Supporting and empowering children with autism in Nicaragua

All photos courtesy of Angel Flores

By Ana Gonzalez

In 1992, the United Nations proclaimed December 3 to be the International Day of Disabled Persons to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities and to raise awareness of the situations they face in political, social, economic, and cultural aspects of life. One inspiring YLAI Network member in Nicaragua wholeheartedly shares these goals.

Angel Flores, a 2018 YLAI Fellow, has made it his life’s mission to improve the lives of people with disabilities. Angel is the founder of Blue Hope (Azul Esperanza), an organization that provides educational therapy to children on the autism spectrum. Blue Hope aims to empower those with disabilities so that they can be active citizens in Nicaragua.

To recognize this upcoming International Day of Disabled Persons (now known as the International Day of Persons with Disabilities), the YLAI Network interviewed Angel to learn more about his journey and his organization’s mission.

What motivated you to launch Blue Hope?

child care center

My biggest motivation is my son, who has autism. Before establishing this organization, I searched for support but was unable to find it. My wife and I then started Blue Hope by organizing fundraisers, meetings with other parents of autistic children, and local events, with the purpose of one day establishing a center for autistic children in Nicaragua.

How is Blue Hope a vital part of your community?

Blue Hope provides cognitive therapy to autistic students to improve their behavior, their communication, their attention span, and improve how they manage their emotions, all of which will ultimately help them to integrate more easily into life in the community. Blue Hope is needed for the community in Nicaragua, as it provides assistance and relief to families of scarce resources when the state cannot.

How has the community helped and embraced your organization?

Every April 2, since 2016, we organize a national walk. The first time, only about 80 people participated, but in 2018, about 5,000 people took to the streets. We walked through the main avenues in Managua to the Ruben Dario Theatre, where an exhibition by autistic artists was held. Our families, friends, and neighbors held posters and wore the color blue to stand with the children of autism.

We are very honored that so many people in Nicaragua have supported us through our national walks, our Zumbatóns, raffles, and other various events. Our community and the people in Nicaragua are extremely valuable to our organization.

Due to the political crisis in Nicaragua, we have not been allowed to organize another national walk. We hope that soon we can take to the streets again and celebrate the National Day of Autism.

How has Blue Hope responded to the lack of help from the Nicaraguan government?

The public health system in Nicaragua is unfit to deal with autism. This condition is very rare in Nicaragua, and due to the complexity of it, our government does not provide funds to children with autism to properly diagnose or treat it.

In 2016 we pushed for the implementation of Law N. 931 in Nicaragua, which declares April 2 to be the National Day of Autism in Nicaragua. Although the law does not include any monetary funds, it allows us to celebrate the day and advocate for the rights of autistic children.

Why is it important to recognize the International Day of Persons with Disabilities?

Recognizing these days means society recognizes the human rights of disabled persons and acknowledges their successes.

I have friends who are blind and are radio broadcasters, friends who are deaf and work in various companies, and friends with Down syndrome who work as bank managers. In the case of autism, there have not been many cases of such success within the community, but they are slowly integrating more fully into society.

One of our students in the center just recently graduated from college, and that to us is a huge milestone that deserves recognition and celebration.

How has YLAI helped your organization grow and develop?

Being a 2018 YLAI Professional Fellow and participating in the Reverse Exchange of YLAI has allowed me to grow as a leader. I have formed great friendships and mentorships and acquired entrepreneurial knowledge that has helped my organization.

Blue Hope has since trained 250 professors from 150 schools to teach and care for autistic children — a great achievement for furthering autism support in Nicaragua.

child holding up sign

How can the YLAI Network and members help people with disabilities?

The YLAI Network can use their virtual platform to shine a light on entrepreneurs who are working to help people with disabilities, and members can help by offering their support.

In 2018 after returning to Nicaragua, Blue Hope, along with other YLAI Fellows, launched a viral campaign called #BlueHopeChallenge. We were contacted by people in Colombia, Peru, Brazil, Mexico, Cuba, the Philippines, and Europe. The campaign had an amazing impact on our network and help spread the message of our mission.

What advice would you give to YLAI Network members?

For those who are beginning their journey with YLAI, I would say, do not wait for change. Be proactive, try to do the most with your time.  

Angel is open and eager to share information and connect with others in order to work for the betterment of the lives of people with disabilities. Thank you, Angel!