While survival of the fittest may be hardwired into our DNA, a huge part of our survival is each other, the basic idea of coexistence and cooperation. Though it can be easy to turn a blind eye to the needs of others, the obvious truth binding us all is that helping others is and always will be the right thing to do. Especially in these trying times, the stories that touch us most are those of kindness and selflessness, people reaching out to those struggling and making sacrifices for the greater good.
Turns out one needn’t look to the world of fantasy and mythology to find heroes. These individuals show us what a real hero is, dedicating, and even sacrificing their lives in the pursuit of saving others and making the world a much better place.
Tilly Smith, a 10-year-old girl from Surrey, England, was spending Christmas vacation of 2004 with her family on a beach in Phuket, Thailand. As she and her family walked along the sand, Tilly noticed something strange. The water was bubbling over and had become frothy. It was nothing that caused any heads to turn but worried Tilly immensely.
She recalled a lesson she’d received in school about tsunamis only a few weeks earlier. The class was shown a video of the ocean just prior to a tsunami and it was overtaken with froth. Tilly watched the water on the beach and told her parents that the water was showing signs of an oncoming tsunami.
Her parents were dismissive at first but after her insistence continued for a few more minutes, her father relented and took her to the resort's security personnel. He told them of his daughter’s fear, a theory which was corroborated seconds later by another guest who informed them that Sumatra had been hit with an earthquake earlier that day.
Within moments, and less than 10 minutes from when Tilly first noticed the bubbles, the hotel’s security staff were evacuating the beach. The ground floor of the resort had just barely been cleared when the tidal wave hit, decimating a sizable portion of the hotel. The 2004 tsunami resulted in over 200,000 deaths across the area. In Tilly’s hotel, though there were numerous injuries, there were no fatalities thanks to her insistence and swift action.
Robin Emmons spent years trying to help her brother get off the streets, as he struggled with a mental illness. When he finally got into a halfway house, she expected his physical health would improve along with his mental health. However, she was shocked to find that he was drastically losing weight and had become borderline diabetic.
It turns out the home he was staying in was giving the residents packaged and canned food as fresh fruits and vegetables were not affordable for them. Emmons upgraded her garden and began providing the home with fresh food, but soon found out that the problem was more widespread.
She discovered that many people living in low-income areas have to travel long distances to reach a supermarket that sold fresh veggies and fruits. 72,000 low-income residents of Charlotte, North Carolina, her city, lived in what was termed as food deserts, a problem 10% of the American population faced.
Emmons took expansions to the next level and today, her non-profit organization, called Sow Much Good, has 200 volunteers working on 9 acres of land and has provided low-income communities with 26,000 pounds of chemical-free fresh harvest since 2008. She either donates or sells the produce at half the going rate, and does whatever she can to make it as affordable as possible.
The Nanjing River Bridge is an architectural marvel that lies over a portion of the Yangtze River. The massive bridge holds a 22,000-foot railway track, a number of piers, a viewing tower, and a 4-lane highway. Despite its structural beauty, this bridge stood as a landmark of tragedy. Between its completion in 1968 and 2006, approximately 2000 people took their own lives on this bridge.
In 2008, Chen Li, a vegetable vendor that walked along the bridge every day, caught sight of a man about to take the plunge. He intervened and pulled the man away from the ledge. At that moment, he decided to devote his life to saving others. He has since spent his weekends patrolling the bridge for people with signs of depression.
Chen Li notes the way they walk, their shoulders slumped, and the heaviness in their steps. He spends his time talking to them and trying to give them hope. He also hands out pamphlets on suicide prevention and awareness, hotline details, and even lists his own number as an emergency contact.
His remarkable kindness has resulted in hundreds of lives being saved and has been documented in the award-winning documentary film, Angel of Nanjing. For more than a decade now, Chen Li has watched over the residents of the city and done what he can to lift the spirits of sad souls he sees walking across the monumental bridge.
It is not only ordinary citizens that can amaze, inspire, and touch us with their passion and bravery. Even public service agents like military personnel and rescue teams, who every day risk their lives in the name of protection of others, can go above and beyond the call of duty.
In 2018, Southern California was hit by a barrage of earth-shattering mudslides that shook and dismantled the very foundation of homes. Rescue efforts were mobilized quickly and coordinated by firefighter Maeve Juarez. They stabilized the situation and left the area as night had fallen.
Mere moments after they left, a gas explosion set the neighboring houses and bridge ablaze. Juarez was back on the scene in minutes. As she arrived, a couple was plunging from their home, now engulfed in flame. The woman’s ankles broke from the fall, and Juarez carried her a quarter-mile away to be airlifted to safety.
