Here is a collection of 11 inspirational heroes compiled from lists from around the world in 2011. For each of the heroes on this list there are dozens more on the lists they came from, and for each of the lists there are thousands who continue each day to make this world a better place. Lets celebrate the stories we know and keep our eyes out for new ones! Go ahead and check out some of the “Top 10” lists we’ve linked to and share with us your favorite stories from 2011.
1. Ai Weiwei (China) – Time 2011 Person of the Year, Runner Up – The famous Chinese artist and political activist, Ai Weiwei went missing for 81 days in 2011 after being detained in Beijing. On top of the detention and countless interrogations, he was served with a $2.4 million tax bill considered as bogus by himself and international audiences. Ai Weiwei has spent most of his recent years highlighting abuses of power and government crackdowns within China. Ai Weiwei has uses his own blog to raise political awareness, especially for the government’s response to the failures of government-built schools during the 2008 earthquake. Despite the strong resistance, Ai Weiwei continues forward in his efforts for truth and transparency in China.
2. Dmitry Lisitsyn (Russia) – Goldman Environmental Prize, Asia 2011 – Dmitry Lisitsyn has spent the past 15 years becoming one of Eastern Russia’s foremost defenders of the environment. As oil and petroleum companies move to the furthest edges of the continent in search for oil, Dmitry noticed that their seismic tests and waste disposal practices were devastating Russia’s most diverse and wild marine habitats. After exchanging information with by British environmentalist Emma Wilson, Dmitry recognize that he could do something and began organizing others to help collect data, documenting illegal activities and lobbying for stricter environmental rules. His accomplishments in the last few years include; stricter environmental laws, seismic testing procedures that protect wildlife, more rights for indigenous communities, a permanent and protected wildlife refuge and a discontinuation of waste dumping in the Sea of Okhotsk by Shell and Exxon.
3. Robin Lim (Indonesia) – CNN Hero of the Year, Winner – In a country where the average family earns $8 per day, most soon-to-be mother cannot afford hospital deliveries. As a result, maternal and infant mortality rates are extremely high and families who seek safe deliveries often have to choose between leaving their child at the hospital if they cannot pay or financial ruin. Robin Lim, a U.S. citizen living in Indonesia lost her sister and friends to the complications and dangers of childbearing and decided to take action. Robin became a midwife in Bali and started organizing low cost and free birthing clinics for parents who could not afford hospitals. Because of Robin’s efforts over 5,000 babies had been safely delivered.
4. Edith Wilkins (India) – PeopleoftheYear.com, 2011 Winner, International Person of the Year – Irish Born Edith Wilkins moved to Siliguri in Darjeeling, India to help work with local NGO’s. The area was heavily affected by high unemployment and a lack of social services after corporations in the area closed shop. Edith build strong relationships with the local law enforcement and campaigned to raise awareness of the child trafficking and child labor. Despite the multiple threats on her life from pimps and drug lords and the many diseases she personally contracted while working in unsanitary conditions, Edith continued strong. She personally has fostered over 20 children in the past decade and has begun a foundation dedicated to fundraising for the needs in the community.
5. Coem Aston (Australia ) – 2011 Pride of Australia, Child of Courage – Diagnosed with cystic fibrosis and in need of a double-lung transplant, this Australian teenager decided to personally take action to raise awareness about organ donation for himself and for the many others in his position. In 2011, the 14 year old Coen organized and completed a 1,200 mile jet-ski ride down the Murray River. The seven week long adventure forced Coen to be hospitalized at the end, but his efforts paid off as millions have heard his story and became aware of his cause.
6. Wael Ghonim (Egypt) – 2011 Time 100 – As the rumblings of a potential Egyptian revolution began, a 30 year old Egyptian tech executive named Wael Ghonim put himself on the front lines by initiating a call for a peaceful revolution. Wael realized that more than just words were needed to encourage people to demonstrate peacefully so he began educating his peers on the power of social media and trained them to use it as a tool of civil disobedience. Their efforts were successful and over 12 million Egyptians peacefully removed their dictator and his regime.
7. Denisse Pichardo (Dominican Republic) – World of Children Award, Humanitarian Winner – Denisse Pichardo began her research on sexual tourism and street children in the Dominican Republic in 1994. Moved by what she observed, Denisse began a project, dedicated to empowering the most vulnerable youth in the nation’s “sex tourism capital” of Boca Chica. Denisse and her organization called the Caminante Proyecto Educativo, have affected the lives of 13,000 youth caught in sex tourism, prostitution and violence in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
8. Jafar Punahi (Iran) – 50 Most Inspiring post 50s of the Year – Jafar Punahi is a world renown filmmaker from Iran and one of the most influential inside his country. His films and documentaries have often focused on creating intellectual discussions about humanitarian and political themes of contemporary Iranian life. In 2009 Jafar had his passport revoked ad was banned from leaving the country. Then in 2010, he was arrested by plain clothes officers and taken to the notorious Evin Prison with many other political prisoners. After months of abuse and mistreatment, he was finally released on bail before he was sentenced to six years in jail and a 20 year ban on making or directing any movies or plays. His 20 year ban also includes a ban on speaking out against the regime and leaving the country. While under house arrest awaiting an appeal he decided to use a cell phone to film a documentary about his life in his house and released it in September 2011 titled “This is Not a Film.”
9. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberia) – 2011 Nobel Peace Prize – Elected for a second term in 2011 as Africa’s first and only democratically elected female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleef has devoted the past six years to securing peace in Liberia, strengthening the power and position of women and promoting much needed economic and social development. Her efforts for peace have included increasing democratic access to, and the transparency and openness of the government while encouraging reconciliation amongst the former warring factions.
10. Monroe Weber-Shirk (Honduras / USA) – Intel Environmental Tech Awards – Monroe Weber-Shirk is one of the founding environmental engineers for AguaClara. After being diagnosed with Hodgkins disease, Monroe assumed his years of volunteer work with civil and environmental engineering in Latin America were over. It wasn’t until recently, as Monroe began earning his Ph.D at Cornell University that he began once again changing the lives of people thousands of miles away. With his connections from his years of volunteering, Monroe helped engineers team up with a Honduran NGO named Agua para el Pueblo. Together, Agua para el Pueblo and Cornell developed an advanced water treatment plant that uses only gravity to filter clean drinking water for over 2,000 people. Monroe and the AguaClara team now plan on expanding the production of their system to provide clean water to many other countries.
11. Phoebe Russell (USA) – Yahoo! 2011 Inspiring Acts – The now 7 year old has collected enough money and food to feed over 135,000 homeless people in the past three years. At 5 years old, the San Francisco began asking her mother and preschool teacher about homelessness and decided she wanted to help. Phoebe started by collecting cans at her home and then encouraged her class to help decorate and write letters to send to adults for help. In the first two months her classroom raised over $3,700 as people in the community began dropping off cans and money at the school. Her inspirational story has spread through social media and mainstream media outlets and her efforts have been multiplied hundreds of times over in the past three years.