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Pinoy peace prize awardee Kesz Valdez dedicates award to guardian

September 25, 2012 5:10pm
Kesz Valdez, the 13-year-old Filipino awardee of the International Children's Peace Prize, dedicated his award to his guardian Harnin Manalaysay, who cared for him after running away from his family due to abuse and maltreatment.
 
"I look up to him as a father. He is the first person who made me feel loved so it is only fitting to dedicate this award to him" said Kesz in an interview with GMA News Online.
 
During his acceptance speech, Kesz likened one of his experiences of maltreatment — being scorched in a pile of garbage — to a "baptism of fire."

"The day I suffered the burns on my body was like my baptism of fire. It was so painful that night at the dumpsite, the hospital and the days that followed. I cried out of pain. On the other hand, that was also the day I was rescued," he said of his ordeal.
 
"The fire that burned my skin and flesh is the same fire that started a flame in my soul. A flame that would warm cold hearts, a flame that would shed light to the path of the lost, a flame that would spark hope, lighting an entire sea of darkness and desperation. Mr. Harnin, the father I look up to, taught me these principles and keeps on reminding me daily by his own life's example," he added.
 
Kesz is the first southeast Asian to receive the International Children's Peace Prize. He was also the youngest among the three finalists nominated for the recognition.

The two others were Amina,15, of Ghana and Anwara,16, of the West Bengal region of India.

Amina fights for the right of children to go to school and receive an education. Anwara prevents the trafficking and early marriages of girls in her community.

Kesz, on the other hand, leads street children to better health by demonstrating and spreading basic hygiene practice. 
 
His advocacy to improve their situation started on his seventh birthday, the first one he ever had. Instead of asking for gifts himself, Kesz gave street children what he called "Hope Gifts" -- beautifully-wrapped packages containing basic hygiene products, slippers, clothing and even toys.

From then on, his project called "Championing Community Children" was born and now, he also personally teaches them how to take care of themselves.

"I teach the children how to wash hands properly, brush their teeth daily and bathe regularly. I believe that some of these street children we save will pay the act forward to help champion their own communities," he explained.

Since the launch of his organization, he has helped more than 10, 000 children in his community alone.
 
KidsRights, the organizer of the International Children's Peace Prize, will pay for Kesz's education and give him a platform for his ideals.

There also comes a 100,000-euro cash prize but Kesz himself will not receive the money. It will go to a project close to his heart.
 
When asked what he wants to become someday, Kesz confidently replied that he wants to be a doctor. "I want to have a license for what I am doing now for the children," he said.
 
Nobel Peace Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu handed Kesz the award symbolized by a sculpture showing a child moving the globe.

Kesz made a promise during his speech that he will not stop in his efforts to fight for the rights of street children and encouraged others to do the same.

"One is never too young to do something to help and meet a need. The simple ways of sharing a meal, a toy, a pair of slippers or a smile, will bring joy," Kesz said.

"My message to all children here and around the globe is: your health is your wealth! To everyone in this hall and to the rest of the world, please remember that every day, 6,000 children die from diseases associated with poor sanitation, poor hygiene and we can do something about it," he asserted.

"Please join me in helping street children achieve better health and better lives. Let us join our properly washed hands and open our hearts to the homeless and the hopeless," he added.
 
He also left a message of hope to all street children. "Do not lose hope even if you live on the streets. Whoever you are, wherever you are, you can do something to change the world", he said. - VVP, GMA News
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