01:50 - Source: CNN
Top 10 CNN Hero: Catalina Escobar

Story highlights

Catalina Escobar was named one of the top 10 CNN Heroes of 2012

Her group helps teen mothers in Colombia break out of extreme poverty

She has also established a medical clinic to help low-income people

Who should be the CNN Hero of the Year? Cast your vote now!

CNN —  

In Colombia, one in five girls age 15-19 is or has been pregnant, nearly triple the U.S. rate.

And in the city of Cartagena, where one-third of residents live in extreme poverty, many of these young moms don’t have a chance to improve their lives.

But Catalina Escobar is working to change that through her foundation and its teen mothers program. Her group aims to teach young women how to support themselves and their children, and since 2002, Escobar has helped empower more than 2,000 teen moms.

CNN asked Escobar for her thoughts on being chosen as one of the top 10 CNN Heroes of 2012.

CNN: What do you hope this recognition will mean to the Juan Felipe Gomez Escobar Foundation?

Catalina Escobar: This award means a great deal to me and to the foundation. It is the most effective and quickest way to tell everyone around the globe that in Colombia, we can do serious philanthropy, where our models really work to make social transformations.

But we also want to show that in a little corner of Colombia, there is a great social inequality and despair like happens in India, Africa or Haiti.

This recognition also tells me: “Keep on going, never stop. You´re doing well!” When you work in this field, you have to be a bit crazy – or crazy enough to devote yourself entirely to humanity. That´s what I love.

CNN: What was your reaction to the news that you’d been selected as a top 10 CNN Hero?

Escobar: I was really surprised because all the Heroes do great jobs in all areas. When I knew I was selected … my eyes opened wide, and since then, I haven’t stopped smiling!

For me, it has been really an interesting journey working with the foundation, which last year celebrated its 10th anniversary. When you work in this field, you never expect to get recognition. You only work day and night to change people’s realities, especially when they are in extreme poverty.

But knowing that I am in the top 10 CNN Heroes, it’s been amazing news, not only for myself, but also for the foundation, its employees and all the people we have worked with. …

Our team felt so proud of their work, since it has been a constant, hard and persistent labor during so many years. For our supporters, the feeling has been of a national pride. … What this shows is that there is a will to continue working for the vulnerable community in the slums of Cartagena, and keep working with us.

Who’s your CNN Hero of the Year? Cast your vote!

CNN: How will you use the $50,000 award that you receive for being selected as a top 10 CNN Hero?

Escobar: It will be invested in the foundation’s programs. We provide counseling, education and job training to hundreds of teenage mothers. It will also go to our work tending to the infants of the teen moms at the day care center.

We also have a medical center, and there are so many vulnerable women that are coming to the center for special services that they can’t get elsewhere. Not all of them can pay, so we want to invest in them as well.

CNN: What do you want people to know most about your work?

Escobar: The important thing is to show that our models of intervention are sustainable in the long run. They’re also replicable in areas having the same social conditions, and the results are measurable.

More than 2 million U.S. troops have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since October 2001, and it has been estimated that one in five of those veterans are likely to be afflicted by post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression.

Read the full story on CNN Hero Mary Cortani:
Man’s best friend helping war veterans heal

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