May 27, 2017 03:00 AM PST
SINCE 2007

Filipino youngster is Peace Prize winner

Mar: Velez, aged 13, won the International Children’s Peace Prize last September 2012 for his work as head of “Championing Community Children,” an organization that gives “Gifts of Hope” packages that includes flip-flops, toys, toothbrushes, food and clothes among others to deprived children in his hometown of Cavite City.

Velez was chosen from among three finalists and was awarded recently at a glittering ceremony at the Ridderzaal or Knight’s Hall, in Hague where he received a $130,000 prize.

Fast forward a few months to the present day, and like a regular kid, Velez is busy with his schoolwork. His studies and activities, however, do not keep him from his passion, which is visiting underprivileged children and communities with his friends on a weekly basis to educate them on basic things like survival and healthy habits.

Eventually Velez aspires to become a medical doctor, so that he can help more children - not only in the Philippines, but also in other countries throughout the world.

He has said that no matter what he will continue to help others through the benefits of his charity organization.

South African human rights activist and 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu gave Valdez his award declaring, “You are wonderful, a voice for the voiceless and a true inspiration.”

According to the Holland-based organization KidsRights, which presides over the judging for the children’s Peace Prize, Valdez’s charity has helped 10,000 children in Cavite over the past six years.

“My message to children around the world is not to lose hope and to remember things like hygiene,” Valdez said.

Asked about the prize money, the teenager said the prize would help him get an education and perhaps realize his dream of becoming a doctor.

He also plans to donate a portion of his prize to underprivileged kids. KidsRights Foundation chairman Marc Dullaert said, “A committee was formed to decide, together with Valdez, to which projects it would be donated.”

“I help because I see myself in children who roam and live on the streets,” said Valdez. “Some good-hearted people showed me love and changed my life, and I am just paying it forward.”

Born into poverty, Valdez was the third of nine children. His parents called him “bad luck” because they tried to sell him when he was a baby but failed, according to Harnin Manalaysay, the head of a local Christian youth charity that eventually rescued Valdez.

At an age when children are just learning how to make friends, Valdez was learning to beg and steal.

“I found him sleeping on a curbside covered in flies. He was very dirty and being kicked by passers-by,” Manalaysay said.

Manalaysay enrolled Valdez - then age four - in his alternative learning program for street children, where volunteer teachers use portable classrooms on pushcarts to bring classes to the students.

But in-between classes, Valdez would still be rummaging for scraps to help out his family.

At five, bad luck struck Valdez again when fellow scavengers pushing around a dump truck accidentally shoved him into a mound of burning tires, seriously injuring his arms and back.

“My father was angry when I came home and said I deserved it for being stupid,” Valdez recalled.

Valdez said his mother took him to Manalaysay, who paid for his medical treatment and allowed him to recover at the Club 8586, a shelter for street children.

“She [Valdez’s mother] came back several months later to tell me they did not want him back anymore,” Manalaysay said.

A portly marine engineer whose club has been helping troubled youths for more than 27 years, Manalaysay became his legal guardian.

Under his guidance, Valdez recuperated and his grades improved. He also began volunteering at six-year-old teaching other street children about basic hygiene.

When Valdez turned seven, Manalaysay asked him what he wanted as a birthday gift.

“I told him I wanted other children to receive what I had: rubber slippers, toys and candies,” Valdez said.

So Valdez and his guardian spent the day giving out various items to street children.

The giving became a yearly tradition and led to the creation of Valdez’s own charity under Manalaysay’s supervision.

Volunteers, made up mostly of Valdez’s friends, also teach basic hygiene, nutrition and gardening, as well as educate children on their rights to help prevent abuse.

“Kesz is like any other normal kid. But his achievements, and the number of people he has helped, surpass those of most adults,” Manalaysay said.
Valdez’s plans for the immediate future are to continue with his charity, while making sure his schoolwork does not suffer from his busy schedule.