Thursday, December 26, 2013

10 CNN Heroes of 2013 - the everyday heroes of humanity. .

The everyday heroes of humanity   
Comments by Dr Abe V Rotor 
Chad Pregracke, CNN Hero of the year  
Philippine Environmentalists 
Pregracke, 38, grew up in East Moline, Illinois, where the Mississippi River was in his backyard. As a teenager, he worked as a commercial shell diver and began to notice the heaps of debris in the fabled waterway, which supplies drinking water to 18 million people in more than 50 U.S. cities.
"I saw thousands of barrels, thousands of tires, cars, trucks and tops of school buses. ... I got sick of seeing it and just wanted to do something about it," said Pregracke, whom some have called "the rivers' garbageman."
For nine months out of the year, Pregracke lives on a barge with members of his 12-person crew. They go around the country with a fleet of boats, and they try to make cleanup fun for the volunteers who show up in each city.
They use skits, music and mock motivational speeches to get the volunteers amped up, and sometimes they even do a little karaoke. Teams also compete to see who can find the "best" garbage.
"We do everything in our power to get people excited about it," Pregracke said. "We want people to leave feeling good about what they did so they'll come back."
Close to 90% of what they recover is recycled; Pregracke said the rest gets disposed of properly.
In addition to the river cleanup, Pregracke has launched a floating classroom barge where his staff educates high school students and teachers about the damages of pollution on river ecosystems. In 2007, his nonprofit implemented a program to plant 1 million trees along river shorelines to protect and restore the natural environment. The group is halfway to its goal.
Pregracke says his nonprofit has already held more than 700 cleanups on 23 rivers, but he says he's just getting started. He views his work as a different kind of service to the country.
"A lot of people call me a conservationist or an environmentalist, but the thing is I'm no different than anybody else," he said. "I just want to be known (as) a hardworking American."

Cleaning up the heavily polluted Pasig River complex is a nightmare. Although there are remarkable developments, the campaign is gaining more sponsors and supporters. Takbo para sa Pasig, a fun run was participated by thousands of citizens. But the real impact is the start of removing illegal settlers along the river's bank.  Filipinos are becoming more and more environmental conscious. Antonio Orosa Jr won the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2009 as environmental lawyer, Noel Cabagon sings about the environment, Chin Chin Gutierrez is an environmentalist through the arts, Von Hernandez is the action man in marginal settlements. The honoree and hero, Chad Pregracke has set the example of an environmentalist in the real essence.  

Here are the top 10 CNN Heroes of 2013, in alphabetical order: 

1. Dale Beatty: Making life easier for disabled veterans 
After Dale Beatty lost his legs in the Iraq war, his community thanked him for his service by helping him build a home. To pay it forward, Beatty co-founded Purple Heart Homes, which has helped build or modify homes for dozens of disabled U.S. veterans. "We wouldn't leave someone behind on the battlefield," Beatty said. "Why would we do it at home?"

 Infirmity is no excuse for not leading a normal life. In fact, among the greatest men and women in the world are on wheelchairs, directing the affairs of the state, introducing legislation in congress, and defending the constitution. They fought war and won.  It's the spirit in a frail body that made them victorious, the power of the mind and heart. 

2. Georges Bwelle: Bringing health care to the jungle
For decades, Georges Bwelle watched his father suffer, unable to get the medical attention he needed. Now a doctor, Bwelle travels into the jungles of his native Cameroon nearly every weekend, providing free medical care for those who don't have access to good health care. "To make people laugh, to reduce the pain, that's why I'm doing this," he said.
Barefoot doctors, they are sometimes called because they leave behind the amenities of comfortable living, as well as their sophisticated tools in hospitals, reminiscent of Dr Juan Flavier's "Doctor to the Barrio." More than health that they attend to the village doctor is often believed by the people as a know-all. The test of rural service is the extension of ones profession to the many facets of village life.  I remember there was once a book "Where there is no doctor" in English and Pilipino.  It was extremely useful where really there is no doctor around.  
3. Robin Emmons: Creating an oasis in a 'food desert'
More than 72,000 people in Charlotte, North Carolina, lack access to fresh produce. When Robin Emmons discovered this problem, she took action. "I decided to rip up my whole backyard and make it all a garden for people in need," she said. Since 2008, Emmons has grown more than 26,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables for area residents. 

One of the topics dicussed on Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid (People's School on Air) which Ms Melly C Tenorio and I have been conducting for a number of years now, focuses on home gardening that is applicable in both rural and urban areas by offering easy-to-follow models - virtually from A to Z. Here the models make a variety of plants to grow, from vegetables to orchard, herbals to ornamentals.  The key is to augment everyday needs in the kitchen, medicine as home remedies, as well as simple aesthetics for the home, healthful leisure notwithstanding. The whole concept centers on the principle of Bahay Kubo as an institution. 

