The simple heroism of Filipino Efren Peñaflorida and Filipino-American Robin Lim was once again in the limelight during the recent “CNN Superhero” poll to mark the 10th year of the yearly tribute. They were among the five CNN heroes who vied for the title, which was ultimately won by Pushpa Basnet of Nepal. The other two were Liz McCartney and Chad Pregracke, both of the United States.
These days the word “hero” is hotly debated, and there are so many polls that the popular vote is now largely diluted. But the “CNN Hero of the Year” award remains a noble distinction as it carries the critical weight of the international news organization and recognizes the efforts of those who make the world a better place.
The poll also served to remind the Philippines and the world of Lim’s work as a midwife in nonprofit health clinics in Indonesia, and of Peñaflorida’s crusade to educate out-of-school youth through his “Kariton Klasrum” (pushcart classes). They continue to make the Philippines proud.
Lim has made the protection of mothers and their infants the focus of her work. She spent much time in Baguio and founded a nonprofit organization known as Yayasan Bumi Sehat (Healthy Mother Earth Foundation in Bahasa) in 1995. After the death of her sister and other loved ones due to complications during delivery, Lim began the work that would enable her to promote healing practices and provide free prenatal care, aid during birth, and other services to poor women in Indonesia and the Philippines.
Lim has helped over 300,000 patients and assists over 1,000 deliveries every year. After being named CNN Hero of 2011, she built new clinics and offered expanded educational programs, with Bumi Sehat setting up a permanent presence in the Philippines to provide assistance during natural disasters. “My CNN nomination is for the new mothers who give birth in small, dimly lit rooms all over our planet day and night,” she wrote in a letter back in 2011. “They are the true heroines.”
When Peñaflorida was named CNN Hero of 2009, the spotlight was trained on his efforts through his Kariton Klasrum, to educate impoverished children he saw every day in Cavite City, whose families did not have the financial means to keep them in school. He eventually founded a nonprofit called Dynamic Teen Company (DTC), which has brought his mission to places he never imagined.
First came the expansion to Metro Manila, with the involvement of the Department of Education in 2015. Today, the Kariton Klasrum programs have helped an estimated 40,000 at-risk children worldwide. In Indonesia, the DTC partnered with the nonprofit Yayasan Wadah Titian Harapan to set up the Gerobak Pintar (Smart Cart), to do in Jakarta what the DTC did in Manila.
“The goal of the Kariton Klasrum is not to replace formal schooling but to help kids in the streets who have shied away from school because of poverty, lack of interest in studying, and negative elements in their surroundings,” Peñaflorida said in 2012. In the Philippines, 1,200 children have completed the mobile Kariton Klasrum educational program that prepares them for more formal teaching setups, with some 59 mobile classrooms in Metro Manila alone, the DepEd said.
In 2012, Peñaflorida made another innovative step forward with a solar-powered high school for the forgotten children. In 2013, he led his team in giving aid to the areas hard-hit by Supertyphoon “Yolanda.” He continues to spread the word and to teach the abandoned. In the spotlight or out of it, recognized or not, he just keeps being “the change that we dream of.”
Robin Lim and Efren Peñaflorida remain shining examples of how individuals can effect change on a global scale with very simple beginnings tied to fundamental and universal visions. They are true heroes even beyond the accolades, exemplars of the brand of heroism that continues to impact on people’s daily lives, and particularly on the future of disadvantaged children.
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