2016 CNN Hero of the Year: Dreaming is worth it

We asked Jeison Aristiz-bal to share what's happened since he was recognized as the 2016 CNN He...

Posted: Dec 17, 2017 1:52 PM
Updated: Dec 17, 2017 1:52 PM

We asked Jeison Aristiz-bal to share what's happened since he was recognized as the 2016 CNN Hero of the Year. Here is his open letter:

I used to look at life with difficulty.

Through every path I walked, I encountered barriers and discrimination. I was a boy with dreams and tireless perseverance, on a mission to find opportunities for disabled children and young people. I never wanted to spark pity, only love and solidarity toward disabled children like me.

I was passionate about helping the disabled community, but this was not easy to achieve: The system in my country, Colombia, does not promote public policy to provide opportunities and a better life for people like us. It hurt terribly to hear the stories of those families with disabled children; especially because, as a child, I lived through adversity in thousands of ways, due to a society (and a school) that excluded me for being different.

Despite having cerebral palsy, I came up with different ways to conquer the world, to change the perception of disability and, before all else, to get society to realize that we should always give, regardless of how little we have.

At all times, I carried my message of the value of solidarity, of recognizing that it's the most effective way through which we can understand that helping others is extraordinary.

A dream come true

Being nominated to be a 2016 CNN Hero was a wonderful dream come true for me. It moved my desire to help forward. I was filled with a roller coaster of emotion; it was days and months of new-found feelings. I would always keep the need to create opportunities for all these children with disabilities in mind; these children that, despite the challenges they face, always provide a hug, a smile or a look filled with hope. All of this motivated me to keep dreaming.

How can I not trust Divine Providence when a great moment like this arrives? Being at last year's "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute" was like a fantasy. In a room full of lights, color and inspirational messages and images, I was being recognized by thousands of people around the world like a hero without a cape. The mottoes "YES YOU CAN" and "DREAMING IS WORTH IT" swirled in my mind and my heart was filled with love and hope. I thought about all those who suffer, and who eagerly wait for a chance in life.

People put their faith in me, and in the hope to turn the world into a place where values such as respect, love and tolerance will lead us to peace; a world where we are all equal and where social equity prevails. They believed in me and shared my dream of supporting others, and let me speak and fight for them.

An engine for change

There are so many life stories of people who have not been limited by adversity. These stories have been the engine in creating a generational change in moral values. Every place I have visited, I have encountered incredibly kind people; from students of prestigious colleges, to businessmen in big cities, and even in the most modest of places, where hope and faith create a lifestyle change where love, respect and solidarity become more valuable than material wealth.

Through the labor of our foundation, ASODISVALLE, every day we are surprised by the capacity people have to teach us the importance of unity. How can we not recognize its greatness? Through this recognition by CNN, people have been moved by my message and have been spurred to act.

Today, because of the recognition as the 2016 CNN Hero of the Year, I have traveled the world with my motivational speech, "Three secrets to being happy." I am moved by the fact that families want their children to be like Jeison. Children meet me and say that they want to be like me, and even those who know my story through other platforms are motivated to follow the model of a "CNN HERO." It's so gratifying to be the motivation for so many human beings.

My life story is an example for thousands of people; today it transforms lives on a personal, social and professional level. Being a CNN Hero, more so than something to brag about, is a responsibility and a commitment to social justice.

Baking opportunity

This acknowledgment has opened doors and brought opportunities. Today people from all over the world show up and donate so that children and young adults with disabilities can be provided with opportunities. Everyone wants to help and be a part of this important social task.

The ASODISVALLE foundation is a symbol of solidarity and perseverance on a global level. We educate, feed, and rehabilitate 650 children and young adults with disabilities, as well as supporting their families in various other ways. They have become an integral support system for this community and their quality of life has significantly improved.

Through CNN's recognition, my responsibility has only grown. I want to ensure that my life lessons will motivate people to fight for their dreams, to learn to not complain despite the difficulties they may face, to fight for their goals until they achieve them.

Lastly, it fills me with pride and happiness to announce that on October 21 we opened the first bakery that provides employment opportunities for mildly disabled young adults from ASODISVALLE, "HEROES' LITTLE BAKERS."

Thank you CNN,

Jeison Aristiz-bal

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 313942

Reported Deaths: 7240
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21580258
Hinds20330415
Harrison17879309
Rankin13594278
Jackson13429246
Madison10088217
Lee9970174
Jones8370163
Forrest7670152
Lauderdale7188241
Lowndes6387146
Lamar622486
Lafayette6184118
Washington5332133
Bolivar4801132
Oktibbeha462198
Panola4582106
Pearl River4506146
Marshall4435103
Warren4386121
Pontotoc420172
Monroe4107133
Union410076
Neshoba4030176
Lincoln3962110
Hancock378486
Leflore3493125
Sunflower335990
Tate333384
Pike3316105
Scott315773
Alcorn312768
Yazoo311469
Itawamba299777
Copiah296865
Coahoma295179
Simpson294988
Tippah288168
Prentiss279760
Adams278782
Marion269080
Leake267473
Wayne262641
Grenada261386
Covington258281
George247848
Newton246261
Winston227081
Tishomingo226667
Jasper221048
Attala214273
Chickasaw207757
Holmes188873
Clay185254
Stone182433
Tallahatchie178541
Clarke177980
Calhoun170532
Yalobusha164238
Smith162334
Walthall133945
Greene130533
Lawrence128524
Montgomery126742
Noxubee126734
Perry126338
Amite123042
Carroll121828
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis107033
Tunica105226
Claiborne102430
Benton99525
Humphreys96533
Kemper95728
Franklin83623
Quitman80716
Choctaw76318
Wilkinson67230
Jefferson65528
Sharkey50217
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 531404

Reported Deaths: 10985
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson765501522
Mobile41036805
Madison34789503
Tuscaloosa25788453
Montgomery24340589
Shelby23449249
Baldwin21154308
Lee15882171
Calhoun14511314
Morgan14306279
Etowah13843353
Marshall12232223
Houston10570281
Elmore10068205
Limestone9974151
Cullman9676194
St. Clair9661243
Lauderdale9427241
DeKalb8831186
Talladega8227176
Walker7241277
Autauga6926108
Jackson6814112
Blount6678137
Colbert6306134
Coffee5519119
Dale4838111
Russell441538
Chilton4296112
Franklin426082
Covington4129118
Tallapoosa4023152
Escambia393677
Chambers3573123
Dallas3551152
Clarke351161
Marion3122101
Pike310977
Lawrence300398
Winston274473
Bibb260964
Geneva250477
Marengo249564
Pickens234461
Barbour231057
Hale223077
Butler216069
Fayette212562
Henry188844
Cherokee185245
Randolph180542
Monroe177540
Washington167339
Macon159650
Clay156756
Crenshaw152557
Cleburne148941
Lamar142535
Lowndes138853
Wilcox127130
Bullock122841
Conecuh110529
Perry107726
Coosa107628
Sumter104732
Greene92534
Choctaw60724
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