MANILA – For bringing education to poor Filipino children through his “Kariton Klassroom,” Filipino Efren Peñaflorida has been awarded the 2009 CNN Hero of the Year at the conclusion of "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute" at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood on Saturday night.
According to CNN Web site, Peñaflorida has been selected after getting the highest number of online votes. More than 2.75 million votes were cast for 7 weeks.
He bested nine other contenders from different countries. Hollywood star Eva Mendes presented the award to him.
The Filipino received $100,000 to continue his work with his group, Dynamic Teen Company, according to CNN. The $100,000 cash prize is on top of the $25,000 he got after his name was included on the top 10 CNN Heroes.
In his acceptance speech delivered before 3,000 people, Peñaflorida encouraged the crowd to unleash the “hero in you.”
"Our planet is filled with heroes, young and old, rich and poor, man, woman of different colors, shapes and sizes. We are one great tapestry," Peñaflorida said. "Each person has a hidden hero within, you just have to look inside you and search it in your heart, and be the hero to the next one in need.”
He also urged them to “serve well, serve others above yourself and be happy to serve.”
“As I always tell to my co-volunteers ... you are the change that you dream as I am the change that I dream and collectively we are the change that this world needs to be," he added.
During the gala night, the top 10 CNN Heroes, chosen by a blue-ribbon panel from an initial pool of more than 9,000 viewer nominations, were each honored with a documentary tribute and introduced by a celebrity presenter, according to the Web site. Each of the top 10 Heroes received $25,000.
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CNN reported that presenters included Nicole Kidman, Kate Hudson, Neil Patrick Harris, Pierce Brosnan, Dwayne Johnson, Mendes, Randy Jackson, Greg Kinnear, George Lopez and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
Grammy Award-winning artist Carrie Underwood, R&B crooner Maxwell and British pop sensation Leona Lewis performed during the gala event.
The event will be broadcast on Thanksgiving, November 26, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the global networks of CNN.
Penaflorida first came to the public's consciousness when his group, the Dynamic Teen Company, won the Bayaning Pilipino award for its heroic work in bringing education to poor children in Cavite.
The group later began the “Kariton Klassroom,” which is a mobile classroom that brings around all their teaching materials to the different areas they service.
Since 1997, more than 10,000 volunteers are now helping in educating more than 1,500 kids in depressed areas in Cavite.
Because of this campaign, Peñaflorida was included on CNN’s list of heroes for this year.
'Start within themselves'
Prior to the announcement of winners Saturday night, Peñaflorida was interviewed by ABS-CBN North America News Bureau.
During the interview, he said, if Filipinos wanted to see change, they should start within themselves.
“Kasi hindi naman po magagawa ng isang tao lang ang pagbabagong inaasam natin sa bayan natin. Iyong pagbabago kasi magsisimula iyan sa sarili natin. So kung gusto nating baguhin ang country natin, mag-i-start iyon sa puso natin. And then collectively, iyong pagbabago na iyon ay talagang magiging malaki,” he said.
And now that he is the recipient of the 2009 CNN Hero of the Year award, more poor and uneducated Filipino children will benefit from his award.
"Iyong 90% cash grant mapupunta sa Dynamic Teen Company. Iyong 10% sa church…. Nothing for me,” he said.
He said he was there as a representative of the children and the volunteers he works with.
“Nandito po ako para i-represent ang mga bata, iyong mga dedicated volunteers, iyong mentor ko, iyong selfless and hardworking Filipinos,” said Peñaflorida.
Peñaflorida may be a star to many, but for the 2009 CNN Hero of the Year, the real heroes are the volunteers.
“Personal hero ko is iyong mga dedicated volunteers na kasama ko sa Dynamic Teen Company at sa Club 8586 na walang sawang tumutulong at sumusoporta sa amin. Of course ang Panginoon, ang Diyos, na talagang nagdala sa akin dito at Siyang dahilan bakit ako nandito rin." – With reports from Yong Chavez, ABS-CBN North America News Bureau, and TJ Manotoc, ABS-CBN News