Washington — The United States has honored nine Latin American leaders as “Champions of Change” for success in promoting development in their countries of origin.
“These members of the Latin American diaspora remind us that geography matters, that being a good neighbor is both good manners and a good investment,” said Roberta Jacobson, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. Jacobson spoke at a July 27 White House ceremony in honor of the newest Champions of Change.
“The champions that we recognize today have helped their countries and communities of origin and in doing so have bettered our region,” she said. “These exceptional individuals, with their work in sports and community development, in education and financial inclusion, inspire others by their example,” she added.
The Champions of Change program was created as a part of President Obama’s 2012 Winning the Future initiative. Each week, a different sector is highlighted and groups ranging from educators to entrepreneurs to community leaders are recognized for the work they do serving their communities.
These are the Champions of Change:
• Luis Aguirre-Torres — Founder of Green Momentum and Cleantech Challenge México, both created to develop clean technology and environmentally friendly (green) jobs in Latin America. Since 2009, Aguirre-Torres has overseen the execution of several regional programs that develop and license clean technology. The programs have created more than 1,000 green jobs and financed more than a hundred Latin American clean-tech companies.
• Claire A. Nelson — Founder of the Institute of Caribbean Studies (ICS), the leading Caribbean-American diaspora advocacy organization. ICS works to develop strong U.S.-Caribbean relations by advancing exchanges and partnerships with the U.S. public and private sectors and encourages Caribbean-American civic engagement. She has opened doors for the disadvantaged across the Americas.
• Andres “Elmer” Arias — Salvadoran American leading the Fútbol Positivo (Positive Soccer) project in Fairfax County, Virginia. Fútbol Positivo began in 2009 after the Fairfax Police Department contacted Arias to build a bridge with the county’s growing Latino community affected by youth crime. After Arias began organizing soccer tournaments, the area’s crime rate dropped. Arias also is president of the Foundation for Educational and Cultural Development, which teams up with Salvadoran associations and U.S. businesses to help public schools in poor areas in El Salvador acquire computers and other school essentials.
• Greivis Vasquez — Professional basketball player for the New Orleans Hornets, devotes much of his time to youth sports camps in Venezuela. He was invited to partner with the U.S. Department of State’s “Sports Diplomacy” program to help foster improved relations between Venezuela and the United States.
• David R. Ayón — Helped found the Mexican American Leadership Initiative (MALI) of the U.S.-Mexico Foundation, which enlists binational support to strengthen civil society in marginalized communities in Mexico by provide alternatives for at-risk youth. MALI also coordinates the U.S.-Mexico Migration Dialogue at the Woodrow Wilson Center.
• A. Patricia Janiot — President of Fundación Colombianitos, which helps Colombian children living in poverty. Janiot has led the growth of Colombianitos from 42 children in 2001 to approximately 4,000 in several Colombian cities. She is also the senior news anchor at CNN en Español, where she has covered events in Latin America and the world for more than 20 years.
• Alvaro Maldonado — Professional concert dancer and founder of Ballet Teatro Internacional (BTI), a nonprofit organization created to generate dance training programs in the United States and in Central America. BTI aims to inspire neglected, low-income and undereducated youth to enhance their health, aspirations, achievements and skills and to deter them from drugs, violence and other anti-social behavior by the power of believing in themselves.
• Ana Moraga — From Guatemala City and worked with several youth and human rights organizations in San Francisco. Upon graduation from college, Moraga moved back to Guatemala and founded MuJER — Mujeres por la Justicia, Educación y el Reconocimiento (Women for Justice, Education and Awareness) to empower Central American women sex workers. At Northeastern University School of Law, Ana is an adviser to MuJER’s board and continues to work with women’s organizations.
• Raúl Hinojosa Ojeda — Founder of the North American Integration and Development Center at the University of California, Los Angeles. Ojeda developed pilot projects to help diaspora members and develop home communities. He has served on the boards of the Los Angeles Community Development Bank and the International Community Foundation, and is the founder of SF Global, LLC, a social empowerment innovation company focused on developing low-cost, secure and accessible financial services to the un- and underbanked diaspora populations.