10 Youths Changing the World

Kesz Váldez

Position: International Children’s Peace Prize Awardee
Country of Citizenship: Philippines
Organization: Championing Community Children Charity, Club 8586

15-year-old Kesz Váldez symbolizes how commitment and passion can come a long way, despite a lack of resources. Kesz’s drive comes from his personal experiences as a young child subjected to violence and child labor while living within a rubbish drum in Cavite City. Kesz is the voice of 240,000 invisible street children in his community. He is known in his community for helping more than 10,000 children in matters of health, hygiene, and child rights, by handing down 5,000 gifts to underprivileged children. These parcels are called “Gifts of Hope.”

His efforts in the “Championing Community Children” campaign made him the recipient of a $130,000 International Children’s Peace Prize at The Hague this year. The young boy received his award from 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu, a South African human rights activist. Kesz’s commitment to raising awareness for child safety and health promises a healthier and more productive workforce in the future.

Annie Gersh

Position: Advisor and Co-Chair on National Girl Up Board
Country of Citizenship: United States of America
Organization: Girl Up

A resident of Los Angeles, California, Annie Gersh is a ninth grader and advocate for young girls’ rights. Gersh was inspired by a Girl Up event featuring Jordan’s Queen Rania. The Girl Up Campaign is led by the United Nations Foundation, and gives American girls the chance to lead and reach young adolescent girls deprived of education, health, and safety elsewhere. The goal is to unite girls to fight for basic rights of other girls. It is a girl-to-girl grassroots advocacy tactic that has gone viral in the United States with 356,024 female youths signed up. Since then, Annie has become an active voice in her school as well as nationally, participating in Girl Up Leadership Summits in Washington, D.C. and meeting with representatives from Congress.

Along with winning the title of co-chair of the National Girl Up board, Annie Gersh is leading a successful Girl Up club in her Marlborough school in California. Girl Up clubs try to turn inspiration into action with unique fundraising activities in partnership with private-sector organizations. The Girl Up club hosts events such as Viva Dress Up, which allows young girls to donate clothes lightly worn. Annie and her small-scale advocacy efforts are backed by other youth champions, including Bosilika An, Karin Jougla, Lucy Lohrmann, and Rocio Ortega.

Adeline Tiffanie Suwana

Position: Founder of Sahabat Alam
Country of Citizenship: Indonesia
Organization: Sahabat Alam (Friends of Nature)

In response to a flooding that forced her to evacuate her home in Indonesia, Adeline organized a group of 150 school friends to plant mangroves that would eventually deter damage from natural disasters in her hometown. Adeline’s initiative led to the formation of a community group called Sahabat Alam, or Friends of Nature, which is involved in ecotourism activities such as planting coral reefs, reforestation, cleaning marine debris from beaches, and energy development and sustainability.

Adeline hopes to build local and international “environment ambassadors” for advocacy of crucial environmental and climate issues. The passionate Indonesian has represented her country as a youth delegate in several United Nations conferences including the United Nations Environment Programme’s International Children and Youth Conference in 2011. The same year, Adeline won the Malaysia-China Chamber of Commerce (MCCC) Golden Green Awards and a $6,000 cash prize. Adeline’s organization empowers and educates 15,000 youths nationwide and has the potential to instill a sense of urgency and action in citizens at an early age so that the planet’s atmosphere is brighter for tomorrow’s youth.

Malala Yousafzai

Position: Education Activist and Blogger
Country of Citizenship: Pakistan
Organization: The Malala Fund

From the Swat District of Pakistan, Malala represents the outpouring of education activists residing in developing countries today. From the young age of 12, Malala started writing blogs for the BBC explaining her life under Taliban rule. Later, the young girl became a prominent figure in documentaries, interviews, and newspapers. In October 2012, the Taliban attempted to assassinate Malala by shooting her in the head, but she miraculously recovered. Now, Malala is the winner of the National Youth Peace Prize of Pakistan, the Sakharov Prize, and the Simone de Beauvoir Prize.

Malala stands as one of the youngest individuals to address the United Nations Youth Assembly and the youngest child to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. In addition, July 12 has been dubbed “Malala Day” by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Malala also wrote a memoir, co-authored by Christina Lamb, called “I Am Malala” and has become a symbol of female empowerment, resilience, and determination.

Dylan Mahalingam

Position: Founder of Lil’ MDGs
Country of Citizenship: United States of America
Organization: Lil’ MDGs, Green Your Lives, Sentenced for Life, Coral Crisis: Reefs in Peril, Killer Waves

From a young age, Dylan has campaigned to promote public health in order to improve the quality of life for disadvantaged groups. The teenager has developed websites that raise awareness on going green, caring for endangered species, protecting coral reefs, and taking precautions from natural disasters. Dylan was the recipient of President Obama’s Environment Award in 2009 and was later named as one of the 25 most influential young people by Youth Service America (YSA).

The 11th grader is also the founder of Lil’ MDGs, a nonprofit organization that believes in the power of the Internet to empower youths to work toward the global Millennium Development Goals. A small group of three has grown to more than 24,000 youth volunteers in about 40 countries. Dylan’s creativity and initiative continue to impact development on a grass-roots level.

