Though there are innumerable people who have contributed to the betterment of humanity in the recent past, there are several individuals who have gone above the call of duty, dedicating their lives to advocacy and humanitarian work, often at great risk to themselves. The following list combines civilians, celebrities, and politicians who have dedicated their lives to changing the world.
- Angelina Jolie
Mostly known throughout the 1990s and 2000s for her roles in major Hollywood blockbusters, actress Angelina Jolie has long been involved in the humanitarian field. She has been working with refugees in the field for two decades, assisting those in need in over 20 countries around the world. As a Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, she works to spread awareness and respect for refugees, speaking publicly and to the General Assembly about issues facing refugees and how the community can assist them in restoring their lives. Angelina Jolie also began her own charity, the Jolie-Pitt Foundation, with works to provide services and goods to children and families around the world and eliminate poverty. This foundation has been known to make large donations to organizations working on the ground in conflict and post-conflict zones, as well as those affected by natural disasters and epidemics. The projects she has worked on mainly address poverty, disaster relief, refugees, health, women’s issues, and education.
- Waris Dirie
Waris Dirie was born to a nomadic Somalian family. Like most girls in the region, she was forced to undergo female circumcision (or female genital mutilation). After being set to marry a 60-year-old man at the age of thirteen- through the common practice of an arranged marriage- she fled to Mogadishu to stay with other family members before relocating to London. Upon moving to the West, she was discovered by a famous photographer and began an extremely successful international modeling and acting career. She used her newfound fame as a platform to bring a discussion on female genital mutilation to the forefront of public affairs and became the official United Nations ambassador for the abolition of the practice. She was attacked and kidnapped on two occasions due to speaking out against female genital mutilation, but this did not deter her from advocating for female rights. She is also the author of “Desert Flower”, an international best-seller detailing her life in Somalia, which was also made into a major film.
- Malala Yousafzai
Perhaps one of the most inspirational humanitarian advocates of modern times is Malala Yousafzai. She has become a media sensation over the last few years after becoming the youngest ever Nobel Prize Laureate winner at the age of 17 in 2014. She is a Pakistani activist for female education in her home country. Her story as a humanitarian began when, at the age of eleven, she wrote a blog detailing her life under Taliban occupation. Though she wrote under a pseudonym, she became a media sensation in the West, which led to an assassination attempt against her by the Taliban. She survived the shooting and used her platform to discuss her thoughts on girls’ right to education. She has also been very vocal about her support for the rights of Palestinians- in fact, she donated all of her Nobel prize money to help children in Gaza.
- Graça Machel
Graça Machel is a politician and humanitarian from Mozambique. After her first husband, former Mozambican president Samora Machel was killed in an aircraft crash, she continued her work advocating for education and women’s and children’s rights. She was in charge of a groundbreaking United Nations report on the impact of armed conflict on children. She married her second husband, South African president Nelson Mandela, and became the first African woman to serve as First Lady of two nations. She continued advocating for children and received the Nansen Medal from the UNHCR in 1995 for her work with refugees. Additionally, she has been awarded the InterAction Humanitarian Award, Global Citizen Award, Worlds’s Children Prize, Decade Child Rights Hero, and the North-South Prize of the Council of Europe, among others, and was made an honorary Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II. She continues to serve as a member on the Africa Progress Panel, a group of distinguished individuals who advocate for sustainable development in Africa.
- Rob and Paul Forkan
These brothers were on holiday with their parents and siblings in Sri Lanka when the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 hit. They lost both of their parents, who died saving their younger siblings. In order to honor their humanitarian parents, Rob and Paul founded Gandy’s- a company that makes sustainable shoes, clothing, and accessories from natural materials. They use the funding from this project to help other orphaned children around the world through their Orphans for Orphans initiative. With the money raised through their campaign, they were able to open a children’s home in Goa as well as Sri Lanka. These facilities provide shelter, academic support, and sports activities for local children.