CNN Names Top 10 Heroes of 2012

By Chris Ariens 

Today, CNN named the Top 10 CNN Heroes of 2012, one of whom will be named “CNN Hero of the Year” during the live broadcast hosted by Anderson Cooper from the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, Sunday, Dec. 2.

Online voting for “CNN Hero of the Year” is now open, and will run through Wednesday, November 28. This year, votes can also be shared on Facebook and Twitter. The Hero with the most votes will be named “CNN Hero of the Year,” and receive an additional $250,000 grant.

This year the Annenberg Foundation is pitching in too. Selected CNN Heroes will be entered into the Annenberg Alchemy program, providing guidance in fundraising, communications, management of volunteers, and strategies.

Now in its sixth year, the CNN Heroes initiative has received more than 45,000 nominations from more than 100 countries.

The Top 10 CNN Heroes hail from around the world; from Boca Raton to Kathmandu. Meet them after the jump…

  • Pushpa Basnet (Kathmandu, Nepal) Shocked to learn that children were living in Nepali prisons with their parents, Pushpa Basnet started the Early Childhood Development Centre when she was only 21. Since 2005, she’s provided support like housing, education, and medical care to more than 140 children of incarcerated parents.
  • Wanda Butts (Toledo, OH) In America today, African-American and Latino children are nearly three times more likely to drown than white children. This statistic became tragically real to Wanda Butts when she lost her 16 year-old son, Josh in a drowning accident six years ago. But, she turned her grief into action by giving all children in her community the opportunity to learn how to swim. In memory of her son, she created the Josh Project, a non-profit swimming and water safety organization that targets minorities. To date, The Josh Project has taught this life-saving skill to nearly 1,200 children in Toledo, Ohio.
  • Mary Cortani (Gilroy, CA) Of the more than 2 million U.S. troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s estimated that one in five of them is likely to have PTSD or major depression. Veterans with these invisible wounds experience flashbacks, nightmares and an enhanced state of anxiety and withdraw from society to avoid sights and sounds that remind them of war. Mary Cortani is helping some of them return to normal life again. A former U.S. Army dog trainer who matches veterans with dogs – many from shelters or rescue groups – now guides them on a new mission: train your own service dog. In the last two years, she and her nonprofit, Operation Freedoms Paws, have worked with more than 80 veterans.
  • Catalina Escobar (Bogota, Columbia) In Colombia, nearly one in five girls, ages 15 to 19, are pregnant or already mothers. Catalina Escobar’s life was forever changed when a newborn whose teen mother couldn’t afford his medical care died in her arms and just days later her own son died in an accident. Escobar turned her pain into a mission to decrease Cartagena’s infant mortality rate and pave a brighter future for teen mothers and their children.
  • Razia Jan (Kabul, Afghanistan) Terrorists will stop at nothing to keep Afghan girls from receiving an education. The U.N. has documented dozens of attacks on schools attributed to armed groups opposed to girls’ education. Despite the threat of violence, Razia Jan and her team are providing a free education to about 350 girls in rural Afghanistan, many of whom would have no other access to school.
  • Thulani Madondo (Kliptown, South Africa) Since apartheid ended, Thulani Madondo hasn’t seen much improvement in the Kliptown, South African slums in which he grew up. Today, this 30-year old is empowering his community’s next generation through his Kliptown Youth Program by providing academic support, meals and activities to 400 children.
  • Leo McCarthy (Butte, MT) In response to his daughter Mariah’s death at the hands of an underage drunk driver, Leo McCarthy fights the notorious culture of drinking in Butte, Montana by issuing a challenge to all teens: Stay away from alcohol until you reach 21 in exchange for a college scholarship. To date, his organization, Mariah’s Challenge, has given away nearly $150,000.
  • Connie Siskowski (Boca Raton, FL) Across the United States, there are 1.3 million children, ages eight to 18, who care for an aging, ill or disabled family member. Since 2006, Connie Siskowski and her non-profit, the American Association of Caregiving Youth, have helped bring this hidden population to light, providing support to more than 550 kids in Palm Beach County who are at greater risk of dropping out of school to take care of loved ones.
  • Scott Strode (Boulder, CO) For most of his teens and early twenties, Scott Strode abused drugs and alcohol. When he realized at age 24, that his addictions were out of control, he finally got clean, and sought a new social circle and activities that would help maintain his sobriety. Scott found what he needed at the gym, and eventually became a triathlete and mountain climber. In 2007, he decided to help others enjoy this healthy ‘high.’ He started Phoenix Multisport, a nonprofit that provides free athletic activities and a sober support community to more than 6,000 participants in Colorado.
  • Malya Villard-Appolon (Port-au-Prince, Haiti) Rape survivor Malya Villard-Appolon has helped turn rape from the silent tragedy that it has historically been in Haiti, into a crime in which the victims no longer feel voiceless or unprotected. Her organization, KOFAVIV, helps victims of sexual violence seek justice. The group has established advocacy and prevention tools throughout the troubled country, including in 22 tent cities where earthquake victims are especially vulnerable. Amidst regular death threats to this single mother of six, Malya and KOFAVIV have helped more than 4,200 rape survivors, including the youngest victim, a 17-month-old baby.