Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Greatness democratised

Business Mirror

‘EACH person has a hidden hero within.” With these simple words, Efren Peñaflorida, who gave Filipinos reason for pride and joy exactly a week after Manny Pacquiao’s march to history, has democratized greatness, making it clear to all that yes, all of us can be heroes to each other—if we so choose.

Efren, who made it to CNN’s distinguished circle of 10 heroes, was further voted by the global public online as the overall Hero of the Year, a feat made more remarkable by the fact that in all, the jurors tapped by the cable news giant had trawled through 9,000 heroes nominated from around the world by people who believed in them and their causes.

Like Manny Pacquiao, Efren did not for once exude any hint of boastfulness or self-righteousness. All he wanted, when he was asked weeks before Saturday’s glittering ceremony at LA’s Kodak Theater—where Hollywood’s superstars paid tribute to the unsung heroes—was to use his prize money, if he won, to further the “pushcart” brigade that had made him such a colorful hero in his hometown in Cavite province. He hoped, Efren said earlier, to marshal more resources so that more underprivileged children would be given a chance in life, the same chance he got—rather, worked for against all odds—when he was able to finish his education. For in Efren’s world, the “poverty” that derails schooling for many wasn’t just a simple lack of money for tuition and other needs. Being poor also meant growing in a community where there were few jobs and even fewer opportunities for livelihood and training; and plenty of occasions to be waylaid by neighborhood gangs hooked on drugs, alcohol, gambling and all forms of vice—with many of the gangsters themselves once young boys and girls whose dreams of school were shattered, and felt they had “no choice” beyond either joining the gangs or suffering at their hands.

Like most other young boys, Efren could have grown into a teen hoodlum, learning to be mean and cruel so he could survive his oppressors, rationalizing his choice with the defeatist notion that where he grew up, there was no choice. But he didn’t, that’s why he’s a hero.

Now, Efren is a hero for everyone—thanks to CNN—because he showed that choices aren’t all dictated by context, but by something stronger, like character, and a burning desire to rise above the self. He was the irresistible force colliding with the immoveable object called environment, which 99 out of 100 people would have easily used as reason for failure. From that first act of heroism—learning to say no to a bad life and asserting one’s choice—he became an even greater hero because he came back for the others who were once like him. He looked back, and found the means, against all odds, to bring education to underprivileged children, using the iconic poor man’s home: the pushcart or kariton. Even better, he helped others find the “hidden hero” in themselves—tapping ordinary people for donations of pen, paper, crayons, books; and tapping, among others, former istambay or idle youth themselves to join him in his brigade, which later adopted the disarmingly simple name Dynamic Teen Company. Besides reading, writing and arithmetic, he and his young band taught children basic hygiene and good manners. There’s nothing lofty in their name, nothing pretentious in the goal. No homilies from this young man. Just a dream he shared with and asked others to help fulfill.

It is said, of the eternally unfolding circus called Philippine politics, that the liars, cheaters, murderers, thieves and nincompoops can easily fool voters because Filipinos are so hungry for real heroes. Efren—and the nine other CNN Heroes—should teach us that often, the greatest heroes are the “ordinary” ones.

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