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A young journalist fights to prove those who doubted him wrong

June 18, 2014

I am ... A Survivor

A young journalist fights to prove those who doubted him wrong

This my story written by one of my classmates, Lianna Saldana , Student of Journalism and Mass Communications at Florida International University. Contact me at JENDA002@FIU.EDU

Juan Endara, a journalism student at Florida International University, struggles with speech impairment because of a stroke he had as a baby.

Discouraged by others, Endara was often told he could not pursue his dreams because of his disability.

Today, he is proving some people wrong.

"People always assume that I have learning impairment or some mental condition just because the way I speak," said Endara, who loves to write and conduct interviews.

Endara, 27, likes to tell stories, especially about people who have struggled like him. Through his stories, he aims to help society understand and accept them.

"We all have the choice to become more open-minded and accept differences among each other," said Endara, born on Nov. 27, 1986 in Cali, Colombia.

When he was 5 months old, he suffered a stroke and was in a coma for 17 days. He survived the coma, but doctors told Florencia Becerra, his mother, her young son was not going to survive.

If he did, they said, he would not function like a regular person.

"I was hoping the doctors were wrong," said Becerra, 55. "I refused to believe that he would end up in a bed."

Endara was able to surpass the situation, but the stroke affected the left side of his brain, causing his speech impairment and a slight limp.

He has been going to physical and speech therapies ever since.

"I have to be thankful," said Endara. "Thanks to those therapies, I improved about 70 percent."

Endara lived in Colombia with his mother and grandmother most of his young life. When he was 14, he and his mother obtained a U.S. tourist visa and moved to Miami, seeking better educational and medical opportunities. But the move to the United States was not all positive.

When Endara lived in Colombia, he attended school as a regular student. But when he enrolled at Charles W. Flanagan High School in Pembroke Pines, he was placed in the Exceptional Student Education program and fell behind.

In high school, Endara felt disregarded by teachers and administrators and was often bullied because of his disability.

"I was unable to adapt to the school system because I struggled leaning English, and I had to deal with bullying," Endara said. "I was unable to focus."

At the time of graduation in 2005, he was given an ESE diploma, a special diploma that is not accepted by higher education institutions.

"The only career I could enroll in with that diploma was as a carpenter, cutting wood," Endara said.

Because his diploma did not allow him to enroll in a university, Endara returned to Colombia to complete high school there to obtain a regular diploma.

Endara graduated from Colegio Andino with honors in 2007 and came back to the United States to enroll at Miami Dade College.

He graduated from MDC with a 3.2 GPA in February 2011 and transferred to FIU.

Endara now will be graduating with a bachelor's in journalism and mass communications in just two semesters.

At FIU, he has been involved in school activities, written for The Beacon, the school newspaper, and got some extra help from the school and classmates to move forward academically.

"Once I was here, it was easier. I have people who help me, I have more time in my exams and friends who give me notes from class," said Endara, who recently was part of an on-campus event called Diversity Day.

Diann Newman, assistant dean of the Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, who is also in charge of bringing awareness during Diversity Day, met Endara during an interview for The Beacon and thought he should participate in Diversity Day.

Endara accepted the invitation, created a video with captions and insisted on speaking at the event.

"He was teaching me how to be more accepting of differences," said Newman, 61. "He is not going to let his impairment stop him."

Alfredo Soto, a journalism professor who had Endara in his Writing Strategies class last summer, remembers how observant and committed Endara was in his class.

For one of his assignments, Endara wrote a paper describing the loss of someone close to him. His words moved everyone.

"There was no pity," said Soto. "They respected his work."

Kristy Shore, a classmate, agrees.

"Many of us take for granted the little things like being able to talk regularly every day," she said. "Yet, Juan can't and still strives to do his very best."

Endara said he chose to pursue a career in journalism because it was a challenge. He wanted to prove his disability did not define him or his future.

"Sometimes, when people see you with a speech impairment, they doubt that you can do it, but once you get up there and start interviewing, people see you making the effort and you change their perspectives," said Endara, who fears he won't be able to find a job after college though he is motivated to continue proving people wrong. Endara wants to become a motivational speaker and write a book based on his personal struggles.

"My hope is to change perception among society, showing my academic success regardless of all the obstacles and, hopefully, convince many people to believe in my potential," he said.

This story was originally published by the South Florida News Service http://sfnsonline.com/2014/03/23/young-journalist-fights-prove-doubted-w...

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