Greatness in Humility – Part 1

With International Children’s Peace Prize awardee Cris ‘Kesz’ Valdez

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.

The Kariton Building. This is where they keep all the kariton (push carts), books and other resources they use to teach out-of-school youth. This building also houses a classroom for high school students. 2009 CNN Hero of the Year Efren Penaflorida is currently serving as CEO.

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.

One of the volunteers pushing the kariton.  We were about to go outside the building to go to the first site where we would teach kids.

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.

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Touchdown: Narita Airport

Minutes before we landed, I saw the landscape of the country. I was so surprised, I never thought there’s that much greenery in Tokyo. It reminded me of the Snakes & Ladders board game. I also thought that even from afar, things are very orderly in this country. I could see perfect squares and rectangles, clearly defining where a field ends and another begins. The Philippine landscape is also interesting but I didn’t get that sense of order.

Shortly afterwards, I was almost blinded by the shiny cars below. I thought, ‘My, the Japanese love to keep their cars shiny.’ During my whole stay in the country, I don’t think I’ve seen one dirty or dusty car.

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Although there were long lines to the Immigration before we could get out, it wasn’t stressful at all. Everything went smoothly. I just noticed the airport staff had trouble speaking in English when I asked a question but they were very professional. Surprisingly, meeting well wishers or the person who’s picking you up from the airport is quite easy. In the Philippines, there are probably more well wishers than travelers. You’re likely to get stressed and irritated before you see the person picking you up.

I was happy to see my friend waiting there for me. Transportation from the airport to our destination was quite easy. At first, I worried that I would have to carry my luggage for a long time but the limousine bus going to the nearest train station that would get us to the hotel was right outside the Arrival area. I only had difficulty lifting my heavy luggage when we had to go up the stairs in our train stop.

In the Philippines, it has become more convenient to travel by plane within the country. There are buses going to and from and the airport. However, if you want to go abroad, it’s a different issue. You either have to have someone drive you to the airport or hire a cab. When you choose the latter, the drivers would always require you to pay much higher than what you normally would if you were going to a different place.

Upon getting out of the Sumiyoshi train station, I was struck by how the Japanese love to ride bicycles. Thank goodness, I didn’t get ran over by one! When I saw the open space near the creek, I thought they were selling bicycles. It turned out that it serves as a parking area for bicycles. I wish they would adopt this in Manila and even in the Philippine countryside. There would be less pollution and the people would be more fit. But then again, considering the behavior of the drivers, riding the bicycle in Manila is like risking your life.

On my first night, I had dinner with my friend in a nearby food shop. We had some sashimi, a simple but refreshing salad with maguro, and gindara. Salads in Japan always have this distinctive Japanese vegetable. It’s a bit like lettuce but not quite. I’m not sure what the name is but I liked it. The gindara was one of the most delicious dishes I have tasted there. I still can’t forget it up to this day.

But that is just the beginning of my food adventure and many other adventures in Japan…