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October 6th, 2009
02:30 PM ET

'Paying it forward' – recovery in the Philippines

Editor's Note: Last month, Typhoon Parma made landfall in Cagayan Province in the northern Philippines, dumping as much as 36 inches of rain in some parts of the nation of islands. The storm affected more than 338,000 people, displaced 85,000 and killed at least 16. Its predecessor, Ketsana, affected more than 3.9 million people, displaced more than 335,000. CNN Hero Efren Peñaflorida was there to help.

Efren and other volunteers load donated items into a vehicle to begin distributing them to families in need throughout Cavite, Philippines.

Efren and other volunteers load donated items into a vehicle to begin distributing them to families in need throughout Cavite, Philippines.

Efren Peñaflorida
CNN Hero
World Vision, The Philippines

“Pagbabayad sa iba ang ginagawa ko’ (What I’m doing is paying it forward)

The smell is overpowering. More than a week after the rains from Typhoon Ketsana and Parma started pouring down on the Philippines, the city is still flooded. Mud and debris are everywhere; you can smell the stench of death as bodies decompose.

But the storms went deep into the Philippines, devastating rural villages throughout the country, too. In Cavite, my hometown, children and their families are struggling through each day. Many have lost everything. Imagine not knowing where you’ll sleep tonight? Or only having one pair of pants to wear because your clothes were ruined as the flood waters rose higher and higher?

I didn’t lose everything in the storms, but that first day the rains came, I was stuck in Manila, wandering through the flooded streets without food or water, and I was exhausted. The next day, after I realized how many people had lost so much, I knew I had to help.

Volunteers with Efren's group, Dynamic Teen Company, sort donated clothes and prepare to distribute them to families in need in Cavite, Philippines.

Volunteers with Efren's group, Dynamic Teen Company, sort donated clothes and prepare to distribute them to families in need in Cavite, Philippines.

Sunday, I went to church to thank God for the clothes on my back and the roof over my head. Then, I gathered up my team of volunteers at Dynamic Teen Company, and we started collecting donations to give out to our neighbors in need. DTC is an organization that I started with my friends more than 10 years ago to help kids just like me get a basic education, even when they can’t afford to go to school.

Growing up in Cavite, my family didn’t have much money. My father worked as a cab driver, and my mother helped do other people’s laundry to earn some extra money. I wore used clothing, and money was tight for our family of five. Eventually, with three kids in my family, it became impossible to continue paying the school fees for all of us.

Volunteers pack up bags of donated items like clothing and blankets to distribute to children and families in need in Cavite, Philippines.

Volunteers pack up bags of donated items like clothing and blankets to distribute to children and families in need in Cavite, Philippines.

I became passive and disinterested. I didn't really care what happened to anyone else - I only cared about myself. My life could have gone in a much different direction, but then, when I was in fifth grade, things took a surprising turn.

A woman from Australia decided to support my schooling by sponsoring me through World Vision, a Christian relief organization. All she wanted to do was help me go to school, but she had no idea that those few dollars a month would be an investment to my future. And a friend who had been mentoring me through a local outreach group known as Club 8586 Inc. helped me pick up the pieces of my life, giving my spiritual guidance and encouragement to start DTC.

Without them, I probably wouldn't be the person I am today. They supported my educational needs, but they also gave me more than an education. They helped me start DTC and give other kids just like me an education too.

They all paid it forward. And this week, as the storms battered the town where I grew up, I knew I wanted to do the same thing for the children living there. Who knows what they might become someday? Maybe they’ll even become someone’s hero.

Editor's Note: Efren Peñaflorida is a former sponsored child with World Vision, an international aid agency currently working to help more than 100,000 people affected by the storms in the Philippines. He is also one of the 2009 Top 10 CNN Hero honorees.
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