Hundreds of young people with disabilities study at new university founded by CNN Hero of the Year Jeison Aristizábal

Hundreds of young people with disabilities study at new university founded by CNN Hero of the Year Jeison Aristizábal


When Jeison Aristizábal became CNN Hero of the Year in 2016 – the first from Latin America – he shared a powerful message for young people with disabilities and their families.

“I want to tell you that yes, you can. “You can dream and make your dreams come true,” he said.

Growing up with cerebral palsy in one of the poorest areas of Cali, Colombia, Aristizábal strove to defy societal expectations. He dedicated his life to providing therapy, education and support to other young people with disabilities in his community so that they could realize their potential.

Since 2016, its organization, Asodisvalleyou have grown tremendously, opening even more doors of opportunity to those it helps.

With his prize money and donations, Aristizábal and his organization purchased the land where they built a much larger rehabilitation center, equipped with new technology and more medical tools for all the children’s needs. They have grown from about 400 young people to more than 1,000 today, he said.

In addition to specialized therapies, its center offers students free education and a host of programs, including dance, sports and music. Older students can also learn professional skills.

Not only did Aristizábal grow his nonprofit, but he also wanted to become a lawyer and earned his law degree three years ago.

“I realized the world needed more people to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities,” he said. “My goal is to help change the laws of this country so that people with disabilities have more opportunities. »

This CNN Hero of the Year Helps Kids with Disabilities Defy Expectations

This year, he and his foundation realized another big dream: building a university. Inspired by a group of older students in the program, the organization began construction two years ago.

“Today we have the first university for young people with disabilities in Latin America,” he said.

Now in its first year, with 300 students enrolled, the university offers a range of courses including computer programming, 3D technology, graphic design and languages. Students can also learn skills in culinary arts, carpentry, music and sewing.

“It has all the equipment so that people with disabilities can study in an accessible way,” said Aristizábal. “For example, we have eye technology. “Those who cannot move their hands or feet use computers with their eyes.”

Aristizábal says the goal is not only to help students continue their college education, but also to prepare them for employment so they can join the workforce, become breadwinners for their families and contribute in various fields.

“The foundation is changing the concept of the word ‘disability,’ understanding that they can, that they are capable,” he said.

The young people who inspired the idea of ​​the university, explains Aristizábal, began by learning the baker’s trade at the foundation. Today, they work in a local food production factory.

“Before, their families saw them as if they weren’t capable of doing much,” he said. “Today, they have a job, they have a salary. “They’re the ones who put food on the table.”

Ultimately, Aristizábal wants to show the world what anyone can achieve if given the chance.

“Jeison is a role model for us,” said Ayleen, who started at the foundation when she was 4 and plans to enroll in college next year to become a teacher. “He showed us that there are no limitations, no handicaps, nothing stops us from achieving our dreams.”

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David B.Otero

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