October 30, 2014. Washington D.C. – This year was given an award to people with an outstanding contribution to their communities:
Juan Pablo Salazar, disabilities leader and activist. In 2004, Juan Pablo had been working for three years in a local PR agency in Bogota, when his life changed. During his sister’s wedding in Cartagena’s Islas del Rosario, he had an accident jumping off a boat, which left him paralyzed. After two years of rehabilitative treatment in the United States, Juan Pablo returned to Colombia and created Fundacion Arcangeles, an NGO that provides rehabilitation, psychosocial support, vocational training and economic opportunity to people with disabilities. Juan Pablo has also lead efforts to place people with disabilities into jobs. He is particularly well known for an initiative that persuades security companies to hire guards with disabilities. That initiative is now being implemented in Colombia, Costa Rica, and Mexico. Juan Pablo is also the president of the Colombian Paralympics committee, and has encouraged many people with disabilities to get involved with sports. In 2011, Juan Pablo devised the Lend Your Leg Campaign (Remangate), to raise awareness about the problem of landmines. In its first year, students and employees of private companies rolled up their pant legs — even the President of Colombia went to work with his pant leg rolled up! In 2014 Lend Your Leg is in 138 countries with support from the United Nations, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), and Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. As a result the Government of Somalia signed the Mine Ban Treaty and the Chilean government adopted a victim assistance law. Lend Your Leg campaign intends to focus its efforts on mobilizing global society, especially the youth, to ask the remaining non-signatory states to join the Mine Ban Treaty and ask the sates parties of the Treaty to work harder to achieve their goals.
Since 2006, The Trust for the Americas has worked with Fundación Arcangeles in the operation of a POETA Accesible Center for people with disabilities in Bogotá, sponsored by Microsoft Corporation. In 2012, The Arcangeles POETA Center became a POETA Academy and is now a hub for NGOs in Colombia and the Andean Region to replicate The Trust’s unique methodology of fostering economic opportunities for people with disabilities.
Ana Marcondes is a founding member of the community center CEACA, a group that goes back to the late 1970s and was originally created by local mothers who were looking to improve child care and education in the Morro dos Macacos neighborhood, Rio de Janeiro. It is estimated that a fifth of Rio’s population – live in Rio’s 750 urban slums, called favelas. In the case of the Morro dos Macacos favela, it is estimated that its local population is about 28,000, with a local unemployment rate at a staggering 63%. The average family income is $R500 per month (USD$291). Forty Five percent of the population living in Morro dos Macacos are youth under 18 years old. Gunfights occur day and night. Those living in Morro dos Macacos are never sure whether the guns are those of police, gangs or narco-traffickers. Youth have limited alternatives. In this environment, Doña Ana, along with her two daughters and some of her grandsons, leads an extraordinary effort in Morro Dos Macacos. This consist of a kindergarten, which has been recognized as a model by Rio’s municipality; and a community center, where youth at risk receive vocational training, and participate in cultural activities, such as dance, theater and storytelling. The center also operates a computer center, and an internet café opened to the community, and offers English classes.
Starting in 2013, with support from MasterCard, The Trust for the Americas began the operation of a POETA Center for at Risk Youth in Morro Dos Macacos, in partnership with CEACA and under Doña Ana’s leadership. More than 1,000 youth from the community have benefited from services offered by the center since its creation.
Fr. Ernesto Hernandez Ruiz, an angel of hope for Migrants and Deportees. Fr. Hernández, A Salesian priest, runs the “Padre Chava” Center that prepares meals for Tijuana’s most marginalized individuals, most of whom are migrants and deportees. Fr. Ernesto’s Padre Chava Center serves a thousand meals, six days a week. The center also offers counseling services and provides training in the use of computers. The Salesians are present in many of the cities located along the border that separates Mexico from the U.S.: Mexicali, Nogales, Ciudad Juarez, Ciudad Acuna, Piedras Negra and Nuevo Laredo, which are mainly used as transit routes for merchandise (and drugs). But for the Salesians, the Tijuana Padre Chava Center is more important because this where most human movement takes place. Fr. Ernesto is well aware of the fact that human traffickers are very active in Tijuana. Crossing the border costs about a thousand dollars and those who cannot pay it all in one go, incur a debt which then has to be paid back once they reach the U.S. and find a job. If people do not pay up, their families back in Mexico and Central America will pay the price. Most of the roughly 1,100 people who stream through the kitchen on any given morning are deportees, among them are the more than 1.5 million people expelled from the U.S. since 2009. For many in line, this free breakfast will be their only meal of the day, and the possibility of using the computer center allows them to connect with their families in the U.S. Many who arrive in Tijuana arrive in a state of shock. They’ve been displaced. They don’t want to be in Tijuana, so they will try to cross the border again and probably fail. Some of them have been in the United States all their lives and don’t even speak Spanish. Others come from Central America and not being able to cross the border, remain in Tijuana. Their lives are in complete disarray. It is in this context that the Padre Chava Center, lead by Fr. Ernesto Hernández, has become a space of hope, a short term home, and safe place where migrants and deportees could access services, get the chance to learn about their rights, and receive basic training in technology which will help them connect with their families or reach out to other support institutions along their journey.
Since 2012, The Trust for the Americas works jointly with Desayunador de Padre Chava, in the implementation of a computer training program for migrants in Tijuana. The program is implemented with support from Western Union, and volunteers from the Junior Chamber International.
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