Efren Peñaflorida was born in 1981 in the Philippines. His family lived in an urban slum near an open dump. As a child, he was bullied by those in his neighborhood.
In spite of his lack of resources, Efren was able to graduate from college with a degree in computer technology. Later he would obtain a second degree in secondary education.
When Efren was 16, he started a youth group to give students an alternative to gangs. The mission of the group was to give young children a start to their education. The group was called Dynamic Teen Company. Gangs often recruited children while they were very young. What Efren’s group hoped to do was give young children an alternative to gang life and that alternative was education.
Efren and his team members created the concept of a pushcart classroom. Pushcarts were filled with school supplies and pushed to places where the children lived. Saturday became a day when young children could experience the joy of learning.
Efren was able to recruit 10,000 volunteers to reach out to young children. Many gang members joined as volunteers, leaving their former gang lives. The educational efforts were self-funded through the sale of craft items and the collection of recyclable materials.
In 2009 Efren was selected as CNN’s Hero of the Year out of a pool of 9,000 nominations. The cash award of $100,000 was used to continue the work of the Pushcart educational program.
Education is often the source of hope for those who grew up in dire circumstances. Efren shows how one person can bring hope to those who would otherwise grow up without hope.
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“My gang members were the most influential thing in my life, we were pressured to join. I would probably be in jail right now, most likely a drug addict if I hadn’t met Efren.”
– Fajardo (a volunteer recruited by Efren)