Kids have made an enormous impact on the world, when you think about it. We can all list child stars of the stage and screen, from Shirley Temple in the 1930s, through the likes of Michael Jackson, and on to Daniel Radcliffe and his Harry Potter co-stars.
But some children have made huge contributions beyond the world of entertainment. Did you know, for example, that popsicles, trampolines and Christmas tree lights were all invented by minors? And then there are the children who’ve really helped change the world, through campaigning, protesting or just sheer brilliance.
Here we present 10 children, past and present, who’ve made a particularly important contribution to the world - from environmental campaigners to the girl who helped to end the Cold War.
5 Children Who Continue To Make A Mark On The World
Although now past her 18th birthday, Greta Thunberg would be most people’s first answer if asked to name a child who had made a mark on the world. The Swedish environmentalist cut her teeth by staging a weekly school strike, in demand of greater efforts to tackle the climate emergency. Her ‘School Strike for Climate’ protest quickly grew beyond her immediate group of friends to become a worldwide movement, and it continues to this day. Thunberg has since become the worldwide figurehead of the fight against climate change and is a regular speaker at international conferences (to which she never flies, as an example to everyone).
Melati and Isabel Wijsen
Like Greta, Indonesian sisters Malati (born 2001) and Isabel (born 2003) are environmental campaigners. Their focus is on plastic waste, and particularly the plastic consumption in their native Bali in Indonesia. Their first campaign, when aged just 12 and 10, was to rid Bali of single-use plastic bags. The sisters fought hard, including a period of hunger strikes, and eventually achieved their ambition. The local governor banned plastic bags and straws in 2018 as a result - beating many western economies to the milestone. They continue to fight for cleaner oceans and other environmental issues.
11-year-old Ryan Hickman proves that you can make your mark on society no matter what your age. He was just three when a trip to the local recycling center spurred him into action. The visit prompted him to begin recycling for his neighbors. He soon spread the net further and, as Ryan’s Recycling Company, began collecting and sorting recyclables from all over Orange County, California. His initiative has recovered some 1.4 million cans and bottles that would otherwise have gone to landfill. But more than that, his spirit and enthusiasm have inspired countless other children the world over to do more for their local environment.
The world first became aware of Malala Yousafzai in 2012 under the most harrowing circumstances. The 15-year-old activist had been shot in the head by the Pakistani Taliban, in reprisal for her continued protest at the way women and children were treated by the regime. She was transferred to a British hospital, where she went on to make a full recovery. Undeterred by the attack, Malala resumed her activism with even greater vigor. She continues to campaign for human rights, particularly the education of women and children in areas where these are suppressed. Malala was awarded the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for her campaign. In doing so, she became the youngest ever Nobel laureate, aged just 17.
And 5 Historic Children Who Made Their Mark
If climate change is the gravest threat to 21st century civilisation, then the Cold War was perhaps the equivalent of the 20th century. By 1982, relations between the Soviet Union and the USA had reached a new low, with many in the West fearing the policies of new Soviet leader Yuri Andropov. Maine school girl Samantha Smith asked her mother "If people are so afraid of him, why doesn't someone write a letter asking whether he wants to have a war or not?". So she did. Remarkably, Andropov replied. The Soviet leader reassured Samantha that he only sought peace, and invited to visit the Soviet Union to better understand his country. Samantha’s visit was closely followed by the media and catapulted her into the spotlight. The episode made a lasting contribution to the easing of tensions between the superpowers, which would eventually see an end to the Cold War in the early 1990s. Sadly, Samantha did not live to see those landmark events. She was killed in a plane crash in 1985, aged just 13.
You know the name, but do you know the story? Louis Braille (1809-1852) was just 15 when he developed the familiar alphabet of raised bumps, which allow the blind and partially sighted to read by touch. Braille was blind himself, having sustained an eye injury aged three. It was while a student at France’s Royal Institute for Blind Youth that he first set down his system, which was a huge improvement on earlier attempts. His alphabet is still in use, largely unchanged, today. Braille has an asteroid named in his honour for the work he did as a teenager, which can’t be very common.
Anne Frank is another name who needs little introduction. She is one of the most famous diarists of all time, partly owing to the unusual and desperate situation endured by her family, and partly to her natural talent as a writer. After the Germans invaded the Netherlands, Anne’s family, of Jewish heritage, hid from the Nazis for two years in a secret annex in Amsterdam. The teenager made regular entries in her diary, recording their predicament in thoughtful prose. The annex was eventually discovered and the family were sent to Auschwitz concentration camp. Anne sadly succumbed to typhus aged 15, not long before the camp was liberated. Her diary was published after the war. It is the best-selling Dutch-written book of all time, and one of the world’s most-read non-fiction books - and all written by a trapped and threatened girl in her early teens.
Imagine being sent to work at the age of four. Such is the fate of many children growing up in poverty. Igbal Masih of Muridke in Pakistan was just one of many young children forced to work in a carpet factory to pay off a family debt. The four-year-old would work long hours literally chained to the loom to prevent him from running off. After six years in the factory, Iqbal could take no more and rebelled against his enforced labor. He escaped the factory, got sent back again, escaped yet again before finding a place in a school for former child slaves. With the help of the Bonded Labour Liberation Front, Iqbal started a high-profile campaign on behalf of other child workers. Thousands were freed as a result of his lobbying, which included speeches at international conferences. Tragically, Iqbal was shot dead in Pakistan while just 12 years old.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
And we finish with perhaps the most famous child prodigy of all time. Mozart’s feats of musicality are well documented. From a young age, he could transcribe entire pieces of music from just a single listen. His first known composition (Andante in C for piano) was composed at the age of five. By the age of 10, he’d penned at least six full symphonies and dozens of sonatas. Curiously, though, his most child-friendly ditty - the melody we use today for Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, adapted from an earlier French tune - was put down when Mozart was 25.
* Hero Image: © Markus Schweizer under creative commons licence.
The Kidadl Team is made up of people from different walks of life, from different families and backgrounds, each with unique experiences and nuggets of wisdom to share with you. From lino cutting to surfing to children’s mental health, their hobbies and interests range far and wide. They are passionate about turning your everyday moments into memories and bringing you inspiring ideas to have fun with your family.