These Child Prodigies Stepped Up to Change the World We Live In These Child Prodigies Stepped Up to Change the World We Live In

These Child Prodigies Stepped Up to Change the World We Live In

by Jessica Bush Feb 25, 2019

Unbridled creativity, fearlessness, optimism, sharp senses and a fresh outlook on the world. These are the qualities that make children so special, and that adults often spend their lives trying to regain after they are changed by time and experience.

Every now and then, a child is born that is truly something else. Hyper intelligence, altruism, boundless curiosity and determination come together to make a powerful force to change the world. Establishing charities before reaching a double-digit age, reverse-engineering broken electronics to power homes, or solving global warming at a board meeting during school recess are examples of what these gifted children can accomplish.

The ten extraordinary children below have all used their gifts to make the world a better place, becoming true sources of hope and inspiration to people across the globe.

Dylan Mahalingam

Philanthropist, Entrepreneur, Child Welfare and Environmental Activist

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At the age of 9, Dylan co-founded an international non-profit and youth empowerment organization called Lil MDG’s. The organization uses digital and social media to encourage children in supporting the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. Since its inception, Lil MDG’s has mobilized over 3 million children worldwide – not to mention the 24,000 regular volunteers it has accumulated from 41 countries.

Examples of the amazing impacts of Dylan’s work include raising over $780,000 to provide relief for tsunami victims, $10 million for hurricane victims across the globe, and building a school playground for AIDS orphans in Uganda as well as a mobile hospital in India.

Yet Dylan’s incredible work does not stop with the creation of Lil MDG’s.

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Now 20, Dylan is a prolific inspirational speaker and has received a long list of awards and honors for his work. Not only is he the president of the Japanese youth organization Komodo MDG’s, but he’s also a board member of the Nestle Youth Foundation and the Project Ambassador of Under the Acacia Foundation, a non-profit organization focusing on communities in Africa.

Severn Cullis Suzuki

Environmental Activist, Speaker, Television Host and Author

At the 1992 World Summit in Rio De Janeiro, Severn silenced the world with her powerful speech on environmental issues. She was just 12 years old at the time.

Daughter of geneticist and environmental activist David Suzuki, she launched Skyfish, a major online think-tank project. After that, she became part of Kofi Annan’s special advisory panel at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.

Now 36, Severn has added television host and published author to her CV, among countless other achievements.

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Malala Yousafzai

Children’s and Women’s Rights Activist

"Malala Yousafzai, 14, student at Khushal School & College in Mingora, Sawat, Pakistan on January 24, 2011." credit: Asim Hafeez

Malala grew up under the oppressive rule of the Taliban in an area of Pakistan called Swat Valley, where girls are forbidden from attending school. As a child, she became an advocate for girls’ education. She first delivered a speech in September 2008 titled ‘How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education.’

Soon after, at age 11, Malala began blogging under a pseudonym for the BBC, about living under the Taliban’s threats. Her bravery and passion quickly gained the attention of the world.

When Malala was just 12, a gunman entered her school bus and shot her in the face. She narrowly survived. After her recovery, she went on to win Pakistan’s first National Peace Prize. She was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013 and 2014. In 2014, she became the youngest recipient of the award at just 17 years old.

On her 18th birthday, Malala opened a school for Syrian refugee girls in Lebanon.

”Today on my first day as an adult, on behalf of the world’s children, I demand of our leaders that we invest in books instead of bullets,” Yousafzai proclaimed in one of her school’s classrooms.

Ribbon cutting in front of Kayany’s Malala School in Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.

Despite still being named as a target by the Taliban, Malala’s commitment to her cause remains unshaken. Today, she continues her support for girl’s education through her non-profit, the Malala Fund. On February 29 this year, a documentary on her life was released, titled He Named Me Malala.

Akrit Jaswal

Child Surgeon

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Akrit Pran Jaswal was born on April 23, 1993 in Nurpur, Himachal Pradesh, India. At 10 months old, he could walk and talk. At 2 years old, he started to read and write. At the age of 5, Akrit not only began reading Shakespearean literature, but also began building his own library of medical books. The next year, doctors at his local hospital allowed him to begin observing surgeries.

