Efren Penaflorida, 2009 CNN Hero of the Year, was grateful when Typhoon Haiyan bypassed his home in Cavite City, Philippines. But when he saw the devastation in other areas of the country, he wanted to do all he could to help his fellow Filipinos.
Penaflorida immediately began collecting donations at his mobile “pushcart classrooms,” which he uses to educate poor children in the country. But he wanted to do more.
So he reached halfway around the world to Doc Hendley, a North Carolina clean-water activist who had also been honored as a top 10 CNN Hero in 2009. After a disaster strikes, access to clean water is vital to help prevent the spread of disease. Hendley, who has responded to humanitarian crises in Darfur, Haiti and Syria, had just started assessing how his nonprofit, Wine to Water, might help the Philippines when he received Penaflorida’s e-mail.
“I was already thinking that maybe I should go, ” Hendley said. “When he shot me the e-mail … he sealed the deal. “Our organization depends on relationships with people on the ground … (and) what better relationship than with Efren?”
Soon, Hendley was on a flight to the Philippines with hundreds of water filters in tow. Penaflorida picked him up at the airport in Manila. “That was a long trip from the U.S. to the Philippines … and he has put out his own money and resources to help us,” Penaflorida said. “We were both excited, seeing each other.”
The next day, both men helped volunteers assemble the filters and pack 120,000 meals donated by Stop Hunger Now, one of Hendley’s partner organizations. Then they headed to Tacloban, in the heart of the devastated area, to deliver the filters.
“When we got to the communities, they were asking for help,” he said. “When Doc presented them with filters, I saw hope in their eyes.”
They distributed 2,000 filters by the end of the week. Because each filter can provide enough clean water for 10 people, and because each will last for 10 years, Hendley estimates that at least 20,000 people will benefit.
He originally planned to return home for the Thanksgiving holiday, but he now intends to stay until early December. “I couldn’t be home for a nice Thanksgiving dinner and pretend like nothing happened,” he said. “There’s too much we have to do.”