Like any child growing up in America in the late 80s, I had a deep and abiding love for the PBS show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Many of the lessons I learned from that show, lessons of kindness and selflessness, stay with me to this day, but the one I love most isn’t really one of his lessons at all. Instead, it’s a lesson from his mother. And in light of the current state of things in our world, it feels particularly timely.
When the news was full of terrifying stories, Mister Roger said “My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’
I’ve been thinking about that quote a lot lately, especially in light of the recent shootings at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. Waking up to find that someone had massacred more than 50 people less than an hour away from my house, at a club that several of my friends have visited, was disorienting. There was a profound sense of helplessness combined with an overwhelming need to do something, anything, to help. So, I did the only thing I could. I got up, drove to a blood bank, and spent the next nine hours waiting to donate.
During that time, I saw lots of helpers. I saw phlebotomists in street clothes who had come in on their day off so they could process more people. I saw hundreds of people waiting for hours, through thunderstorms and 100-degree temperatures, without ever uttering a complaint. I saw strangers bring chairs to those who were waiting in line and businesses donating food and water by the truckload.
And I realised that even in the aftermath of hate, in the midst of unimaginable pain and loss, there are always helpers, and there was real comfort in that.
Our world is full of tragedy right now. When the whole world seems to be falling apart, perhaps we need to focus on the helpers. Reading the stories of these extraordinary women who have dedicated their lives to helping others seems like an excellent place to start.
Marijana Savic – Fighting Human Trafficking
Growing up in a war zone, Marijana knows first hand what it to suffer. As the founder of Atina, an NGO in Serbia that began as a way to fight human trafficking and has since evolved to also help refugees, she has spent the last sixteen years working daily to empower and protect displaced women, many of whom would not otherwise be given assistance. As she says, “That’s why our work is so important. We listen to these women because nobody else does.” The importance of her work is also starting to be recognized by the international community and as a result, Atina was awarded the prestigious Global Catalyst award, as well as the With and For Girls award in 2015.
Krista Donaldson – Medical Technology for the Poor
As the CEO of D-Rev, a nonprofit design company, Kristen helps develop medical devices to help people living in poverty. Her mission, as well as the mission of her company, is to “improve the health and incomes of people living on less than $4 per day,” and their motto is to “design for the 90%.” They do that by consulting their potential clients to better understand what their wants and needs are, by working to develop alternative methods and materials, and by creating relationships with organizations that can assist with distribution. This has led to a number of breakthroughs including a prosthetic knee that costs only $80 and has helped thousands of amputees in half a dozen countries. Krista holds a doctorate in mechanical engineering from Stamford University and was named one of the Top 40 Under 40 by the Silicon Valley Business Journal.
Muna Abu Sulayman – Educating girls in the Middle East
As the co-host of one of the most popular shows on Arab television, Muna tackles controversial topics, bringing issues that are typically taboo, like sexual harassment and gender equality, to the forefront. Muna’s work as an activist is not limited to her television show, however. As Secretary General of the Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation, Muma worked to empower women and increase opportunities for them to receive a quality education in the Middle East. She has also partnered with an organization dedicated to improving women’s access to, and presence in, the workforce in the Gulf States. Whether on television or working behind the scenes, Muna is a key figure in the fight for women’s rights in the Arab world.
Yuan Feng – Ending Domestic Violence
As a journalist and activist, few women have had as strong a voice or platform in the fight for women’s rights in China as Yuan Feng. Yuan spent two decades working as a journalist in China, and during that time, she strove to be an important voice for women. She fought for gender equality as a journalist, so it was only natural that, when she went on to found her own activist group, it was focused on women’s issues as well. She was particularly interested in working to reduce domestic violence, something of paramount importance considering the fact that one in four married women in China will be assaulted by their husbands at some point during their marriage. As such, in 2000, Yuan co-founded the Anti-Domestic Violence Network. She has also gone on to serve as a key figure in China’s Gender and Development group and the director of Combating Domestic Violence Against Women.
Anoyara Khatun – Bringing trafficked girls home
Despite the fact that Anoyara is still a teenager, she’s already had a profound impact on the world. Anoyara was sold into domestic service when she was only five years old, and at the age of 12, she became a victim of human trafficking. Thankfully, she was returned home a year later, at which point, rather than simply returning to her life, she began a campaign to improve the lives of others. She has since helped return hundreds of trafficked girls to their families and has put a stop to dozens of child marriages by putting pressure on their families and/or government officials. She has also served as a child delegate to the UN’s National Assembly.
Shannon May – Education for Children in Poverty
The founder of Bridge International Academies, Shannon’s work makes it possible for children living in extreme poverty to receive a quality, private school education for an average of only $5 a month. Under her direction, Bridge International Academy raised over $100 million dollars from a group of investors, and in their first year, they built 150 schools in Africa. Currently, her organization’s schools are changing the lives of more than 100,000 students, and based on their rapid growth, they expect to reach 10 million by 2025.