The holidays. They can really be a blessing. On the other hand, they can be a painful reminder another year come to pass, a year of shortcomings, a year of tragedy. As a 21 year old college student, I’ve found myself asking, “Were things really this bad 10 years ago, or was I just not old enough to notice?”
To be honest, I really could not tell you, but I do know that this year was one of the more tragic in recent memory. From the devastation caused by hurricane Sandy, to the bloody civil unrest occurring in Syrira, to the families suffering from the tragedies that occurred in the communities of Aurora and Newtown, this has been a year where hope seemed absent in the midst of great sorrow.
On this website you see us writing about our idols in sports, athletes who inspire and awe us as sports fans. We call them heroes and give them all the adoration in the world. I decided this week to go in a different direction. There are heroes that inspire off the field. There are people with unimaginable courage and strength that we cannot begin to fathom. There are everyday people who inspire and amaze us, and in a year with so much tragedy, they are the heroes this country and this world need most. Here are the Real Heroes of 2012.
In Pakistan, Malala Yousafzi has been fighting for the past 4 years for girl’s rights to education in her own country, and in doing so has brought education and women’s rights into the global spotlight. She began speaking out through anonymous blog posts published by the BBC and eventually grew into an open education activist worldwide. She has done all of this at the risk of her own life. On October 9th Malala was shot in the head in a Taliban assassination attempt on her life. Malala survived, and as a result of her bravery, former British Prime Minister and current UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown launched a United Nations petition in her name, using the slogan “I am Malala” and demanding that all children worldwide be in school by the end of 2015. Malala’s hard work and courage made her this year’s runner-up for the Time “Person of the Year”. Perhaps more significant, her work brought women’s rights and education to the forefront on a global scale and become a powerful symbol of resistance at the Taliban’s attempt to limit women’s rights. That is a lot to do in a lifetime, let alone do before your 16th birthday.
Peter Vadola, a 28 year-old local truck driver and Staten Island resident, rescued nearly 200 of his fellow residents from flooding as a result of Hurricane Sandy. It all began when Vedola ventured out the morning following the storm to see that damage that had been done to his new home, the home he purchased to begin his new life with his pregnant wife. While checking out the damage he received a frantic call from his friend, Danny, who was trapped in his attic with his wife and three kids. He had called 911 and still no one had come for help. Vadola said he would do what he could to help them. As if by way of a miracle, a motorboat, which had been ripped loose from the storm, floated his way and Vadola sprung into action. After rescuing Danny and his family, Vadola continued to race through the streets of Staten Island picking up as many people as he could and taking them up to Lincoln Avenue where the fire department was providing warm blankets and care to the displaced families. Days after Vadola’s brilliant heroics on November 8th, his wife gave birth to his first child and son, Justin Peter Vadola.
“I’ll always remember Sandy as a time when the people of New York came together,” Vadola says. “I have never been thanked more times before in my life. One guy even wanted to give me money. I told him to put away his money before I tossed him overboard. Now I have a beautiful son to be thankful for. This is going to be the best Thanksgiving of my life.”
One of the victims of the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary shooting was their principal Dawn Hochsprung. Hochsprung first heard the sound of gunfire then ran to protect her students by attempting to take down shooter Adam Lanza. As a result, Hochsprung lost her life, a life she devoted to students as an educator. Fellow family members, teachers, and friends hailed Hochsprung as a selfless educator, an educator that has now inspired many around the country and the world with her act of bravery. It’s clear the world needs more mothers, educators, friends and heroes like Dawn Hochsprung.
Jake Wood, a former US Marine and Iraq War veteran, first began reaching out to those in need after the massive earthquake that left Haiti devastated in 2010. In just 3 weeks Wood was able to assemble over 60 volunteers, many of them veterans themselves, to aid in relief efforts in Haiti. They called themselves Team Rubicon, in reference to the phrase “crossing the Rubicon” meaning passing the point of no return. The name proved appropriate, as Wood has not looked back since his time spent helping in Haiti and has continued to help around the world through his non-profit organization. In the past two years the organization has grown to almost 1,400 members, about 80% of them being military veterans. They have aided in relief efforts all over the world ranging from Chile to Joplin, Missouri. Wood believes that giving veterans a chance to give back is crucial, as it allows them to continue to serve after their duty term is up.
“There’s no limit to what veterans can do. … They’ve already proven that they want to serve … and when they come home, a lot of them still want to do it,” said Wood. “It’s a win-win situation.”
Pushpa Basnet, a native of Nepal and CNN’s 2012 Hero of the year, is no ordinary 28 year old, at least not by Nepal’s standards. Nepal is currently one of the world’s poorest countries with over 55% of the population living below the international poverty line. Basnet, however, was born under more fortunate circumstances, coming from a family with a successful business and steady flow of income while she was growing up. At 21 years old she discovered her calling while she was studying social work in college. She visited a women’s prison and was taken back by the poor living conditions and the fact there were children living in the prisons as well.
Because of Nepal’s high poverty rate, it lacks the type of social safety nets we enjoy here in the US and in other Western Nations. As a result, space is severely limited in the government run children’s homes. So when an individual is incarcerated and no other legal guardian is available, the parent has the choice to either bring their child to prison or let them fend for themselves on the streets of Nepal. Basnet simply could not stand for this, and in 2005 she began to provide care for the children of incarcerated parents. She got friends to donate money and began renting out a building to house the children. Her care center has grown from housing 5 students to now housing over 40 and she has assisted over 100 children since she began 7 years ago. She also runs a daycare for children under 6 along with her residential program. She ensures that the children maintain relationships with their imprisoned parents as well by planning trips to visit the prisons over holidays. Still, Basnet strives to do more as she is eager to find more ways to give these children a better future.
“This is what I want to do with my life,” Basnet said. “It makes me feel (good) when I see that they are happy, but it makes me want to work harder. … I want to fulfill all their dreams.”
This is obviously just a short list of the amazing people doing inspiring things in the world today. The fact is people do wonderful and amazing things for one another everyday. Perhaps not on such a grand scale as the outstanding individuals, but still small acts today go a long way towards creating a better tomorrow. A wise man once said, “I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness and love.”
So amidst this despair and sorrow, we can find solace in believing that there is so much overwhelming goodness in the hearts of so many people in the world today. Let’s remember those who were lost to tragedy in 2012 and let’s make 2013 deserving of their memory. Happy New Year everyone.