Yeah, 2016 has been pretty terrible. Tons of beloved celebrities died, we witnessed the craziest Presidential campaign in memory, the potential first Female President lost to a whiny reality star and so many other horrible things! We can't even begin to get into Syria and Russia and other possible international disasters.
But we can't dwell just on the negative! We can't deny the crappiness of 2016, but there are people that did amazing things this year. Their positive actions got lost in the cycle of awful news, but we're taking a moment to highlight the good people of 2016 and the ways they made a difference big and small.
The first woman to ever compete in the Olympics wearing a hijab, Ibtihaj made waves by triumphing for America while honoring her religion. Winning a bronze medal, Ibtihaj is the first Muslim-American to ever medal at the Olympics. Especially in this year of anti-Muslim rhetoric, it's so meaningful that Ibtihaj could maintain her Islamic values while making women proud all over the world.
Though he's far from a household name, Dr. Denis Mukwege has brought healing to thousands of women in Africa. On the border of the Congo and Rwanda, where civil war has been waging violently for years, Dr. Mukwege works to heal survivors of rape. A gynecological surgeon, the doctor treats patients who were the victims of violent gang rape or gender based violence. He's helped over 46,000 girls and women in an area where females have few places to turn. Even after an assassination attempt, Mukwege came back to continue his work. Dr. Mukwege is a true hero, quietly bringing hope to a nation of war.
Angela Merkel is the Chancellor of Germany and this year has proved to be one of the most empathetic and giving leaders in the world. As most of Europe shut it's borders to Syrian refugees, Merkel would not let Germany abandon those in need. Though people feared letting in refugees would let in terrorists, Merkel saved thousands of innocent lives by offering German asylum. Angela didn't seek praise or glory for her good deeds, she simply said “We can handle this, and we will handle this."
Tired of only reading stories about white girls and boys, Marley Dias started her own book drive to find works about people of color. She's collected over 7,000 books with black female main characters and donated them to schools in six cities. And she's only 12! Marley is spreading diversity and education around the country and she's not even in high school. Watch out for this girl, she's only going to get even more amazing.
Remember the little boy who asked Obama to let him adopt a Syrian refugee? Though Alex is just a 6-year-old boy with sweet intentions, the fact that a child would go out of his way to try to save another child proves that we all need to take an empathy lesson from him.
Pioneering the food truck craze, Roy Choi has done more than provide amazing Korean-Mexican tacos. With Daniel Patterson, Choi has created
LocoL, a restaurant and food truck that aims to bring healthy, affordable fast food to the neighborhoods that need it most. Choi feels it isn't right that eating healthy isn't affordable for most people, so he's bringing good, cheap food to them. The most expensive item is $7 and the quality is worlds better than some gross burgers and fries. Even with just a food truck, Roy's making a difference a little bit at a time.
In Niger, forced marriage is common and women's rights are nearly non-existent. Balkissa wanted to become a doctor, loved school and studying, but found out her dreams could not be realized because she was promised to be married to her cousin at age 16. She knew after her wedding, she'd be shipped to Nigeria with his family and would never be able to study again.
After suing the family that was forcing her into marriage, she received death threats. "He said that even if he had to wrap me up - even if he had to wrap me up in a body bag - I would go [to Nigeria]," said Chaibou.
After that, she fled to a women's shelter and after a few weeks, the cousin's family finally gave up and returned to Nigeria. Balkissa came home victorious and immediately picked up her studies.
A teenaged girl that is brave enough to stand up to a system built to keep women down should be an international hero and role model to women everywhere.
Dr. Panjabi has done incredible work in containing the Ebola outbreaks. He trained over 1,300 community health workers to ensure that wherever help was needed, a trained person would be there. By rallying such large forces, he was able to end the Ebola epidemic in Liberia. Bill Clinton chose him as one of
Time's 100 Most Influential People of 2016 and with his ingenuity and work ethic, he may remain on that list for years to come.