People of different ethnicities, races and socio-economic backgrounds have often banded together to fight for their rights. Some of these inspiring leaders started when they were only teenagers. They used new and imaginative ways to fight oppression and highlight important causes. While we have all heard of Malala Yousafzai and Emma Watson, there are many other young people leading truly inspirational lives. Here are some activists who started or joined movements when they were only children.
While these teenagers have gone on to accomplish so much at such a young age, we can do the same by taking small but significant steps like starting or joining campaigns within our neighbourhoods to ensure garbage segregation before disposal, proposing that all houses and buildings in our neighbourhoods install solar panels on the roof, urging people to recycle paper and glass, and limiting the use of plastic.
Joshua Wong (Hong Kong) Wong is a Hong Kong-based student activist who has participated in and helped organise several public interest and pro-democracy movements in East Asia. It all started in 2011, when 15-year-old Wong co-founded Scholarism, a student activist group that campaigned for education reforms and youth policy with his friend Ivan Lam. In 2014, Scholarism drafted a plan to reform Hong Kong’s electoral system to push for universal suffrage, under ‘One Country, Two Systems’, a policy China uses to govern Hong Kong. Wong started a student boycott to send a pro-democracy message to Beijing. He is internationally renowned for his role in the 2014 Umbrella Revolution, where he was arrested and held in police custody for 46 hours for protesting against Beijing’s decision on the 2014 Hong Kong electoral reform.
Liza Yaroshenko (Ukraine) Eighteen-year-old Lisa Yaroshenko lost her biological mother to AIDS when she was just six years old. She is HIV positive and has to take anti-retroviral medication thrice a day, every day to live a normal life. She started campaigning to spread awareness about HIV when she was in her early teens, and even addressed the Eukranian Parliament at the age of 13 to voice her concerns about the lack of affordable medication and scarcity of treatment drugs for people with HIV. Europe currently has over 1,00,000 people receiving anti-retroviral therapy, but it is estimated that more than twice that number of people are living with HIV. Yaroshenka currently lives with her adoptive parents, carries on her awareness campaign online and hopes to become an actress someday.
Abraham Keita (Liberia) Eighteen-year-old Abraham Keita started out as an activist for violence against children and prevention of sexual abuse of children in war-torn countries when he was just a nine. His father was killed when he was just five, and he and his 12 siblings were raised by his mother in the capital city of Monrovia where thousands of children were physically and sexually abused. He was shaken by the murder of a 13-year-old girl by her foster parents and joined the movement to highlight the plight of children in conflict zones. He also organised a march when a 15-year-old was gunned down by state security officers. Since then he has helped organise many peaceful protests and spearheaded campaigns for the education of children left orphaned due to Ebola which led to intervention from the UN.
Rocio Ortega (USA) As a teenager, Ortega wanted to do her bit to empower women worldwide. So she joined Girl Up, an NGO set up under the aegis of the UN Foundation to support women in developing countries. Ortega became one of its teen advisors in 2011. She started a chapter of Girl Up at her school and helped raise funds for projects designed to improve the lives of women in places like Ethiopia, Mexico, Chile and Peru. Ortega recently graduated from Wellesley College and is still committed to her cause.
Jazz Jennings (USA) Seventeen-year-old Jazz is a transgender teenager who is a highly respected activist for the rights of young transgenders. Jazz has been living as female since the age of five, and has been documenting her journey as a transperson on television shows, social media and YouTube. She and her parents co-founded the Transkids Purple Rainbow Foundation in 2007 and in 2014, Time magazine named her one of the most influential teenagers in the world.
About the author: Deborah Grey writes about five young inspiring leaders who have taken their first step to greatness by walking the talk