BY ARIEL SMILOWITZ
Nowadays, teenagers are immersed in their own self-absorbed worlds. They are concerned with school, work, chores, boyfriends and girlfriends, and countless other trivial conflicts and problems. They watch Jersey Shore or Keeping Up With The Kardashians and argue over who wore a better dress to the Academy Awards, or they worry about who is being traded to the Miami Dolphins and what kind of car their parents are buying them for their birthday. Whatever the case, it is very rare for teenagers in today’s superficial and materialistic-driven culture to care about significant issues that occur all over the world. In fact, most aren’t even aware of these issues. However, although this next generation may not seem very promising, there is a very bright light growing in the midst of this dark and bleak apathetic crowd, and every year, CNN recognizes these people as heroes. These people are the real celebrities, and these CNN Heroes change the world every day, a spectacular feat that should be recognized not only by CNN, but by the indifferent teenagers who are poised to become the future of mankind.
If you’re reading this article, you’ve probably never heard of CNN’s Heroes. Created in 2007, it’s an annual television special that honors unheralded heroes around the world – everyday people who are committed to changing, saving, and improving lives. The heroes are nominated and placed into one of six categories including Championing Children: commitment to the welfare of young people; Community Crusader: creating solutions to a local problem or social issue; Defending the Planet: innovative efforts to preserve and protect the environment; Medical Marvel: dedication to the enhancement of human health; Protecting the Powerless: advancing the cause of human or equal rights; and Young Wonder: outstanding achievement by a person 25 or under. These heroes are not only honored for their work, but their projects and the issues they encompass are put in the international spotlight as a result. Yet, they still fail to reach the minds, and television screens, of millions of teenagers around the country.
Over the past three years, there has been a wide array of heroes. Last year, Anuradha Koirala was named the CNN Hero of the Year for helping more than 12,000 victims of Nepal’s sex trafficking business. According to the U.S. State Department, some 10,000 to 15,000 women and girls from Nepal are trafficked to India and then sexually exploited each year. However, sex trafficking is very common throughout the world; it is the second largest criminal industry in the world. And don’t think this doesn’t occur in the United States, because it most certainly does, and cases of human trafficking have already been reported in all fifty states, Washington D.C., and some U.S. territories. So, while you may be more interested in reality TV, up to 300,000 children a year are sexually exploited in your own backyard. Did you know that?
The amount of sex crimes, child marriages, honor killings, and other inhumane activities is limitless. Nevertheless, while these crimes against humanity are committed every day to millions of people around the world, people still manage to keep these occurrences from bursting their bubble of self-imposed ignorance. This is intensified by the fact that many of these CNN Heroes try to solve issues that occur in our own country, something that is not particularly acknowledged on a regular basis. For example, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless, 23% of the U.S.’s homeless population are veterans. In other words, hundreds of thousands of men who have fought to defend our country don’t even have a place to live, and we still can’t find the time to think about them, let alone help them. Luckily, CNN Hero Dan Wallrath is trying to rectify this situation; since 2005, he has built injured veterans homes of their own, mortgage-free. Along with Wallrath, CNN’s Heroes are ordinary people who do extraordinary things, and if more teenagers knew about the spectacular ways these people help their communities, they may be motivated to do the same.
Although it may be hard to imagine teenagers giving out meals to 40,000 children a day, CNN does in fact recognize “Young Wonders,” people 25 or under who have made outstanding contributions to the world. Take Jordan Thomas, a CNN Hero in 2009. When he was 16, he lost both his legs in a boating accident and after seeing how costly prosthetic limbs were, especially for child amputees who don’t have health care, he started a foundation to raise money to cover the costs. Since then, he has helped give several children new limbs, so that they can live more normal lives. Jordan is just one example of a regular teenager making a significant impact. His story, along with every other Young Wonder, proves that anybody at any age can truly change lives.
It’s so easy for us to become a CNN Hero, yet we continue to raise a blind eye to the world around us. We need to create more heroes and encourage spreading awareness of issues all over the globe, whether they involve murder, exploitation, poverty, or sickness. Rather than dwell on what Lindsay Lohan wore to her court case, or what Charlie Sheen said in an interview, we must focus on what truly matters in life – the people that need hot meals, roofs over their heads, or hope and happiness in their hearts – so that life can truly be worth living. We need to break this growing trend of apathy among teenagers and mold them into citizens of the world, so that they can help strengthen the bonds that keep people together.