4. Danielle Gletow: Granting wishes for foster kids
Foster children don't often get the things other children do, but Danielle Gletow is trying to help change that. She posts their wishes online so the public can help grant them. "I'm here to be the mom to all these kids who might not feel like they have one," she said. Since 2008, her group has helped grant more than 6,500 wishes in 42 states.

I appreciate Hollywood actor Brad Pitt and Angelina Jollie of their humanitarian project. It's heart warming to know orphans of different parentage given foster parent, home, and most importantly, future. Adoption is not uncommon, it is practiced in all societies with different policies, but the common denominator is, humanity must be whole and intact. An English poet beautiful put it, "when somebody dies, a part of each one of us also dies." When somebody triumphs a part in each member of humanity also triumphs.  Sp with healing, so with love. D Gletow must have the biggest heart of a mother. 

5. Tawanda Jones: Giving kids a way off deadly streets
Tawanda Jones is using dance to empower the youth of Camden, New Jersey, one of the poorest cities in the country. Through Jones' drill team program, at least 4,000 children have learned discipline, respect and community service -- and all of them have graduated high school. "We need to take back our city and, most importantly, take back our youth," Jones said. 

"New York, New York" has versions at Tondo notorious district, on dumpsite communities and prison camps. There was a band and dance troupe at the Bilibid Prison (Camp Sampaguita) in Muntinlupa which was part of the prison's rehabilitation. The key is in the success of T Jones ability to instill discipline in children to discipline themselves, a self renewal with continuing and lasting effect on character formation as they aim for bright future.   

6. Richard Nares: Helping sick kids get to chemo
For many children fighting cancer, it can be extremely tough to make it to their chemotherapy appointments. But Richard Nares started a group that gives them transportation and support. "No child should miss their cancer treatment due to lack of transportation," said Nares, who lost his son to leukemia in 2000.

Victims of cancer are becoming not only more in number but younger, these include very young children -  not to mention other major diseases like damaged kidney and diabetes. Indeed, the very young patients are pathetic to imagine the lost opportunity of their youth, maybe even to imagine a lost generation where epidemic may build up. R Nares may be able to cure, but as Mother Teresa put it, she gives comfort and dignity in the sick and dying, in their uphill climb and uncertain future.    

7. Kakenya Ntaiya: Educating girls for the first time
Kakenya Ntaiya is inspiring change in her native Kenyan village. After becoming the first woman in the village to attend college in the United States, she returned to open the village's first primary school for girls. "Our work is about empowering the girls," Ntaiya said. "They are dreaming of becoming lawyers, teachers, doctors."

What happens when one finishes college in the city - will he or she go back to his humble place of birth and serve.  Which reminds us of Plato's famous allegory about shadows seen in the darkness of a cave, and when a member of the group freed himself and traced the origin of the shadows, he never went back to "enlighten" his colleagues. Enlightenment is principal to learning, to K Ntaiya's empowerment. How many schools on the other hand were put up by enterprising educators for the motive of profit?  
8. Chad Pregracke: Cleaning up American rivers
Chad Pregracke has made it his life's work to clean up the Mississippi River and other American waterways. Since 1998, about 70,000 volunteers have helped Pregracke remove more than 7 million pounds of garbage from 22 rivers across the country. "Picking up garbage, it's tough, miserable and hot," Pregracke said. "We try to make it fun."

9. Estella Pyfrom: Bringing computers to kids in need
Estella Pyfrom used her life savings to create "Estella's Brilliant Bus," a mobile computer lab that provides tutoring for thousands of low-income students in Palm Beach County, Florida. "It's not just a bus, it's a movement," Pyfrom said. "And we're going to keep making a difference."

Bill and Melinda Gates, put up a foundation financed largely by their multi-billion wealth. Rationale: In spite of the fact that the world is "wired" by cyberspace technology, half of the population has so little to have for decent living - literacy, health, housing, longevity and the like - while the other half simply has too much affluence. Translated, the poor don't have the opportunity to build themselves up to have the capacity to rise above their present plight. Our own CNN hero Ka Efren Peñaflorida's push part school brings school to the people; conventionally it is people going to school - in which case there are so few who can afford it. E Pyfrom works of this principle: reach out, take the school to the people, touch their lives. 
10. Laura Stachel: Lighting the way for safe childbirths
Laura Stachel created a special "solar suitcase" to help health care workers deliver babies in more than 20 developing countries. "I really want a world where women can deliver babies safely and with dignity," Stachel said. 

 CNN's Kathleen Toner and Erika Clarke contributed to the above report.
I remember our own Dr Fe Del Mundo, whom Ka Melly and I called as local Florence Nightingale, devised an incubator for the nursery, simple yet efficient, the design was adopted in hospitals and clinics. Innovations are key to easy operation and application at the grassroots.  Which made L Stahcel's contribution to health outstanding. Imagine 20 developing countries benefiting from her invention and its practical application.   

 (Acknowledgement: CNN Internet, TV broadcast, December 25, 2013)

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