers and other motorists understand what the organization is doing so they sometimes give way. We went to the town hall where we would teach the students. Some volunteers swept the floor, laid out the makeshift mats where the students and teacher could sit on, and took out the materials that would be needed for each student.
Alexa, the leader of the volunteers taught the others the steps for the song they were planning to introduce that morning. I was impressed by her enthusiasm and her diligence in performing her tasks. I found out that Alexa also received the Gawad Geny Lopez award for her efforts. And I think that she deserves it. She told me that she’s currently in her last year in college and she’s working on her thesis. I was amazed that she could still volunteer her time for this, considering that she needs to finish her thesis in order to graduate.
Alexa shared that in high school, there was a time when she had friends who were not such a good influence on her. However, due to her growing relationship with Christ, her life was transformed and she started having a desire to make a difference and help many other troubled youth in the country. Just after a few minutes of talking with her, I immediately knew that there’s something special about this person and I know that she’s going to make a difference wherever she goes.