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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: 156868

Reported Deaths: 3851
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto10409104
Hinds10279202
Harrison7313112
Jackson6566128
Rankin5887106
Lee529496
Madison5014107
Forrest389786
Jones369088
Lauderdale3594147
Lafayette338253
Washington3246108
Lamar297850
Oktibbeha252362
Lowndes247064
Bolivar244384
Panola232653
Neshoba2249121
Marshall222851
Leflore208591
Monroe206778
Pontotoc204231
Lincoln197366
Sunflower192655
Warren180258
Tate177751
Union171926
Copiah167940
Pike165359
Yazoo160140
Scott159430
Itawamba157635
Alcorn155628
Pearl River155368
Coahoma152743
Simpson152653
Prentiss151331
Adams144752
Grenada143345
Leake139744
Holmes133461
Covington128639
Tippah128430
George128325
Winston125526
Hancock124341
Wayne121323
Marion119446
Attala119334
Tishomingo112443
Chickasaw109432
Newton108229
Tallahatchie98127
Clay94727
Clarke93653
Jasper85223
Stone80615
Calhoun78713
Walthall77629
Montgomery76926
Carroll74115
Lawrence73814
Smith73216
Yalobusha73128
Noxubee72717
Perry68326
Tunica62619
Greene61522
Jefferson Davis59017
Claiborne58916
Amite56615
Humphreys54719
Benton50018
Quitman5007
Webster46714
Kemper45018
Wilkinson40522
Jefferson37112
Choctaw3617
Franklin3555
Sharkey32417
Issaquena1204
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 252900

Reported Deaths: 3638
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson33526501
Mobile20103365
Madison13723151
Tuscaloosa13366154
Montgomery12552236
Shelby1079677
Baldwin9051137
Lee787266
Morgan696451
Calhoun6598121
Etowah656167
Marshall647357
Houston541038
DeKalb498137
Cullman462443
St. Clair441956
Limestone440445
Lauderdale426754
Elmore421164
Walker3735111
Talladega370157
Jackson340423
Colbert332042
Blount306140
Autauga281842
Franklin257434
Coffee250015
Dale239054
Dallas231532
Chilton228939
Russell22663
Covington225034
Escambia202331
Tallapoosa187291
Chambers182750
Pike161514
Clarke161019
Marion144736
Winston137523
Lawrence133436
Pickens126518
Geneva12508
Marengo123424
Bibb120418
Barbour118911
Butler118642
Randolph105522
Cherokee105124
Hale98131
Fayette94616
Washington93219
Clay92824
Henry8896
Monroe83011
Lowndes80929
Cleburne78814
Macon75522
Crenshaw72230
Bullock70119
Lamar7018
Conecuh70014
Perry6916
Wilcox64818
Sumter58622
Greene43518
Choctaw43114
Coosa3664
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