Ofir Drori (far left) with EAGLE Network activists in Benin. Ofir Drori (far left) with EAGLE Network activists in Benin. Ofir Drori (far left) with EAGLE Network activists in Benin.

7 humanitarians who inspired us this year

We look back at the selfless, altruistic people who won our hearts and touched the lives of thousands of people around the world.

There are those who dedicate their lives to something bigger than themselves. These people are not famous, or rich, or powerful. They're just trying to do their part to make the world better for generations to come. As 2016 comes to a close, we salute those selfless, passionate people who made this a year to be thankful for.

Ofir Drori, the man standing up to wildlife traffickers

Ofir Drori, founder of the world's first law-enforcement NGO, and the baby chimp that inspired it all.Ofir Drori, founder of the world's first law-enforcement NGO, and the baby chimp that inspired it all. (Photo: Courtesy photo)

Israeli Ofir Drori spent years in Africa as a writer, photographer and adventurer. While that all sounds quite whimsical and pleasant, Drori inadvertently unearthed something far darker about the land he traveled: an illegal bush meat industry.

After a group of men tried to sell him a chimpanzee, he told them he was from an American NGO and would put them in jail for trafficking. The ruse worked, and the men fled. He dug deeper and realized how vast and corrupt the African wildlife trade was, and he made a commitment to help end it. Since his work began, Drori’s organization has been involved in more than 1,400 arrests and prosecutions of major wildlife criminals, and he's won multiple awards, including the World Wildlife Fund's Duke of Edinburgh Conservation Medal.


Jakob Schillinger, the twentysomething bringing affordable eyewear to people in need

Jakob Schillinger is co-founder of OneDollarGlasses, a nonprofit agency that teaches people in developing countries how to make low-cost glasses.Jakob Schillinger is co-founder of OneDollarGlasses, a nonprofit agency that teaches people in developing countries how to make low-cost glasses. (Photo: OneDollarGlasses)

It's estimated than about 150 million around the world need glasses but cannot afford them. That was the impetus for OneDollarGlasses, a project with a vision to provide eyeglasses to people in need. German-born Jakob Schillinger, OneDollarGlasses' treasurer and co-founder, traveled to Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in West Africa, to train opticians to manufacture the glasses and deliver them to people across the country.

And like another young pioneer you'll see below, Schillinger received the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award for people under 30 this year.


Gili Navon, the backpacker helping tribeswomen earn a living for their crafts

Gili Navon (second from left) launched a nonprofit to help women in india.Gili Navon (second from left) launched a nonprofit to help women in india. (Photo: Courtesy photo)

It was only supposed to be a backpacking trip, but it turned into much more for Gili Navon. The Israeli student ended up in Majuli, a remote island in northeast India. She met a few women who belonged to the struggling Mising tribe, and even after returning home, she kept in touch with their goings-on and vowed to come back to help.

And help she did – in the form of a weaving cooperative where the impoverished women can use their cultural traditions to generate income. The cooperative took off, and it's led to all sorts of sustainable ventures that have helped the Mising women earn a living. One, for example, is a series of pop-up medical clinics that open during monsoon season when roads are blocked and drinking water is in short supply. And it's all because Navon decided to take a backpacking trip.


Eddie Aijuka, the young inventor tackling Africa's electricity crisis

Eddie Aijuka (right) shows a prototype of his Kamata device.Eddie Aijuka (right) and a colleague show a prototype of his Kamata device. (Photo: Eddie Aijuka)

In the African nation of Niger, only 1 in 7 people have access to electricity. At the same time, electricity is being stolen through meter tampering in record numbers, forcing companies to raise their prices to offset their losses. That, in turn, makes it even harder for struggling communities to afford to power their homes.

It's this harsh reality that sparked Eddie Aijuka, a recent college graduate from Uganda, to put his engineering degree to work. He built Kamata, a small device that measures the current flowing through the meter's cables and detects any attempts to bypass or tamper with it. The device is already in high demand in Africa. Aijuka has said his main goal is to make electricity more accessible for everyone.


Navonel Glick, the aid worker who helps run IsraAid

Navonel Glick has worked disaster relief around the world, including in Japan, Kenya, the the Philippines and the United States.Navonel Glick has worked disaster relief around the world, including in Japan, Kenya, the Philippines and the United States. (Photo: Courtesy photo)

In September, the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Awards honored six individuals from around the world under the age of 30. One of them was 29-year-old Navonel "Voni" Glick, who's been working with nonprofits for nearly a decade from Nepal to India. He received the award on behalf of his work as COO of IsraAid, a humanitarian aid agency based in Tel Aviv, Israel, which travels the globe helping with disaster relief.

The group dispatches volunteers to far reaches of the globe – from Vanuatu to Nepal, where the organization's aid workers created an unconventional method to deliver much-needed medicine. They helped in the U.S. after both Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy. They also sent a team to West Virginia to help residents rebuild homes after devastating floods there.


Adina Bailey, the mother of three who co-founded a meal delivery coordination site

Adina Bailey (left, with Scott Rogers) runs Take Them a Meal, a meal delivery and coordination website.Adina Bailey (left, with Scott Rogers) runs Take Them a Meal, a meal delivery and coordination website. (Photo: Take Them a Meal)

What happens when a loved one falls ill? We want to help, but sometimes we don't know how. When Adina Bailey's best friend was diagnosed with a serious heart condition, the Virginia mother of three started sketching out a website to prepare and coordinate meal delivery to the ill woman's home. And then she had an idea: Why not expand her site so that others can use it too?

She and partner Scott Rogers now run TakeThemAMeal.com, which offers customizable online sign-up sheets, access to friends' meal schedules and even an online store where you can purchase and send meals to loved ones. Want to know which meals transport well before you start cooking? The site has plenty of recipes, too.


Yair Shapira, the dad who's helping kids solve their stuttering

Yair Shapira discussing NiNiSpeech at an event for social entrepreneurship in Israel hosted by Forbes.Yair Shapira discussing NiNiSpeech at an event for social entrepreneurship in Israel hosted by Forbes. (Photo: Courtesy NiNiSpeech)

Yair Shapira's son Niv has stuttered since he spoke his first word. Now, as a teenager, he's doing better thanks to therapy. But kids who stutter often relapse between therapy appointments, when they lack the timely feedback of an expert who can step in. Seeking a solution for this disconnect, Shapira and his wife, who both have PhDs in biomedical engineering from Israeli universities, created NiNiSpeech, an app that detects stuttering and gives real-time feedback and tips on speech fluency.

Knowing that stuttering often is a source of shame and embarrassment that prompts people to avoid speaking situations and refrain from discussing their condition, Shapira said he set out to help families break through the stigma and regain confidence. After undergoing clinical trials in 2015, NiNiSpeech is now available for download from the App Store or Google Play.

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