Jack Andraka

Position: Gordon E. Moore Awardee
Country of Citizenship: United States of America
Organization: Intel Corporation, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

Even before Maryland resident Jack Andraka could drive, he became an inventor and scientist from his groundbreaking research. Jack is now a patent holder for his unique test to detect early pancreatic cancer. Jack’s development of a new and cheap method for earlier detection of increased protein for pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancer means there’s a higher probability of curing patients. The teenager emailed approximately 200 professors with his research design, budget, and timeline in hopes of getting laboratory help. Finally a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine realized the potential in Jack’s project and assisted Jack with laboratory space.

In 2012, the high school student was the recipient of prestigious prize awards totaling $100,000 in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair with the $75,000 Gordon E. Moore Award named in honor of Intel Corporation’s co-founder. It’s only a matter of time until Jack refines these tests and more, licensing them to pharmaceutical companies around the world to save lives from cancer.

Karen-Alexandra Nogues

Position: Founder and Executive Director of Megabook Initiative
Country of Citizenship: United States of America
Organization: Megabook Initiative

Washington, D.C. resident Karen turned her hobby of reading into a mission to deliver the same passion for reading to children around the world. Karen dreamt about providing a library filled with books in local languages and content to everyone—through an e-reader. With the understanding that paper books are heavy, subject to damage, and costly to ship, Karen brought the e-reader to a local primary school on the Ivory Coast.

Building partnerships between U.S., French, and Ivory Coast publishers, Karen is able to provide each child with an e-reader that has 50 pre-loaded books—15 local and 35 international—along with a French dictionary. This year, the young girl was nominated for the Global Teen Leaders by the We Are Family Foundation for doing extraordinary work by helping society meet a basic human need—education. Karen’s goal of making readers of today leaders of tomorrow is taking its roots slowly in Sub-Saharan Africa and is expected to help eliminate illiteracy, economic stagnation, and conflict and harbor peace and prosperity.

Alhassan Omar

Position: Founder of Balady Helwa and Ebny Nafsak
Country of Citizenship: Egypt
Organization: Balady Helwa, Ebny Nafsak

Alhassan Omar is from Port Said, Egypt, and experienced Egypt’s recent revolution in his backyard. It was then that he realized how education and good leadership can not only bring positive change to Egypt, but also prevent future problems. Alhassan’s ultimate goal is to educate 100 young men and women each year to become skilled leaders in the fields they work in. Alhassan started an initiative called Balady Helwa—“my country is beautiful” in Arabic—and set up a community cleanup system in Port Said’s slums, while also teaching 20 youngsters living in the slums.

In 2012, he initiated a one-week training called Ebny Nafsa—“develop yourself” in Arabic—to teach 25 underprivileged youth about leadership, human development, and basic entrepreneurial skills that would make them competitive candidates for jobs in the future. The governor awarded Alhassan the Community Dedication and Commitment Award for his vocational training work. Alhassan’s goal of educating and preparing youth for employment is one that could avoid poverty-inspired conflict and crime in unstable developing countries today.

Sophie Mvurya

Position: Chief Executive Officer and Founder of I AM KENYAN project
Country of Citizenship: Kenya
Organization: I AM KENYAN, Hope Inspire Transform (HIT)

Sophie Mvurya was almost killed by two men who mistakenly identified her as a member of the opposing tribe, and this experience led her to initiate campaigns for unity in Kenya and other parts of the world. She uses the power of social media and interactive tools such as art, music, and photography to spread cultural diversity and acceptance in Kenya and other parts of the world. As a result, Sophie collected 10,000 Facebook photos from users who participated in her campaign, 8 million visitors viewed the I AM KENYAN! website per day starting in March 2013, and a peaceful protest against ethnic divisions took place on the streets of Nairobi.

In addition, Sophie expanded the use of art, by creating a high school program called Hope Inspire Transform (HIT) that also incorporated music and sports education development. Using HIT as a forum for students to express ideas and celebrate the high school’s diversity, Sophie has seen a significant decrease in conflict and violence among students based on ethnic differences. We Are Family Foundation recognized Sophie as a Global Teen Leader in their Global Youth Summit on Innovative Philanthropy and Social Entrepreneurship. Sophie’s will and determination to speak out against conflict in Nairobi serves as a reminder that local social activism can make a difference and ultimately impact social development.

Alexia Paradzai

Position: Founder of PenAfrica
Country of Citizenship: Zimbabwe
Organization: PenAfrica

Alexia Paradzai’s passion for putting her thoughts on paper inspired her to launch a venue where young Africans like herself could express their ideas and share their experiences. At the same time, the African youths could practice writing, in turn helping with literacy in the region. PenAfrica is a youth-run nonprofit organization that seeks to promote and cultivate African literature by encouraging and showcasing young writers’ work. The organization plans to launch a writing expo that will connect more than 200 writers with readers to create noteworthy literature and books for children.

Alexia was recognized as a Global Teen Leader in the Just Peace Summit for her inspiring work for education through PenAfrica. Africa is filled with ethnic tensions and community conflicts, and PenAfrica helps unify young Africans and encourage them to write about their African identity. The organization offers young individuals the chance to understand one another through words and speech rather than crime and war.

Read our 20 Women Changing the World post.