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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Schooling in the Slums

Jul. 9, 2015

A young Filipino teacher finds inspiration in Tokyo. By using Japanese popular culture, he hopes to pass on the same opportunities he had.

Efren Peñaflorida has run an NGO for nearly two decades. He operates pushcart classrooms in the slums of Manila. "We want to entice children to love learning and get them back to school," he says.

The Philippine economy has grown rapidly over the past few years, but not everyone is benefitting. Government figures show that of 39 million young people aged 6 to 24, over six million are out of school. Many children can’t afford to attend classes. Instead, they live by picking up garbage. They’re vulnerable to crime, drugs, and abuses that include human trafficking.

Peñaflorida and his volunteers go to the most impoverished neighborhoods to teach reading, writing and arithmetic. The group’s work has won recognition -- it has picked up humanitarian awards at home and abroad. Peñaflorida is constantly looking for new ways to inspire children to study. Recently, he draws inspiration from Japanese culture.

His latest project is what brought him to Tokyo: manga comics. Peñaflorida carries all kinds of storybooks and toys in his pushcart classroom, but he says the manga booklets are the most popular.

The stories are taken from the Bible. Their main purpose is to teach children morals and values. Over 90 percent of the Philippine population is Christian, so it helps that most children are already familiar with the stories -- even if they can’t read. The booklets were the brainchild of a Japanese publisher. Staff at the company wanted to do something to help children in developing countries.

The words are in English, but the style is true to real Japanese manga, right down to the special effects. "We’re especially careful how we illustrate sounds,” says Yoshiko Narafu of publishers New Life Ministries. “They’re such an important part of the art form."

New Life staff met Peñaflorida last year, when they visited the Philippines to help with relief work after Typhoon Haiyan. Upon learning about the educational pushcarts, they asked Peñaflorida if he’d like to use their booklets.

“Efren told us the manga would be a great way to teach children English, and would help open a bright future for them,” says CEO Toshikazu Iwaoka. “It’s important for Filipinos to be good at English if they want to find work, especially overseas.”

Peñaflorida thrives on seeing the results of his work. “Some of my students have succeeded in turning their lives around and gone on to achieve many things”, he says.

“Education is something no one can take away from you. I was able to free myself from poverty because I received an education. I hope to pay it forward.”