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Clark Alum Catalina Escobar is one of CNN’s Top 10 “Heroes”

Monday, December 03, 2012


Catalina Escobar

Catalina Escobar, a 1993 graduate of Clark University, was honored as one of CNN's Top 10 "Heroes" of the year Sunday night, for her work with impoverished teenage girls in the slums of Cartagena, Columbia.

Escobar had built a successful international trading company, but after volunteering at one of Cartagena's largest hospitals, her life path would change forever.

"In the year 2000, I started volunteering at a hospital," Escobar said. "A baby was in my hands, and he passed away. It was a preventable death. That life could have been saved for the $30 I had in my pocket."

Escobar's own son, Juan Felipe, died from an accident at the age of 14 months when he tragically fell from a balcony. Broken hearted, Escobar decided to take action, so that no mother would have to feel the grief she had.

Escobar sold her company and founded the Juan Felipe Escobar Foundation to bring health care to the young mothers and children of Cartagena.

"We built and intensive care unit in the hospital, and saved over 3,000 babies," Escobar said. "But then we discovered the problem was bigger. Most of these babies come from teenage pregnancies, and may of these girls are sexually abused."

So, Escobar decided her work was not finished. In Columbia, nearly 20 percent of all girls between 15 and 19 years of age have been pregnant once, more than three times the rate of the United States. This leads to young girls dropping out of school and, eventually, becoming pregnant again.

She began raising money to build a social center. A place young mothers could go, drop off their children, and learn valuable skills. This was particularly important in Cartagena, where many young girls fell into drugs and prostitution.

"It took us two-and-a-half years to do all the fundraising to build the social center," Escobar said. "But now, over 1,000 moms and babies come to our center. And they're here for free. They drop their babies at the daycare center, and they can come and get all the skills. When you give them the tools to be socially productive, they don't need prostitution to raise money."

Actor Rainn Wilson, known for playing the character of Dwight Schrute on TV's "The Office," presented Escobar with her "Hero" award during the CNN special Sunday night. Though she did not take home the "Hero of the Year" award, Escobar will still receive $50,000 to continue her efforts in Columbia. Escobar was brief with her remarks, but made clear that this honor would be shared with all the girls she works with.

"Being here is not a personal achievement, but for the thousands of teenage moms in the poor slums in Cartagena, Columbia, they are my real true heroes," Escobar said. "I am only the person that helps them on their path from misery to dignity."


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