As a child, each one of us wishes that superheroes become real. Imagine living with Superman, Captain America, Spiderman, or the X-Men, everyone will surely feel safe and secured and bad guys will decrease. However, superheroes are just a product of our imagination. Humans are not capable of flying or having superior strength or impenetrable skin. Nonetheless, being a hero is not confined to storybooks or comics. In fact, one doesn’t need superpowers in order to make a difference in this world. Even in our own little way, we can be a hero too which can give a positive effect on the people.
Below are five of the world’s modern-day heroes and how their actions helped shape society.
1. Efren Penaflorida, Philippines
Named as CNN Hero of the Year in 2009, Efren Penaflorida deserves a spot in the modern-day heroes list. Growing up in a slum area, Penaflorida finished his education through scholarships. During his academic years, Efren started “Dynamic Teen Company,” with the objective of diverting students’ attention to community activism and personal development instead of joining gangs or engaging in drugs. The group also provided projects and activities geared toward youth awareness, self-development, and community service.
A teacher by profession, Penaflorida pioneered the “pushcart classroom” wherein the pushcarts, stocked with different books and school materials, will be used to educate children who are not capable of going to school.
The pushcart classroom recreated a school setting, however, conducted every Saturday in unconventional spaces such as cemetery or dumpsite. Through this gesture, he was able to provide an alternative for the Filipino youth through free education. Definitely, a hero.
2. Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar
Born from a political family, Suu Kyi’s father was a former de facto prime minister of British Burma while her mother was an ambassador to India. Suu Kyi was well educated, obtaining her bachelor’s degree from the University of Oxford. She returned to her home country, Burma (Myanmar) in 1988 and found out that her country is under the dictatorship of U Ne Win. Because of her education and belief in democracy and human rights, Suu Kyi spoke against the dictator and initiated various non-violent movements towards the country’s democratic freedom. She was placed under house arrest but was allowed to be freed if she leaves the country. Refusing to heed the government’s call, Suu Kyi continued her efforts to help establish a civilian government.
Suu Kyi also founded the National League for Democracy where 80% of the parliamentary seats were won by the party members during the 1990 elections. Upon her release in 1995, Suu Kyi became involved in various demonstrations and protests against the existing government which paved the way to her arrest in 2003. Despite the calls from the international community, including the UN, to release her and calling her detention illegal, the Burmese government refused.
Because of her efforts towards restoring peace and democracy in her country in a nonviolent manner, Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. She was also given the Congressional Gold Medal in 2008, making her the first person to receive such commendation even while in prison.
3. Dr. Rick Hodes, Ethiopia
Also a modern-day hero, Rick Hodes is an American doctor that specializes in spinal conditions. He also trained in internal medicine at John Hopkins University. In 1984, Hodes went to Ethiopia as a relief worker. The initial plan was to work in the country for a year until he realized the growing need to help the people in Ethiopia. In 1990, he was also hired as the medical advisor of a humanitarian group, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and the following year, he helped 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to be airlifted in Israel.
Dr. Hodes dedicated his life to Ethiopia, practicing in Addis Ababa and Gondor hospitals and serving thousands of people by attending to their medical needs through immunization, community health, and spine deformities. Currently, he adopted 5 children in order to provide them with proper treatment in the US and continues to support a number of Ethiopians as part of his mission in life. Rick Hodes is truly a selfless man.
4. Betty Makoni, Zimbabwe
Despite her difficult past – sexually abused at 6 and orphaned at 9 – Betty Makoni proved that she can still make a difference. By selling fruits and vegetables, she was able to go to school and earned two degrees from the University of Zimbabwe.
In 1999, she established Girl Child Network or GCN in order to help address her country’s issue on child sexual abuse. Spread at more than 35 districts, GCN empowers young girls to speak up and report on the abuse that has helped saved thousands of victims.
Makoni also built ‘empowerment villages’ for sexual abuse victims and even fights against exploitation, child labor, and human trafficking, making her a target of state harassment and threats. Despite that, Makoni continues her advocacy, definitely shaping Zimbabwe’s society.
5. Razia Jan, Afghanistan
In a country where women are not afforded equal rights, where girls are attacked with acid or being poisoned, Razia Jan decided to do things differently. In Afghanistan, young girls are scared to go to school, fearing for their lives. But that doesn’t stop Razia from her mission. She established Razia’s Ray of Hope Foundation that aims to improve the life of Afghan women and children through community-based education and eventually gearing them towards a better future.
Educated in the US, Razia also built Zabuli Education Center in 2008 where 354 girls are given free education from kindergarten to 8th grade. Aside from reading and writing, young girls are taught Math, Science, Religion, and 3 different languages including English. It also has a computer laboratory with access to the internet. Razia believes that through education, a better future will be given not just to Afghan women but to Afghanistan as a whole.
We don’t need comic books in order to find a hero. In fact, each one of us can be one. It only takes a strong mind, a compassionate heart, and the willingness to help people and eventually make a difference in this world.