On Sunday, December 7, 2014, Juan Pablo Romero Fuentes, the founder of JustWorld partner project Los Patojos in Guatemala, was chosen as a CNN Top 10 Hero. This prestigious award commemorates everyday people who make an extraordinary difference. Juan Pablo Romero Fuentes truly exemplifies what this award encompasses.
The Guatemalan native has forever changed the lives of children in his community and he continues to do so every day. He converted his family’s home into a safe haven for children who otherwise would have little opportunity to receive help with schoolwork, explore various means of self-expression through the arts, or challenge themselves to create their own futures. Los Patojos, supported by JustWorld International, provides education, nutrition, health and hygiene, as well as leadership and cultural development programs for children and young adults to give the community of Jocotenango, Guatemala, the tools and hope to break the cycle of poverty.
As Juan Pablo accepted his award during the ceremony that night, he shared with the audience, “I am so honored to be acknowledged as a CNN Hero because I believe it is time for our community to be recognized for our alternative education program. This is the opportunity of a lifetime to make the invisible visible and to open the door for children with young minds to understand the positive aspects of life. It is time for love. It is time for action.” This speech touched one man in particular and sparked even more action for Juan Pablo to bring Los Patojos’ mission to life.
As Charles Nimick, known as Locky, heard Juan Pablo’s story and listened to his speech, he was inspired to learn how he could help. Having spent most of his career in the immigration field, particularly in the asylum arena, Locky saw countless asylum applications from people who have come to the U.S. from Central America to flee dangerous and sometimes life-threatening situations there. Juan Pablo’s efforts to improve the lives of children in Guatemala resonated with him deeply. Locky explained, “Through my work, I am very aware of the conditions in Guatemala. In addition, as the Chair of a family foundation, I have a personal focus on and commitment to improving the lives of children because they represent the future and if given opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have, a multitude of future opportunities present themselves and investments now can pay enormous dividends later.” Locky decided to go to Los Patojos with JustWorld to see the project first-hand this past July.
Spending time where Juan Pablo first started Los Patojos in his family’s home and then seeing the new socio-educational center, Locky was completely moved. He shared that spending time with Juan Pablo was the most memorable part of the trip, explaining, “He is one of the most inspirational people I have ever had the privilege of meeting.” Locky left Los Patojos full of hope- a hope to see Juan Pablo continue his groundbreaking work and see his model expand to other cities in Guatemala and Central America. While spending time at Los Patojos, Locky saw how the teachers are creating opportunities for children that otherwise don’t exist in the community.
More than seventy percent of Jocotenango’s population is under the age of forty and most of the difficulties obtaining jobs are due to a lack of education. One of the ideas Los Patojos had to create job opportunities was to create a bakery. Los Patojos found that food sales are a great way for young people to take their first step towards supporting themselves and their families. Juan Pablo shared, “The purpose of the bakery is to offer our youth the ability to learn a profession, for them to study and start their own businesses, instead of leaving to seek work across the border.”
With a grant from the Nimick Forbesway Foundation, Locky is helping to make this dream of starting a bakery a reality. The bakery will be the first in which professional skills will be taught by professional chefs and bakers to a select group of students at Los Patojos. These students will start by learning to bake basic pastries as well as different types of bread. The “Panadería Los Patojos” will launch approximately six months after construction is complete, the team has been formed, and students have conducted market testing to confirm their product offerings. After the first six months, four of the top students will be chosen to continue running the bakery as a business while the team continues the training program to learn new recipes and expand product selection. New job opportunities will arise as a result of these new skills, strengthening and expanding the current program at Los Patojos. JustWorld would like to sincerely thank Locky and the Nimick Forbesway Foundation for their generosity and support.