In a world as big as the one we live in today, it is easy to believe that our actions do little to make a real difference—especially when so many terrible things are happening every day. These young children would hear no such thing, moving mountains for what they believed was right—at an age when most of us are still trying to figure out how to ride a bike, or trying to decide what colour popsicle we want. While some of these stories come from children put in horrendous situations that most of us could never imagine, some of these heart-warming accounts are closer to home—children moved to help others who might not be as fortunate. From fighting for the right to basic freedom for themselves and those that might follow in their footsteps to working to better the environmental state of the planet, these children are nothing short of amazing. So the next time that you find yourself feeling small in a world that seems incredibly big, remember that these children were still pint-sized when they started on their journey to make a difference.
11 Yash Gupta
After breaking his glasses when he was 17, Yash Gupta had to wait a week to have his prescription replaced. He found he had trouble doing the most basic things, which peaked his curiosity. After a little research online, he discovered that more than 12 million children across the globe are in need of glasses. Sight Learning was born, a charity that gathers used eyewear and distributes them to organizations that deliver the glasses to where they are most needed. As of 2013, Gupta had already collected 9,500 pairs of eyeglasses for people in need all over the world.
10 Adele Ann Taylor
Adele’s Literacy Library (ALL) was founded after 13-year-old Adele realized that some of her classmates had trouble reading, which inspired her to launch her own non-profit organization in order to help others learn to read (ALL has helped approximately 25,000 people improve their reading abilities). In addition to funding a high school scholarship, ALL also donates books to charities and schools and aided in the construction of a solar-powered school in Kenya.
9 Ryan Hreljac
While most six-year-olds spend their allowances on candy or the newest toy on the market, Ryan Hreljac decided to put his pocket money towards something a little bigger. In 1998, one of Hreljac’s teachers informed his class that, in Africa, water was a rare commodity—and that it wasn’t something that was easily accessible. Ryan decided to raise money to build a well in Africa, which he thought would cost about $70. When he realized that it would cost more like $2,000, he started public speaking to raise awareness about the problem in Africa, which resulted in not only one well being built in Uganda, but a worldwide foundation called Ryan’s Well Foundation, committed to improving life in Africa. So far they’ve completed 927 projects, reaching 836,751 people.
8 Alex Scott
Diagnosed with neuroblastoma just shy of her first birthday, Alexandra Scott was the founder of “Alex’s Lemonade Stand”. While selling lemonade might seem like a pretty standard summertime activity for a four-year-old child, Scott had something a little different in mind when she started her stand—she wanted to raise money for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. While this sweet angel passed away in 2004, she left a legacy behind in the form of a worldwide organization, having raised approximately $500 million dollars for cancer research. Children all over the world have continued her work by opening lemonade stands in their own hometowns.
7 Nkosi Johnson (born Xolani Nkosi)
Born to an HIV/AIDS positive mother, Nkosi Johnson was born with the fatal virus. Adopted when he was three years old, Johnson gained media attention when he was refused acceptance to school. As a result, he became an advocate for HIV/AIDS victims, rallying for awareness and equal rights for those suffering with the virus. While he passed away at the young age of 12, his memory lives on in the form of a safe haven that he built with his adoptive mother. Nkosi's Haven serves as a shelter to those living with HIV/AIDS.
6 Om Prakash Gurjar
Along with his family, Om Prakash Gurjar worked as a forced labourer from the age of five until he was eight years old. When members of the activist group Bachpan Bachao Andolan were travelling through India, they came upon Om Prakash Gurjar, who was intrigued at the idea of freedom—a concept that was foreign to the Gurjar family. Following his freedom from forced labour, Gurjar went on to campaign for children’s rights, resulting in the issuing of 500 birth certificates to Indian children, providing them with the right to a free education. He was awarded the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2006 when he was only 13 years old.
5 Louis Braille
After an accident in his father’s shop caused him to lose sight in both eyes at the young age of three (he lost complete sight by the age of five), Louis Braille enrolled in the Royal Institute for Blind Youth in Paris, where he went on to invent braille, which is a reading and writing system for the blind. Although his work was only largely adopted following his death, the method, which uses a system of raised dots, provided people without sight a way to learn to read and write, changing the world for those with eye impairments, leading to higher quality of life for the blind.
4 Cassandra Lin
In this case, Project TGIF might not stand for what you think it does. In 2008, Cassandra Lin launched Project Turn Grease Into Fuel—when Lin was only ten years old. While the Rhode Island native wanted to do something to help the community, she was also concerned about sustainability and global warming, which resulted in TGIF—a program whose goal is to recycle cooking oil and convert it into biodiesel, which is then donated to companies that provide heating to families in need (Rhode Island has since made it mandatory for restaurants to recycle their cooking oil in support of the program). Lin, a delegate of the United Nations Environment Programme, has another project in the works, too—she’d like to design a zero-waste community.
3 Anne Frank
One of the 1.5 million children (1.2 of which were Jewish) who lost their lives to the Holocaust, Anne Frank is known today for her diaries, which were published by her father, Otto Frank, in 1947. Her writing made her into a household name, shedding light on a more personal side of the Holocaust through the chronicling of her life from 1942-1944. Frank, who was 13 at the time, spent two years in hiding in Amsterdam. Discovered in 1944, Frank lost her life to typhus at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945. Revealing an impossibly bright outlook on humanity, Frank’s writing has not only raised awareness of the Holocaust, but also revealed an incredibly brave young girl put in an impossible situation.
2 Iqbal Masih
When most children are attending kindergarten, Iqbal Masih was getting up early in the morning to begin his day as a slave labourer in a carpet factory in Pakistan, where he would then work well into the evening. Sold when he was only four years old to pay one of his parent’s debts, Masih escaped child slavery twice, joining the fight against child labour as a member of Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF). After freeing more than 3,000 children from forced labour, Masih was shot in the head and killed at only 12 years of age.
1 Malala Yousafzai
Before she survived being shot in the head while riding a school bus in Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai was already relatively well known due to the publishing of her diaries on BBC Urdu. Her words revealed that she was passionate about the education of women, despite the Taliban’s efforts to suppress female education in northwest Pakistan (Swat Valley). Targeted for her activism, Yousafzai survived the attack, and has since been awarded the Noble Peace Prize for her advocacy for the education of women in Pakistan. She is the youngest individual to ever receive the prestigious award.