At 7, Akrit became the youngest person to ever perform a successful surgery on his own. It was in his hometown, a rural village in the foothills of the Himalayas.

The family of an 8-year-old burn victim approached Akrit, a known medical genius in his village, for help. The child’s fingers had fused together and her family couldn’t afford to pay for the surgery.

In an hour, Akrit successfully separated the girl’s fingers, relieving her longstanding pain and consequently attracting widespread media attention.

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Soon after, at just 12 years old, Akrit qualified to study medicine at Chandigarh College in India. He was the youngest person to ever be accepted by an Indian University. Next, he discussed his ideas on curing cancer with the professors at the Imperial College, London.

“I actually made my discovery when I was 8. I did it by reading books on cancer and getting information from the internet. My cure aims at the modification of malformed genes that cause cancer and their successful repair either by the activation of enzymes or direct modification of genotoxic drugs.”

They were impressed by his knowledge, passion and evident potential. However, it was concluded that while in theory this could work, it was premature to think he had found a cure.

Today, Akrit remains passionately dedicated to his goal of finding a cure for cancer. He is now studying Bioengineering in IIT Kanpur.

Katie Stagliano

Founder of Katie’s Krops

At age 9, Katie first planted a cabbage seed in the front garden of her home. With her love and dedication, Katie grew the cabbage to a whopping 40 pounds.

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With help from her mother, Katie found a suitable place to donate her special crop. She gave the enormous cabbage to a local soup kitchen where it helped feed 275 people.

Inspired by the impact of her one cabbage, Katie then decided to expand. Her school donated a football-field-sized plot of land to Katie for her to create her first garden. Without delay, Katie rallied the helping hands of students from her school. It was there that Katie’s Krops began. Together, they began growing and harvesting crops to feed disadvantaged people.
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Today, that garden donates 3,000 pounds per year to organizations that feed people in need.

Katie’s Krops also raised $300,000 to help other children build their own gardens and do the same in their own communities. Today, there are 80 youth-run gardens across 29 states.

Katie is now 17.

Kelvin Doe aka DJ Focus

Inventor and Self-Taught Engineer

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Kelvin Doe grew up in one of the world’s poorest countries, Sierra Leone, with his mother and 4 siblings.

As Kelvin grew, so did his ravenous curiosity. At age 11, he first began scavenging for scrap electronics in dump sites throughout his hometown. He would then break them down to learn their inner workings. Through reverse-engineering he taught himself how to repair radios, subsequently doing it for free for families in his community.

Next he built a 3-channel mixer, a sound amplifier and a microphone entirely from his found scraps. At age 14, Kelvin built a radio transmitter and antenna to broadcast his own radio station that gave voice to the youth. In a speech, Kelvin explained:

“If we have radio stations in our community, the people will be able to debate about issues affecting our community and Sierra Leone as a whole.”

It was the first FM station in his community, where radios are the main source of information and entertainment. At the same time he was also building generators and batteries to power homes.

In 2012, David Sengeh – a PHD student at MIT – first discovered Kelvin’s extraordinary abilities. They met at a Youth Innovation Camp that Sengeh held in Sierra Leone at the time. The camp was held to challenge local children to solve Sierra Leone’s toughest problems. 15-year-old Kelvin was soon invited to be a guest resident at MIT.

In 2012, he was selected to speak at the World Maker Faire in NY. In addition, he became the youngest ever ‘visiting practitioner’ at MIT’s International Development Initiative. Not only has Kevin delivered lectures to undergraduate students, but he has also done TED Talks. You can watch one of them below:

Nicholas Lowinger

Founder, Gotta Have Sole

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When Nicholas Lowinger was 5 years old, he followed his mother to a homeless shelter where she worked on Rhode Island. Immediately, Nicholas was moved by the fact that many of the children were missing something that he took for granted.

“I saw other kids my age that looked just like me. The only difference was, they were wearing old, tattered shoes that were falling apart. Some didn’t have a pair of shoes to call their own. They shouldn’t have to worry about not being able to play sports or go to school because they don’t have a pair of shoes.”

First he began donating the shoes that no longer fit him. However, Nicholas soon realized that his personal contribution wasn’t much of a help. So, at the age of 12, Nicholas launched the Gotta Have Sole Foundation, which collects and donates new shoes to homeless children across the United States.

