Alfonso Leon Wins Prestigious Ohtli Award for His Commitment to the People of Haiti
After decades abroad, Hermano Mayor Alfonso Leon receives the prestigious Ohtli Award from the Mexican government for mentoring and supporting youth in communities throughout Haiti.
November 11, 2019 - Haiti
Alfonso Leon Baderas, who has lived in Haiti for 33 years, was recognized with the Ohtli Award (Reconocimiento Ohtli) on 13 September 2019, one of the highest honors given by the Mexican Secretariat of Foreign Affairs to citizens living outside Mexico who have supported and benefitted people in the local community in a significant way.
Alfonso was nominated for his hard work as a mentor to young Haitians at Nos Petits Frères et Soeurs (also known as NPH Haiti). The ceremony took place at the Hotel Montana in Pétion-Ville, where Enrique Palos, the Mexican Ambassador to Haiti, presented Alfonso with a silver medal. A cadre of NPH Haiti staff accompanied Alfonso to witness this distinguished achievement.
Originally given to Mexicans living in the United States, the award now has a global scope. Recipients are honored once a year by consulates around the world. The award consists of a medallion bearing a silver rosette. The term “ohtli” comes from a Nahuatl word meaning “road” or “path.” The image on the medallion depicts an Aztec god cutting grass with a machete, symbolizing the idea of clearing a path for others.
“This award means a lot to me. It was unexpected. I never knew other people were following my work in Haiti. I received a call from the embassy asking if I was interested in being a candidate. Obviously, I answered ‘yes.’
The honorees are evaluated by staff of the Mexican Embassy in Haiti plus Mexican nationals active in the community. “We have around 50 Mexican citizens living and working in Haiti. I am not the only one, and I feel flattered to be chosen as someone important to the Mexican community in Haiti.”
Fr. William Wasson and Fr. Richard Frechette established Nos Petits Frères et Soeurs in 1987. At the time, the local staff was small. Nora Priest, a volunteer, served as Director of Childcare. When she left, Fr. Wasson searched for someone with the right experience to replace her. Up stepped Alfonso, who had already completed his professional Montessori teacher training and had experience working as a teacher in the United States.
Alfonso recounts he accepted the role on a trial basis. At first he found Haiti too humid, wet, muddy, and rainy. Also, he was not fond of the food. He had been living in the U.S. and was accustomed to a different cuisine. And he had big dreams. Fortunately, he soon opened his eyes to a different road and he became motivated to remain in Haiti. Despite the political issues and the current civil unrest, he chooses to continue living in Haiti.
When Alfonso first arrived, the home had just four babies and 30 other children. After a few months, the home was full.
Today, some of those first children live in the U.S., while others have returned to work for NPH as carpenters, electricians, and other roles. Due to socio-economic problems and challenges in Haiti, many children do not have an opportunity to go to school and receive an education. At NPH Haiti, they do. The majority of children go on to be successful. They get a formal education and they learn how to be good citizens of their communities and the world. They know what is means to work toward a better life.
Alfonso is very satisfied with the work NPH is doing in Haiti. He observes that many organizations open and then close their programs, but NPH always looks to expand and create new programs, concentrating on the needs of the community, which is the legacy and reputation of the organization that Fr. Wasson founded 65 years ago in Mexico.
“Did I choose Haiti or did Haiti choose me?” Alfonso asks. “To be honest, I know why I came to Haiti. I decided to stay after I saw extreme poverty in places like Cité Soleil. Many years later I still attend to the same population living in these harsh conditions. It motivates me—creating a different life for the children that pick up trash to survive. It still hurts me. I want to see greater change.”
NPH is currently based in nine countries, but Alfonso grew up in the flagship home in Mexico. He also played a significant role in the development of NPH Dominican Republic, forming part of the team that did an environmental assessment on the ground and drafted the program focus for the future NPH home. His sister and brother-in-law still work with NPH Dominican Republic 16 years later.
Alfonso was House Director for Nos Petits Frères et Soeurs for more than 20 years, then joined the Family Services team for about five years. Today he continues to serve as home advisor.
Unfortunately, Haiti is a long way away from providing even basic services to the poorest communities. Things like reliable electricity, roads, potable water, transportation, and quality education are very limited or out of reach for many Haitians. The privation leads to, among other outcomes, an exodus of Haitians emigrating to other countries and regions to seek a better life.
Amid this harsh reality, Alfonso maintains focus. He explains, “Something I always try to promote with the children throughout our homes is finding ways to be more positive, staying away from criticism and negativity, as there is plenty of that in the world. I encourage my fellow Hermanos Mayores to never forget where they came from.
"Remember to be grateful and speak well of the NPH family. Recreate something that Fr. Wasson did for us. Be a benefactor for children who are still living in our homes. Be active and give back if you are in a position to do so. We have thousands of kids waiting for your help!”
Contact your local NPH office if find out how you can support NPH programs during the current civil conflict.