Over the course of my life I have seen many catastrophic events happen to good people: natural disasters, war, and poverty. I have witnessed a colossal amount of disappointment from the people of my village because they had nothing. Thirty years ago I left my village of Intipuca, El Salvador, during a time of war. I was one of the lucky few who were able to survive and leave to achieve my American dream.
Unfortunately there was a sacrifice which needed to be made. It meant that I must leave my family and everything that I had ever known and loved behind. I was on my own, going to a new country, determined to revisit El Salvador with the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives.
Upon arriving to America I became an entrepreneur and owned two restaurants. These two restaurants are what put me back on my feet after many years of hard work. They allowed me to have my ideas for helping people in the United States and abroad interact and become a reality.
In 1998 I started giving back to my home country and the surrounding areas. There were many natural disasters that had destroyed villages and towns throughout Central America. This is when I began to ask for aid to help restore what was taken away from them. I held a radio-thon that lasted two days and asked for donations. With the money that was collected I was able to go back and make a difference. My contribution was to build houses for people who had lost everything during the earthquake of 2001. There was a sense of accomplishment in my heart when I heard there were 254 houses built for the homeless. To many people these were not only houses, but a beginning to a new life.
A year later, I created the Salvadorian American Chamber of Commerce. The goal of this organization is to get the businesses and the community united in order to help better serve the community together. It started with the agricultural project in El Salvador, which aimed to teach people how to grow organic produce. This project provided the community with more jobs and access to healthier produce.
I did not stop there. In 2008 I established FUPEC (Foundation for Education and Cultural Development). This foundation was established so that private business sectors in El Salvador and the Salvadorans associations in the United States can work side by side. One of the first projects FUPEC implemented was incorporating laboratories, libraries, and computer labs into public schools in poor areas around the nation. With their help, over
200 schools were able to supplement the education of 150,000 children’s learning experience. With these three additional commodities, children were able to spend more time educating themselves and less time on the streets. FUPEC continues to flourish, with an average of 25 different projects to improve the community and make better opportunities for Salvadorians every year. With all the hard work and dedication of many businesses, FUPEC can continue to serve the community by enhancing education and creating jobs.
Realizing all that could be done, I began to serve my community locally. I created Futbol Positivo, which consists of three soccer leagues for children, men, and women. This program helps those who are underprivileged to play soccer with the proper equipment and in a positive environment. It also allows the Fairfax County Police Department to interact and foster a relationship with the children and their parents. With the help of my friends and family I am able to provide this safe environment and help keep the community safe.
My work is not yet finished. As I look around me, there are many who continue to inspire me and to compel me to keep on doing what I do. Together, we can all strive to make our communities a better place to live. I am exceptionally honored to have been named a White House Champion of Change.
Andres “Elmer” Arias is President of the Foundation for Educational and Cultural Development