Photo Credit: Glenda Alfaro / Garbage to Gardens
Mar 05
March 5, 2015

Meet Four Young Leaders Who Are Making a Difference in Latin America


Over the past decade, members of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) community have made more than 700 Commitments to Action that have positively impacted people in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). Global leaders from business, government, and civil society have improved lives across the region through their commitments to curb non-communicable diseases, support women entrepreneurs, increase access to clean water, and much more.
Through CGI University (CGI U), members of the Millennial generation are also taking the Commitment to Action model to Latin America, achieving tangible progress in addressing a range of pressing issues. These young leaders are among the more than 1,000 college students convening for CGI U 2015, to be hosted by President Bill Clinton, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Chelsea Clinton on March 6-8 at the University of Miami.

Below are the stories of four CGI U commitment-makers who, through their work across Latin America, are demonstrating that it’s never too early to start taking action to shape a better world. 

Growing Gardens from Garbage in El Salvador

When Glenda Alfaro looked around her community of Jardins de la Nueva, El Salvador, she saw hard clay soil unfit for growing food, and garbage strewn in the streams and streets. “Can you imagine living in a place where vegetation cannot grow?” she asked herself.

When many people would have chosen to accept or ignore their environment, Glenda saw the good in the garbage. Through her 2013 CGI U Commitment to Action, Garbage to Gardens, she provided 12 families with sophisticated compost tumblers to reduce organic waste, mulch to protect plants from the heat, and aerated compost tea to manage soil-food microbiology. Two years later, Glenda continues to work in her home community, tracking the progress of composting methods and monitoring the plants that are grown from the compost-enriched soil.

Examples of compost tumblers in Jardins de la Nueva. Photo Credit: Glenda Alfaro / Garbage to Gardens

What was once only a significant garbage problem has evolved into a solution for stronger, healthier soil. For the first time, Glenda’s community is producing tomatoes, cucumbers, chili peppers, squash, garlic, mint, mangos, and lemons. They have also been able to reduce household waste by 40 percent with plans to start an organic community market.

Empowering the Disabled through Recycled Art in Mexico

Fabiola Nieto Cervantes transforms everyday items like milk cartons, newspapers, and other recyclable materials into beautiful works of art. In 2013, Fabiola and her brother, diagnosed with Martin-Bell Syndrome, sold flowers that they crafted out of milk cartons, with the proceeds paying for her to travel to her new student orientation at Florida State College.

Valentine crafts made by fabiola and her brother. photo credit: Fabiola Nieto cervantes

Fabiola’s brother inspired Creativarts, her CGI U Commitment to Action which will equip disabled persons in Mexico with the artistic skills needed to earn their own incomes and live more independent lives. “I want others to recognize [disabled persons'] potential and abilities,” Fabiola said. “My commitment will teach them an easy way to produce income using creativity, abilities, and resources that can be easily found.”

When she returns to her hometown of La Trinidad, Mexico in June, she will begin trainings at the local community center and plans on organizing an exhibition featuring the the artistic creations of participants in her project. She hopes that this will raise awareness both for the arts and the disabled community.

Making Math Fun for Students in the Dominican Republic

When Alejandro Garcia, a native of the Dominican Republic, received a scholarship to study computer science in the United States, he knew that it meant more than an educational opportunity—it would allow him to give back to his community. Determined to help reverse the low math test levels in his home country, Alejandro made a CGI U Commitment to Action to improve the math scores of Dominican students in low-income areas. In 2013, after launching Math Multipliers, an afterschool program designed to improve students’ math ability, he decided to take unpaid leave from his work in the Silicone Valley and dedicate more time to his project.

In the Dominican Republic, Math Multipliers provides mentorship and individualized tutoring from older students who excel at math, fun activities and competitions, and inspirational speakers to engage students. By 2013, Math Multipliers was running successfully in five afterschool programs, had trained more than 64 high school students as volunteers, and tutored more than 136 underprivileged students.  Alejandro hopes to expand the program even further in order to teach  students that math can open doors to their future.

Bringing Safe Drinking Water to San José, Panama

Stephanie Cheng, a student at the University of Miami, was enchanted by the city of San José from the first time she went to visit a friend who called the small Panamanian town home. But the mechanical engineering student soon realized that along with the traditional dancing and singing of the Azuero Penisula, the vibrant colors, and friendly people, there was also inadequate access to clean water.

Potable water system in San José, panama. photo credit: stephanie cheng

Stephanie previously served as an Engineers without Borders project lead for their Panama program, and this prior affiliation led to their collaboration on her CGI U Commitment to Action, Water for Development. Her program aims to provide the residents of San José with access to a reliable, drinkable water source through a potable water system.

Above all, Stephanie wants her commitment to be a long-term solution to a difficult situation, and one that will allow local communities to take charge of their own resources and provide for themselves. “Water for Development understands that community support is essential to achieving sustainable and meaningful goals,” she said. In August 2015, the commitment team will take a trip to San José to assess the community’s needs and develop a potable water system that will serve the town and surrounding areas with fresh water for years to come.


President Bill Clinton, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Chelsea Clinton will convene more than 1,000 undergraduate and graduate students from around the world for the 2015 meeting of CGI University, held on March 6-8 at the University of Miami. Participants take action on some of the Millennial generation’s most pressing social, economic, and environmental concerns. For additional details, visit Plenary Sessions will be streamed live during the event at