MALALA YOUSAFZAI, 21 years of courage.

October 9, 2012. A day that could have silenced one of the most important voices for Women’s rights. Back in that day, Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani girl from Swat Valley was returning from school when members of the Taliban stopped the bus were she was and shot her. Malala was an active opponent of changes that the Taliban imposed on her region and writing anonymously for BBC or questioning the movements and actions of the group publicly on TV, she gained national and international recognition. Malala survived to the attack and nowadays she is an active defender of the right to education and is promoting a movement to encourage girls to change their communities. All the strength and courage that she always showed while talking about her values, beliefs and helping others when the situation was difficult and dangerous resulted in a Nobel Prize and many distinctions around the world.

MAHATMA GANDHI, peace vs. power.

January 1st, 1915. India. Thousands celebrating the arrival of Gandhi after years of work and social fights in South Africa. The future leader of India was returning in glory after developing a peaceful way to defend the Indian minority for 22 years in the African country. Gandhi’s social conscience was a reflex of exceptional education and lead him to a successful strategy to change India as well during the British Imperialism period. With an extreme feeling of responsibility, personal sacrifice, and non-violence, in jail or not, the iconic figure of peace in the 20th century built a new India, able to take down the Government of London which irrational politics were unfavorable to the local people and were accentuating social differences. Conscience about the British power, Mahatma is an example of how peace can beat power. Gandhi’s social activities also contributed to the harmony between religions and the better inclusion of the “untouchables” in Indian society.


 NAJI AL-ALI, trying peace.

July 22, 1987. Leaving the “Al Qabas” headquarters in London, the man who “Time Magazine” said that drew with “human bones” was shot in the face, dying almost one month later. Analyzing the relationships between the governments of the United States, Israel, and the Arab regimes and the ramifications for the Palestinian people, Al-Ali was considered the best Arabic cartoonist ever. At the end of the 70s, was elected President of League of Arab Cartoonists. During his life, he gave to the Palestinian population a symbol: Handala. The ten-year-old boy appeared in 1969, turning his back to the viewer from the year 1973, and clasping his hands behind his back. Years later, the artist explained that character represented his age when he was forced to leave Palestine, and the clasped hands symbolized the character’s rejection of “outside solutions. Handala became the signature of the author in cartoons and remains an iconic symbol of Palestinian identity and defiance. His brutal death is hard to understand… the man whose life and art inspired millions during the war and was used as a voice to raise rights and oppressed realities died during the beginning of the Intifada…  from then until now, his work has been used.


DIANA SPENCER, the most powerful handshake in the world.

August 31, 1997. Day of Mourning in the United Kingdom. Around the country, thousands cried the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Described by Tony Blair as “People’s Princess”, this very Princess was considered as the most famous woman in the world. And, in a certain way… she changed it. How?  Surrounded by a conservative Royal Family, she was able to ignore the British Monarchy modus operandi and take advantage of her status helping people. Breaking all the protocols, she turned the lights that were under her to social causes. During the 80s, AIDS was a big scourge killing thousands every day. British society was in a real panic and infected people were suffering from social exclusion and prejudice. The social problem was almost fixed when, in 1987, the most popular woman in the UK visited the first unit for AIDS treatment in London. Without gloves, Diana shook hands with an AIDS patient and the reporters (of course) shoot the moment. The image was spread around the world during months, and the shock opened up the most skeptical eyes… helping people understand the real causes, dangers, and ways of transmission of the virus.


 POPE JOHN PAUL II, the bullet of the example.

October 16, 1978. Day of white smoke and “Habemus Papam” in Rome. The first day of John Paul II pontificate and the beginning of a new era in the Catholic world. Karol Wojtyła was responsible for opening the dialogue between religions and was the first Pope to enter and pray inside a mosque. Politically intervenient, was a conflict mediator and a strong voice against dictatorial regimes and communism around the world. Many defend that his particular political positions were the explanation for what happened on May 13, 1981. Mehmet Ali Ağca, a Turkish expert in guns, shot the Pope many times letting him seriously injured. The surprise attack left the Catholic community in shock and a lot of protests against the penalty applied to the assassin emerged. Years after, the Pope visited the prison where Ağca was and both talked in private for 20 minutes. Karol Wojtyla forgives his assassin demonstrating a clear example of love, respect, and hope for the revolted community.

THE SILENT BREAKERS, facing dark realities.

December 18, 2017. Time Magazine release “Person of the Year 2017”. Dozens of people from different backgrounds shared their experiences of sexual harassment at work. Man or woman, famous or not, showing identity or keeping it in secret… all the voices were covered in order to call the attention of society to this problem. Back in 2006, Tarana Burke used the “MeToo” hashtag to promote “empowerment through empathy” among women of color who have experienced sexual abuse. But, this iconic tag just turned a global phenomenon last year, when Alyssa Milano encouraged spreading the same hashtag to attempt attention to sexual assault and harassment in different industries. In a period of uncontrolled hate speech online, this movement comes as a brave example of how to use online platforms to talk about sensitive topics, break taboos and change societies.

NELSON MANDELA, a journey for freedom.

February 11, 1990. South Africa. The world is clapping the release of a symbol. A symbol of peace, freedom, and equality. Member of the non-violent resistance against the racial differences promoted by the South African governments between the 40s and the early 90s, Nelson Mandela just got his weapon to fight when all the pacific ways were exhausted. During the 60s, was sentenced to life imprisonment and during the next 27 years, one the highest voices for the Human Rights in Africa was able to see family every 6 months, was forced to work hard while was living in subhuman prisons where ended up getting seriously sick. Despite all of this, his values remained strong and the big voice against the Apartheid was back. Four years later, as President of South Africa and trying to not repeat the mistakes of the past, starts an investigation about the Human Rights violations that happened in the country during the “two races period”. Nobel Prize of Peace in 1993, Madiba is a worldwide icon for social development in his country and an example to follow when the freedom seems to be inaccessible and someone is trying to shut your dreams down.

By Ricardo Leitão 


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