8 Ordinary People Who Made an Extraordinary Difference


World in hands


All too often we see people in the media commended and awarded for doing, well, nothing much at all really.  The word ‘hero’ is drastically over-used.  Yet every day, there is someone somewhere in the world who is making a big difference in a person’s life.

They aren’t famous.  They aren’t rich.  Sometimes, they never even had an education of their own.  But these people are the epitome of humility, of compassion and of love, and they do what they do day by day, with no recognition or help, and nor do they expect it.

Here are eight people you’ve probably never heard of, but who have made a huge difference in the lives of children:


1. Anthony Omari


Anthony Omari
Anthony Omari saved 35 orphans housed in his mother’s orphanage when they were attacked by a machete wielding intruder


When men returned for the third night to Omari’s mother’s orphanage in Kenya, they were armed and ready to fight.  Omari, having already seen them off the previous night by throwing a hammer and hitting one of them, was in their line of fire, but even though one of the three intruders was armed with a machete he did not hesitate to single-handedly protect the 35 children within the orphanage walls.

Omari was hacked in the face and, whilst the blow might have been expected to be fatal, he thankfully survived the attack.  Within 24 hours of Omari leaving hospital, a Reddit user by the name TheLake drew attention to Omari’s ordeal and to the urgent need for security to protect the orphans at Faraja Children’s Home.

TheLake, or rather Ben Hardwick, asked fellow Redditors whether they thought they could possibly raise $2,000 to secure the orphanage from future attacks.  Within 24 hours the community had raised $80,000.

You can find out how Omari and the Faraja Children’s Home are now doing here. 


2. Lou Xiaoying


Lou Xiaoying
Lou Xiaoying and her husband rescued 30 abandoned babies in China, despite living in relative poverty themselves


Whilst making a living recycling rubbish, Lou Xiaoying and her husband Li Zin often came across tiny babies in their locality of Jinhua, within the eastern Zhejiang province of China.  The sight of abandoned babies was so common that people would often ignore them, passing them by and choosing to remain oblivious to their plight.  Xiaoying however, was one person who did not.

She would take the babies to her humble home and commitedly nurse them back to health until they regained their strength and grew into strong, happy children.

‘The whole thing started when I found the first baby, a little girl back in 1972 when I was out collecting rubbish. She was just lying amongst the junk on the street, abandoned. She would have died had we not rescued her and taken her in.

‘Watching her grow and become stronger gave us such happiness and I realised I had a real love of caring for children.

‘I realised if we had strength enough to collect garbage how could we not recycle something as important as human lives.’

Zhang Juju, one of Lou’s adopted daughters, said that despite her mother’s poverty, she always provided the best life she could to the children she rescued.

Now 88-years-old and suffering from heart and kidney failure, word of Xiaoying’s life and love is making headlines in China, and an online fundraising effort is underway in order to offset her hospital costs.  Click here to find out more about Lou Xiaoying, her life and how to help.


3. Irena Sendler


Irena Sendler smuggled more than 2,500 children from the Warsaw Ghetto, saving them from the holocaust.
Irena Sendler smuggled more than 2,500 children from the Warsaw Ghetto, saving them from the holocaust.


Irena Sendler was a member of the children’s section of Zegota, the codename given for the Polish Council to Aid Jews.  She along with two dozen other members saved more than 2,500 children during WW2, smuggling them out of the Ghetto by posing as an inspector of sanitary conditions during a typhoid outbreak.

Sendler began smuggling out the children in ambulances, sometimes using bodybags and other times hiding them in amongst sacks and loads of goods.  She often had difficulty convincing parents to let their children go, with them asking Irena to promise them that their children would live.  The only guarantee could give them was telling them that by staying, their children would most certainly die.

Once safely smuggled from the ghetto, Irena would provide the children with false documents and place them with non-Jewish families.  Their true identities were kept in glass jars buried beneath a neighbour’s apple tree.  She hoped that one day she could reunite the children with their parents.

The Germans found out about Irena’s activities and she was severely tortured.  She survived but the effects crippled her throughout the rest of her life.  Despite her ordeal, Irena said nothing of the people who had helped her or the children she had helped to save.  Her silence left her sentenced to death, which she avoided only through the bribery of one of the Gestapo by a member of the Zegota.