Juarez swiftly called her team back in and they worked tirelessly through the night, sifting through the debris while battling flames and mud. Juarez and her team reportedly saved over 100 lives that night. She and her colleague Andy Rupp were presented with the first Medal of Valour awards ever to reach the Montecito Fire Department.
It is always inspiring to see a public servant that takes their duty to the ultimate level, risking life and limb in the name of what they see as “just doing their job”. Such efforts must always be commended and honored. Because at times, they choose to go to great lengths to save others, even so far as to make the ultimate sacrifice.
In March 2018, a local supermarket in the French town of Trebes was taken hostage by an ISIS gunman on a violent rampage. As the police struggled to assess the situation from the outside, Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Beltrame stepped forward. He entered the building and slyly placed an active cell phone nearby the gunman, enabling law enforcement to listen in.
He traded places with a hostage and stood in front of the gunman unarmed for 2 long hours, as his colleagues worked to devise a way to release the hostages. Gunfire eventually ensued forcing officers to breach the perimeter. There were 3 fatalities while 15 other hostages survived with injuries.
Beltrame was badly wounded in the hail of bullets and married his partner while in his hospital bed. He succumbed to his wounds within a few hours. Though the world lost a brave man, his deeds will never be forgotten. Following his passing, tributes poured in from people everywhere to honor him for his sacrifice.
Dale Beatty was serving in Iraq as a National Guardsman when a routine patrol went horribly wrong. An unseen anti-tank landmine sent Beatty’s vehicle flying 50 feet in the air and pinning his legs to the ground. As a result, Beatty had to have both legs amputated.
Though it was a tragic event, this veteran never lost his upbeat attitude and his gratitude for life. He spent a year recovering from his injuries, thinking of his dream to build a home for his family, a dream now lost with his legs. Or so he thought. A member of his church persuaded the local builders association to help the veteran build his wheelchair accessible dream home.
During this time, Beatty reached out to a fellow veteran named John Gallina, who carried his own less visible wounds having been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. After Beatty’s home was completed, the two decided to pay the favor forward and started their own non-profit organization in 2008 called Purple Heart Homes.
Purple Heart Homes helps all disabled veterans regardless of their service record or the war they survived, unlike many other non-profits that aid in building US veterans’ homes. They have built and modified homes for over 30 disabled veterans. As Beatty puts it, "We wouldn't leave someone behind on the battlefield. Why would we do it at home?"
Some acts of heroism can surprise and shock us all. When a person puts their life on the line for someone else it is always an incredible thing. When someone loses their life to save those of others, mourning is mixed with gratitude and awe.
In August 2018, a passenger boat making its way down Rivers State in Nigeria collided with a large object causing it to capsize. As all 24 of the boat's passengers fell into the water, one passenger in particular dove straight into it.
36-year-old Joseph Blankson was a healthy enough man and could have made it to land with ease. Instead, he made his way through the muddy waters and one by one, saved the lives of 13 people. Fatigue struck the heroic man as he attempted to save another passenger and he drowned as a result.
Thanks to the quick thinking and brave actions of Blankson, he was the only fatality of that collision. His noble sacrifice allowed others to return home to their families, though leaving his wife and kids behind. His wife Mercy, however, said it was in his nature to put others first, always. For his valor, he was honored by the President of the Nigerian Senate posthumously, much like Beltrame.
Losing a child is the most heartbreaking and painful thing any human being can experience. To lose a child because transport and money are unavailable is a cringe-worthy injustice, at least that's what one pained father thought.
Richard Nares lost his 5 years old son in 2000 after a 2 year-long battle with Leukemia. During the time his son was seeking treatment, Nares saw firsthand the hardships many families had to go through just to ensure their child could reach the treatment centers. From single parents with strict jobs to long distances and no direct public or affordable transport, he saw parents and kids struggle just to receive care.
After his son passed on, Nares found himself consumed by thoughts of other parents struggling, suffering, and in fear of going through the pain he was feeling then. When he asked Emilio's hospital how he could help, they told him how difficult transportation was for many families. So Nares took his Buick and began bussing young patients all over the country.
Eventually, his good deed blossomed into an immensely helpful organization called the Emilio Nares Foundation consisting of social workers, nurses, hired hands, and many others to create a proper schedule for transportation. His group now does over 2500 rides a year and has been the saving grace for families all over America.
(Cover Image: Youtube)
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