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Jeison Aristizábal, a cerebral palsy activist, accepted the CNN Hero of the Year award on Sunday, and gave such a touching message that it brought the audience to tears.
Huffington Post reports that Aristizábal, 33, who has cerebral palsy himself, as well as a hip malformation, went through an uphill battle for most of his life. He was often the target of bullying, which started with his own doctor. When he was just a child, the family doctor told Aristizábal’s mother, María Emilia, that her son “wouldn’t amount to much.”
“When Jeison was 3 or 4 years old, they told me that I should buy him a box so that I could sit him down in front of the house and have him shine shoes,” said Emilia.
Additionally, Aristizábal grew up in a extremely poor area of Cali, Colombia, where the odds were already stacked against him, despite his disabilities. Yet, with a determined spirit backed by family support, he took a bleak situation and turned it positive.
In his CNN video profile, the inspirational activist said “all these difficult circumstances pushed me to be independent….I learned that I would be able to accomplish everything I put my mind to.” His dream was to help others in the same situation as himself have access to things they otherwise didn’t, and not only did he put his mind to it, but he accomplished things that far surpassed the expectations of the many naysayers that surrounded him while growing up.
When he was just 17, Aristizábal began helping low-income kids with disabilities (such as himself) obtain wheelchairs. Shortly after, he opened the Association of Disabled People of the Valley (ASODISVLLE) from his garage, a physical therapy center. As his foundation grew, so did the participants. So far, the foundation has helped more than 480 children in over five different locations.
“Many children with disabilities in Aguablanca grow up with no type of opportunity because families don’t know how to take care of them,” Aristizábal said. “They think that [their child’s disability] is God’s punishment. It’s very important to change that way of thinking.”
Aristizábal was among 10 others who won the CNN Hero of the Year award, which also came with $100,000 to help him continue to assist disabled kids in Cali. The awards show, which recently reached its 10th anniversary, spotlights everyday people who do “extraordinary things” in order to make the world a better place. The 10th annual ceremony was hosted by hosted live by Anderson Cooper and Kelly Ripa. The recipients of the award were determined after an audience-vote over six-week period.
In addition to $100,000 (which all of the CNN Hero recipients received), generous donors matched $500,000 to the recipients’ organizations.
“Incredible,” Aristizábal as he stood on stage after accepting his award. “Hello to Colombia. Hello to all the families that have a child with a disability, I just want to tell them that yes you can. You can dream. And that you can achieve your dreams.”
Watch the touching video below as Aristizábal shares his stories and struggles in his CNN Heroes profile video, and don’t forget to follow him on Twitter!