CAVITE CITY—It was a Christmas party “with a twist,” and Joshua Trias, 16, had the honor of being the first to select his gift from the rack of stuffed animals, toy cars and board games.
The Dynamic Teen Company (DTC), a nonprofit youth organization, held the Pangarap na Pasko (PnP) party for abandoned and abused children in Cavite City on Nov. 21.
“It’s not just the usual [party with] games and gift-giving. It’s a Christmas party with a twist, specifically who’s been naughty and nice,” said Efren Peñaflorida Jr., founder of the DTC for which he was chosen 2009 CNN Hero. In 2007, the group started the “Kariton Classroom” (Pushcart Classroom), which aims to bring education to poor communities and keeping children off the streets.
A DTC volunteer found Trias, then 13, a runaway from home who had been spending the nights on the streets. The boy had learned to drink and smoke like the other “kalakal boys” (street children).
Trias was left to the care of his aunt in Cavite City two years before when a fire razed his family’s house in Tondo, Manila. His parents and siblings moved to their province in Palawan without him.
Trias was forced to live in his aunt’s shanty supported by poles above the waters of the Manila Bay and earn from collecting scrap metals from dumps.
“At first, my aunt would ask me to give her half of my day’s earnings but later she wanted all of it,” he recalled. He said his aunt and cousins would beat him up and scold him for being an extra mouth to feed.
“One time as I was washing the dishes, I accidentally dropped a spoon through a slit and into the water. I had to stay long in the water beneath the house because they wouldn’t let me in until I found the spoon,” he said.
Trias has been attending DTC’s Learner’s Educational Aid Program, the second phase of the “Kariton Klasrum” in preparation for a return to formal education.
He also volunteers for the group’s “Championing Community Children,” which was founded by 2012 International Children’s Peace Prize awardee, Kesz Valdez. He teaches street children to grow vegetables and fruit-bearing trees.
“Pechay is the easiest to grow. Just 45 days,” Trias said. Often, he would check the Internet to learn more about growing vegetables and fruit-bearing trees.
He said he dreams of becoming an agriculturist, believing that farming is a way out of poverty for families.
Peñaflorida said 85 percent of the street children in Cavite City alone were able to return to formal school since the “Kariton Klasrum” began. The effort has been replicated in the cities of Imus and Bacoor in Cavite, Naga City in Camarines Sur, Upper Bicutan in Taguig City and in other areas.
During the Christmas party, everyone received a toy, but the top “good deeder”—in this case, Trias—had the chance to pick first. Peñaflorida said the toys are kept unwrapped so the children can decide for themselves which they like the most.
He said that like little Santas, DTC volunteers and teachers throughout the year would make a list of every child’s good deeds, such as the child’s participation in class or politeness. Some volunteers would even go as far as asking the parents about the children’s situation at home.
“What we try to teach them is that for every good deed, you will be rewarded,” said Peñaflorida, who is also Alaska’s brand ambassador. Alaska and the DTC partnered this year for the youth group’s programs and advocacy projects.
“We always try to give emphasis on the (children’s) good deeds. The world is so grade-conscious, so diploma-conscious, but really, life is not just about it,” Peñaflorida said.
From the toys’ rack during the party, Trias picked a stuffed bear and a Barbie board game. Asked why, he said he didn’t mind if these were girls’ toys.
“That’s OK, I don’t play anymore. I plan to give them away to other children anyway,” he said.