Pushcart Classroom

Cavite City, Philippines

The hour and a half early morning drive from Manila to Cavite City initially gave me a false sense of change. While heading south on the coastal highway, the air is cleaner than the traditional smog that surrounds Manila and the weather is cooler and more bearable. There are large expanses of open highway that are a welcome reprieve from the congested streets of the big city.

But as we head closer to Cavite City, I am reacquainted with the dismal similarities that plague every city in this country, regardless of size. Piles of garbage on the streets and in the water, houses precariously built with salvaged wooden planks and sheet metal, and the endless numbers of children in the streets.

But things are different here.

Dynamic Teen Company (DTC) is a group of concerned young people with a mission of making a small yet significant difference in other people’s lives, particularly the small children in slum areas who have no access to education, basic hygiene and sometimes, even love from their families.

I was honoured to participate in their K4 Project: Kariton Klasrum, Klinik & Kantin (pushcart school, clinic and canteen); Dynamic Teen Company’s effort to bring the basics of education, love for learning, food for the hungry, and cure for the wounded. The day starts with 4 pushcarts loaded with donated teaching materials, school supplies, toys, food, and first aid supplies that are pushed through the city to the first site of the day, the Palengke (Market). The road to the Market is tricky and the pushcarts are manoeuvred through uneven streets crowded with cars, tricycles, people and you have to be as just aggressive as the rest of them otherwise you will be run over. But we push our way through and make it to the first site.

The pushcarts are parked in an open area across from the Market and we proceed to set up the learning stations for the different age groups. The street children are already waiting and eagerly run towards us with excitement. For many of these children, this is the only form of education they receive and many of them return week after week and look forward to each session. For this location, over 150 children participated.

After the learning session, food is distributed to all the children. They patiently wait their turn in line and graciously accept the food. We pack up the carts and make our way to the second site of the day, the Dumpsite. It is nearly 9:30am by this time and the city is now bustling and it's more difficult to push our way through as there are more cars, tricycles, and people in the streets. Not to mention that the sun is now making a very strong appearance and it's even hotter outside. The 20 minutes it took to push the carts to the next location felt like a lifetime in the heat.

The Dumpsite location is actually a cemetery that is located next to a dumpsite, where mountains of garbage are flanked by a combination of shanty homes and expensive gravesites along the coast. The set up for this location is slightly different in that the classrooms take place in the mausoleums and the spaces between gravesites. So the children sit on the tombs as the teacher teaches the lesson. On the outskirts of the cemetery. closer to the dumpsite, you can see entire families living in these spaces, hanging clothes from the gates and using the tombs as their dinner table.

There were over 100 kids at this location and eventhough they were only 20 minutes away from the Market site, they were very different students. Perhaps due to the peace and quiet of the cemetery location, these kids were more focused and participated more actively. The remaining two locations for the day consisted of more than 400 kids.

The invaluable service that the Dynamic Teen Company (DTC) provides would not be possible without the thousands of volunteer youth, most of whom are highschool and college students, and their fearless leader, founder and CNN 2009 Hero of the Year, Efren G. Penaflorida, Jr. He has helped transform the pushcart from a symbol of poverty to a symbol of hope and education. He has used the $100,000 grant from CNN to build a learning centre in Cavite, shaped of course, like a pushcart, but construction has been delayed due to lack of funds and the group is still raising the remaining 3 million pesos required ($75,000CAD). Strangely enough, Efren was in Vancouver while I was in Cavite so I didn't get a chance to meet him! But his legacy and commitment to providing accessible education to children and reinforcing their rights is an inspiring one, wherever you are in the world.

“You are the change that you dream and I am the change that I dream. And collectively we are the change that this world needs to be.”

Learn how you can help at http://dynamicteencompany.org

© Anna Mae Abia Photography


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