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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: 293542

Reported Deaths: 6638
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19560229
Hinds18674385
Harrison16512276
Rankin12595262
Jackson12451217
Lee9663160
Madison9400195
Jones7891145
Forrest7140136
Lauderdale6784225
Lowndes6008137
Lamar584480
Lafayette5707113
Washington5159128
Bolivar4594120
Oktibbeha439991
Panola426892
Pearl River4116128
Warren4114113
Pontotoc407368
Marshall399492
Monroe3980126
Union392873
Neshoba3767166
Lincoln3464100
Hancock339973
Leflore3358118
Sunflower317185
Tate300874
Pike298393
Scott292567
Alcorn290360
Itawamba288871
Yazoo283862
Tippah275665
Copiah274557
Coahoma272766
Simpson271778
Prentiss268658
Leake251770
Wayne251340
Marion250778
Covington247878
Grenada245876
Adams233277
George230645
Newton224751
Winston220275
Jasper211844
Tishomingo211765
Attala206269
Chickasaw200650
Holmes181670
Clay178149
Stone171429
Tallahatchie169839
Clarke168671
Calhoun156428
Smith151831
Yalobusha142936
Greene126833
Walthall123540
Noxubee122729
Perry121434
Montgomery121237
Lawrence119321
Carroll117623
Amite110832
Webster109929
Jefferson Davis100531
Tunica98623
Claiborne97729
Benton93124
Humphreys91626
Kemper89522
Quitman77014
Franklin75519
Choctaw69516
Wilkinson62226
Jefferson61427
Sharkey48817
Issaquena1676
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 491110

Reported Deaths: 9831
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson706291356
Mobile35894721
Madison32255442
Tuscaloosa23996409
Montgomery22462494
Shelby21820215
Baldwin19670274
Lee14900150
Morgan13599249
Calhoun13175285
Etowah13143319
Marshall11226206
Houston10048259
Elmore9337183
Limestone9335134
Cullman8869179
St. Clair8783220
Lauderdale8581210
DeKalb8429174
Talladega7481163
Walker6504251
Jackson6477102
Autauga620389
Blount6086125
Colbert5978118
Coffee5230102
Dale4621106
Russell401831
Franklin397876
Covington3956106
Chilton384298
Escambia377172
Tallapoosa3572141
Clarke342949
Dallas3397141
Chambers3392108
Pike293071
Lawrence281384
Marion280894
Winston246166
Bibb244260
Geneva238670
Marengo233354
Pickens223954
Barbour209951
Hale208868
Fayette199756
Butler195165
Henry182041
Cherokee176438
Monroe165938
Randolph163140
Washington156634
Crenshaw143554
Clay143354
Macon140943
Cleburne136839
Lamar131732
Lowndes130648
Wilcox120825
Bullock116336
Conecuh106523
Perry105327
Sumter98431
Coosa87823
Greene87032
Choctaw54823
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