Irena escaped from prison and spent the rest of the war on the run from the Nazis.  Once the war was over, she set about sifting through the names in the jars, attempting to reunite the families destroyed through war.  Though most had lost their families Irena’s efforts were remembered.

“A man, a painter, telephoned me,” said Sendler, “`I remember your face,’ he said. `It was you who took me out of the ghetto.’ I had many calls like that!”

Irena Sendler died in 2008 but her legacy lives on, albeit quietly and under the celebrity radar of those who are awarded more for doing far less.  Read more about Sendler’s amazing heroism here. 


4. Florin Grosuleac


Florin Grosuleac has helped more than 60 abandoned boys in Romania, providing them with a home, hope and a future
Florin Grosuleac has helped more than 60 abandoned boys in Romania, providing them with a home, hope and a future


Once an abandoned child living on the streets himself, Florin Grosuleac knows all too well the hardships that they face.  Recalling having to beg, fight and steal for a piece of bread just to survive, Grosuleac has since become ‘Dad’ to more than 60 young boys who were abandoned by families unable to care for them.

In 2001, Romania put a moratarium on all international adoptions, leaving more than 70,000 under the care of Romania’s Department of Child Protection.  It is thought that many thousands more are left to fend for themselves in the streets.  Grosuleac provides a small handful of these abandoned boys with a home by way of a small, two-bedroomed apartment in the Berceni area of Bucharest.  His aim, he says, is not only to give them a roof over their heads and food, but also to teach them life skills so that they too may turn their lives around for the better.

Grosuleac’s home is known as the Good Shepherd.  George, one of the children Grosuleac raised after the death of his grandmother, went on to graduate from high school, then at 16 began working alongside his studies in order to pay his way.  Many of the children taken in have gone onto completing a college education.  One graduated law school.

Grosuleac himself not only raises the previously homeless boys as well as his own three biological children, but also works as a chauffeur in order to be able to keep the Good Shepherd going.  He covers all costs himself – the government showing no interest in helping at all.

He says, “Those kids who didn’t bet on education, they have jobs, they got married, they have their own houses, their own families — there are none of them without jobs.

“I am so happy; I consider that the foundation has reached its goal — to make sure they have jobs, they aren’t on their own, they are constructive and productive members of society.”


5. Betty Tisdale


Betty Tisdale earned the name 'Angel of Saigon' after rescuing hundreds of Vietnamese orphans
Betty Tisdale earned the name ‘Angel of Saigon’ after rescuing hundreds of Vietnamese orphans


During the 1950s, Betty met with a U.S. Navy Lieutenant by the name of Dr Tom Dooley.  Dooley, along with a wealthy, college-educated widow Madame Vu Thi Ngai, had founded an orphanage in war-torn Saigon.  Betty volunteered for Dooley by working in the New York office, but after his death she made her first trip to visit the orphanage herself.

There she saw rusted cribs with rags hanging between them.  The children were tiny, lying on rags.  Makeshift showers were created out or urns and stools.  This moment in 1961, when she saw how these children lived, was the moment her life changed forever.

She began raising funds for the orphanage and was soon sending $5,000 a month to them.  Every holiday Betty had was spent at An Lac, funded by shopping at discount stores and skimping on lunches.  By the early 1970s the orphanage had its own washing machines and dryers, a new kitchen, indoor showers and bicycles which enabled the school-age children to go to school.

The war continued and Saigon was in peril.  Betty returned to An Lac with the aim of rescuing all the remaining 400 children at the orphanage. The Vietnamese government at first agreed to allow all the children to be airlifted out of Vietnam.  At the last minute, they ordered that only children under the age of ten could leave.

For the next three days and on little sleep, Betty and the actress Ina Balin set to work drafting identification papers to fit in with the government’s requirements.  Some documents were adjusted, showing older children to be 8 or 9.  Finally, on April 12 1975, 219 children were airlifted out of the war-torn country.  All the children were adopted by US families, and five of them were adopted by Tisdale herself.

