We share planet Earth with over 7.5 billion other people. It can be easy to think that just one individual cannot make a difference. This can be a dangerous thought if everyone in the entire population makes a decision that can harm the planet. When it comes to plastic pollution, people often say, “But it’s just one bag.” But if everyone thought this way, we’d be swimming in trash. Now imagine if everyone did just one good deed instead? The following people knew that one person can change everything.
Meet the ordinary individuals
Planting 2.7 Million Trees
A Brazilian couple, renowned photographer Sebastião Salgado and his wife Lélia Deluiz Wanick Salgado, are the example of ordinary individuals dedicated to making a difference. After a traumatizing assignment to cover the genocide in Rwanda, Salgado took over the family land where he had grown up. It had been completely destroyed – the trees had been cut down, and there was zero wildlife. Only about 0.5% of the 1,502 acres was forested.
The couple started raising funds in 1998, and within 20 years they completely transformed the land. They couldn’t do it alone, of course, but they single-handedly organized volunteers for an annual mass planting. They were the driving force that stopped soil erosion, brought back eight natural springs and re-introduced 293 species of plants. This enabled 172 species of birds, 33 mammals, 15 reptiles, and 15 amphibians to return to their natural habitat.
“The land was as sick as I was – everything was destroyed. Then my wife had a fabulous idea to replant this forest. And when we began to do that, then all the insects and birds and fish returned and, thanks to this increase in the trees I, too, was reborn – this was the most important moment.”
Carving a Road to his Village
Dashrath Manjhi was known in his village in India as the madman who spent 22 years breaking rocks in the mountains. He lived in a village that was isolated from the rest of the world. A mountain prevented people from having safe passage to the nearest hospital as well as to the outside world. His mission began when his wife got injured trekking and the journey to the hospital required a 70 km journey around the mountain.
The people in Manjhi’s village live in poverty. He had to sell his family’s three goats in order to be able to afford a hammer and chisels. People told him that he couldn’t do it, yet he went to the mountain every single day. He even developed his own technique involving burning firewood on the rocks and sprinkling water on the hot surface to crack the boulders. This made it possible to reduce them to easily manageable rubble. All his hard work paid off, resulting in a 1 km road that connects the village to the hospital and the rest of the world.
“The man who moves a mountain, begins by carrying away small stones.” – Confucius
Removing 5.3 Million Kilograms of Trash from the Beach
For a long time, Versova beach was known as one of Mumbai’s dirtiest beaches. What seemed like a hopeless situation looked like an opportunity for improvement to Afroz Shah. The 33 year-old lawyer and environmentalist began cleaning the beach with his neighbor in 2015. Shah had been shocked when he moved to his apartment and saw the state of the beach.
“I moved to my new apartment two years back and saw plastic on the beach — it was 5.5 feet high. A man could drown in the plastic,” Shah told CNN.
Seeing him cleaning up the beach inspired others. Others joined him to help with the clean-up. He united local Versova residents, slum-dwellers, politicians, Bollywood celebrities, and schoolchildren. All these people became an unlikely team that battled the pollution on the beach. Together, it took them 21 months to clear 2.5 kilometers of beach by removing 5.3 million kilograms of trash. They also cleaned toilets and planted palm trees. Once they were done, the beach was unrecognizable and could rival Hawaii’s Waikiki beach. Finally, the cherry on top of it all was the turtles, who returned to lay eggs on the beach for the first time in two decades.
Veterinarian Treats Homeless Owners’ Pets for Free
Dr. Kwane Stewart became a vet because he was passionate about animals. It broke his heart when he saw how many people chose to give up their pets during the 2011 recession. These owners knew they would be living on the streets and wanted a better life for their pets. That’s when Stewart decided to help the animals living with their humans on the streets, since their owners could not afford their care.
“About 25% of our homeless population own a pet, and I knew that if I set up a table at a soup kitchen I could help a small group of animals,” Stewart told GoFundMe. “So that’s what I did. I called over anyone who was holding their pet and told them I’d take a look and vaccinate or treat their pet if I could.”
He managed to treat 15 animals in a single day, and it made all the difference. Stewart has since been spending his free time helping homeless animals in need. So far he has helped over 400 animals and has raised $29,000 to pay for animal treatments. The beauty of animals is that they love unconditionally and exhibit profound loyalty to their humans. Stewart’s efforts not only helped the animals but their grateful owners as well.
Man Drives 5,000+ People to the Hospital in a Motorcycle Ambulance for Free
Karimul Haque grew up in an Indian village that was as isolated from the outside world as Dashrath Manjhi’s was. After his mother died, he vowed not to let any other mothers in the region suffer from lack of medical treatment or access to healthcare. He started driving a motorcycle ambulance to transport people in need to the hospital. Since he began his mission 19 years ago, he has driven over 5,000 people to the hospital, saving hundreds if not thousands of lives.
“I was inspired by Karimul Haque’s life to start social work. Despite being a tea garden worker, he saved the lives of thousands of people. He has proved once again that you don’t have to be an extraordinary person to do extraordinary works in life. Being an ordinary man, you can still do outstanding work for society,” says Jha, a journalist-turned-social entrepreneur.
Man Goes from Mining Coal to Planting Trees
There are few ordinary people who are natural-born environmentalists. Although many people aspire to do good, sometimes you find yourself on the wrong path. Nothing is braver than admitting that you were wrong and moving in a better direction. That is exactly what Patrick Angel did when he realized the impact of the toxic coal-mining tactics that he had supported.
At 70 years old, he became the driving force behind making coal country green again. In addition to this, he gave other ex-miners a chance to give back to the environment that they once took part in destroying. With Angel leading the other ex-miners, 187 million trees have been planted over 275,000 acres of former mines.
Most of the people in the world are not born privileged, with special talents, or the charm to lead others. That doesn’t mean that ordinary individuals don’t have the power to make a difference. Regardless of the financial, religious, or political background, we all share this wonderful planet. If we all come together we can pool our strengths, time, and resources to make a real difference. Each one of us is capable of moving mountains, just like Dashrath Manjhi. Imagine what we can do if we all come together.
Read another inspiring story of one man who saved 4 lakes by himself!
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