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Initially, Gotta Have Sole was just his Bar Mitzvah project, but since its beginning it has never stopped growing. By reaching out to shoe importers, retailers and corporations, Nicholas has donated shoes to over 45,000 children across 43 states.

He has also launched the Gotta Have Sole Scholarship Program, which provides poor extraordinary students with the financial aid they need. Nicholas is now 17.

Gregory Smith

Children’s Rights Advocate

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Gregory Smith could do simple maths and understand grammar by 18 months old, and read by the age of 2. Soon after, he became a vegetarian after studying dinosaurs and realizing the humans had flat teeth like other herbivores. His parents quickly understood that he was one of a kind.

He began secondary school at age 7, graduating with honors just 2 years later. At age 10, Gregory began his first university degree in Science majoring in Mathematics.

“I believe I have been given a special gift from God and I don’t know why. I want to use this gift I’ve been given to help all of mankind and to bring lasting world peace.”

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His incredible abilities garnered much media attention and gave him a platform to speak on the issues he was most passionate about. He founded an advocacy group for peace and children’s rights. Next, at age 13, he received his first nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. It came after Gregory met with Bill Clinton and Mikhail Gorbachev, and delivered a powerful speech in front of the UN.

He was later nominated 4 more times for his charity work.

Today, Smith is a postdoctoral researcher at Mount Sinai where he studies stochastic gene expression. He is now 26 years old.

Cassandra Lin

Environmentalist, Philanthropist, Social Entrepreneur

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In 5th grade, Cassandra Lin became aware of climate change and its devastating effects. She wasted no time, quickly rallying some of her classmates together to help her take action. They formed a community service team that worked at helping the community and the environment at the same time. They had two concerns in particular: global warming, and giving underprivileged families access to heating in the winter.

After much research and many round table discussions, the group founded the TGIF (Turn Grease Into Fuel) Project. They created a model that sources used cooking oil from restaurants, converts it into biodiesel, and then distributes it to local families for emergency heating assistance.

TGIF partnered with restaurants, grease collectors, biodiesel refiners, biofuel distributors and charities, and created fuel collection points for residents. In addition, it spread awareness of global warming through flyer distribution, public announcements and presentations.

Furthermore, in 2011, they had a bill passed that mandates that all businesses in Rhode Island must recycle their grease.

The work of Cassandra and her team has consequently offset over 2 million pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere – not to mention the 21,000 gallons that TGIF has donated to 210 families in need.

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So far, project TGIF has participants in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts. The group plans on expanding to all six New England states in the next 5 years.

Taylor Ramon Wilson

Nuclear Physicist and Science Advocate

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Taylor Ramon Wilson was born on May 7, 1994 in Texakarna, Arkansas. At age 9, Taylor first became interested in space and rocket science. He began building small rockets and giving passionate talks on space exploration to his classmates. At age 10, his interests then turned towards nuclear science, after his grandmother gifted him a book titled ‘The Radioactive Boy Scout.’

Taylor’s family then moved to Reno, Nevada when he was 14 years old. This was so that their son could attend a school for gifted students called the Davidson Academy, located within the University of Nevada.

Within the year, Taylor became the youngest person to ever produce nuclear fusion in a reactor that he built himself. He brought the temperature of the plasma core to 580mC – that’s 40 times hotter than the core of the sun. He consequently became one of few elite scientists who had ever achieved this incredible feat.

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Soon after this, Wilson developed a counter terrorism device that can detect nuclear materials in cargo containers. It won $50,000 at a White House sponsored science fair and thoroughly impressed President Obama.

At 17, Taylor was awarded the Thiel Fellowship. The $100,000 scholarship is awarded to gifted youths on the condition that they do not attend college, and instead focus on their own projects for the duration of the 2-year residency.

Wilson has delivered 2 TED talks, which have been viewed over 4 million times collectively. Not only has the government offered to purchase some of Taylor’s inventions, but a biopic on his life is also in discussion.

Now 22, Taylor is working on counter terrorism innovations, improving cancer treatments and lowering energy prices, as well as continuing work with nuclear power. Wilson told The Guardian in 2015:

“Nuclear can be used for good or bad. There’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. My goal is to help prevent the bad and enhance the good.”