Tisdale has continued her work, founding H.A.L.O (Helping And Loving Orphans), a charity aiming to provide healthcare, education and training to orphans all over the world.  Find out more about Betty Tisdale and H.A.L.O at www.bettytisdale.com.


6. Nicholas Winton


Nicholas Winton
Nicholas Winton organised the rescue of 669 children from German occupied Czechoslovakia on the eve of WW2.


Born of German-Jewish origin in 1909, stockbroker Nicholas Winton had planned to set off on a Swiss ski-ing holiday in 1938.  At the last moment he changed his mind, travelling instead to Prague, Czechoslovakia in order to help a friend who had called asking for help with Jewish refugee work.  Once there he set about aiding the escape of Jewish children who were at risk from the Nazis.

The House of Commons would permit entry for refugees below the age of 17 if they had a place to stay, and if a £50 warranty covering the cost of their return to their country of origin was paid.  This wasn’t the only hurdle to getting the children to safety.  They also needed permission to cross the Netherlands.  Border guards would search for Jewish refugees, returning them to Germany where certain death awaited them.

Winton organised and paid for nine trains to carry hundreds of children from Prague to the safety of Britain.  Eight trains arrived safely after leaving on the eve of the war breaking.  The ninth, scheduled to leave the following day, was seized by the Nazis.  The children aboard it were never heard of again.

Winton is now 104-years-old, but he didn’t mention his bravery and courage for more than half a century.  His story only emerged in 1988 when his wife found a suitcase in the attic containing documents and transport plans.

Since the story became known, many of ‘Winton’s children’ have been found.  They grew up and had families of their own, and none of them forgot the bravery of a single man by the name of Nicholas Winton.  Here is a lovely moment when he is unexpectedly reunited with a few of them (forgive me but you do have to put up with Esther Rantzen in this clip):


7. Maggie Barankitse


maggy barankitse
Maggy Barankitse has changed the lives of more than 20,000 children by promoting and protecting their rights


Marguerite Barankitse was born in Ruyigi, in the Buyundi province of Africa, as an adult working hard to become a teacher and later, a seminary student.

On October 24th 1993, the Tutsis descended upon Ruyigi in search of the Hutus who were hiding in the village.  It was a war of ethnicity, and Maggy was caught by the Tutsis, tied naked to a chair and forced to watch the massacre of her friends.

Upset and angry, she sought solace and comfort in the chapel of her now destroyed village.  Her eyes open to the plight of the orphans surrounding her, she set about opening Maison Shalom – House of Peace.

Maison Shalom started off housing two dozen orphans.  Now it has become a village in its own right, with its own hospital, school, recreation centre, farm and housing.  It even generates an income through the village guesthouse.

The services are available to the whole community but its central focus is on the children.  Maggy says more than 400 of them are behind bars.  A 14-year-old had been requested a ten year sentence for stealing his bosses trousers.  Maggy provided legal assistance through Maison Shalom and the child was released.  Many of the community cannot afford hospital bills and so pay off what they owe through manual labour, working on the farm or vegetable gardens.  Training in different trades is offered, from carpentry to soap-making.

The Maison Shalom website’s welcome page states that: ‘Maison Shalom is involved body and soul to restore dignity to the orphans of war, AIDS, street children, minor children and babies in prison (infants with their mothers ), and those from poor parents.’

More than 20,000 children would agree that Maggy Barankitse’s vision has done just that.

For more information on Maggy Barankitse and Maison Shalom, visit the site at www.maisonshalom.org.


There we have it.

Eight people.

Eight ordinary people who have done extraordinary things and changed the lives of thousands.

True heroes and role models in every respect.


 Edit: My attention was drawn to one of the original entries in this post, around whom there is some controversy and accusations. Whilst I do not know how true these may or may not be I have decided to remove it for now, so while the title remains as 8, hopefully this explains why there are now only seven individuals now mentioned. 

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5 thoughts on “8 Ordinary People Who Made an Extraordinary Difference

  1. Love this list!! Thanks for including Irena and Mr. Winston…absolutely love Irena. I would also like to add Stefania Podgorska, a teenager who, with the help of her 7 year old sister, his 13 Jews in her attic for 2 years. (AWESOME story!)

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