Even though he has made a name in paper architecture, Shigeru Ban does not consider himself an environmental architect. The Naked House at Kawagoe, Saitama prefecture, Japan; the Nomadic Museum; the Cardboard Cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand; and the Musée d'art Moderne Georges in Pompidou, Metz, France; these are just some of his masterpieces. They all have one thing in common: paper. He founded the “Voluntary Architects' Network” (VAN), a non-governmental organization which aids in building homes for refugees and evacuees. For his dedication to giving back to the community, he has been dubbed “The People’s Architect,” or the “Architect of the People.”
An author, activist, concerned citizen, father and “freegan” – Tristram Stuart is all this and more. He was brought up in a thrifty household where all food was eaten, so when he began feeding pigs and discovered how much food grocery stores and food servers throw away, he was compelled to do something. He endeavored to dig deeper into the problem and, by discovering how much food goes to waste, he began spreading the truth about the ongoing food scandal. This led to the “Feeding the 5,000” initiative, the “Pig Idea” and the “Gleaning Network.”
Marlice van Vuuren is definitely not afraid of the wild; growing up with wildlife instilled a deep love for animals in her heart. Her love for them is so strong that she has lived most of her life caring for her lions, cheetahs, vultures, baboons and hyenas. Not your usual pets? Truth is, they aren’t her pets either. They are her family. She co-founded the “N/a’an ku sê Foundation” with her doctor husband, which gave way to wildlife conservation projects and livelihood initiatives for the San community, the aborigines of Namibia.
Ron Finley is not your typical gardener; his garden transformed the lives of many in his barren community in South Central Los Angeles. Prior to his initiative, he and his neighbors had to drive for over 45 minutes just to buy fresh produce. So, to save money on gas and beautify his front lawn, he began planting food himself. He was apprehended, but 900 signatures managed to get authorities off his back. Ron co-founded an organization to put gardens in South Central L.A. He remains a humble gardener despite being a famous speaker.
Mallika Dutt was born in India, a place where the status of women has long been, and remains, a complex matter. Having seen around her the challenges to and violence against women and other marginalized groups, Dutt pursued a career in social justice. She became a lawyer and dedicated her profession to working for women’s and human rights. Based on the notion that pop culture and arts — in different ways from law and policy — can profoundly influence people and move them into action, she established her own organization in 2000. Since then, Breakthrough (www.breakthrough.tv) has been “breaking through” barriers and shifting paradigms towards a more just society.
Image credit: (c) Anibal Martel
We have this persisting opinion of lawyers as dishonest and interested only in money; Mahesh Chander Mehta, also known as M.C. Mehta, disproves these generalizations. He is an environmental lawyer based in India, his home country, where bureaucracy is not for the faint-hearted. M.C. won cases to protect the Taj Mahal, Ganges River, and many other historical sites. He upholds Indian’s Right to Life, Polluters Must Pay, the Precautionary Principle, and the Public Trust Principle, and wins cases through sheer hard work and impeccable integrity. He does not earn much, but the respect he has won is priceless.
What hope is there for children whose mothers are addicted to drugs, homeless or otherwise desperate? They are so absorbed in their misery that they don’t pay enough attention to the babies they are carrying. Or, maybe they care, but their lives are so off-track they don’t know what it’s like to love another human being anymore. We can only give what we have. And, speaking of giving, nobody does it better than Martha Ryan, a registered nurse who founded the “Homeless Prenatal Program” to help end childhood poverty.
Chad Pregracke definitely does not shy away from getting his hands dirty in the name of water conservation. Since he was 17 years old, Chad has been cleaning up trash in the Mississippi River - which happens to be his backyard – even singlehandedly at first, when no one seemed to care. As a teenager on a mission to clean up the second-longest river in the United States, he is living proof of the adage “leading by example.” Since founding the “Living Lands & Waters” foundation, Chad has not slowed down his barge.
Biker. Bartender. Tattooed. “Rough around the edges.” It’s hard to imagine how the same man can also be called a humanitarian, philanthropist, NGO founder, and hero. That exactly what makes Dickson Beattie "Doc" Hendley extraordinary. He doesn’t have an illustrious educational background. A C-student is how he’d describe himself - an average guy who happens to care so much for others that he literally risked his life to get results. He founded “Wine to Water” after a stint in Darfur at the height of the genocide. His 501 (c)(3) non-profit aid organization has helped thousands of people in 13 different countries. Yes, he’s a CNN Hero.
At age seventeen, Brittany Wenger has already made her mark in history by developing a computer application that helps diagnose breast cancer, thus giving patients a remarkable chance to treat it before it gets worse. As put by one popular publication, Brittany literally ‘taught’ the computer how to diagnose diseases.