You don't need superpowers to be a hero.
Which might explain the popularity of the annual ‘CNN Heroes’ list of “everyday people” making a difference in the world. This week the network announced the Top Ten Heroes for 2012 -- representing six countries and four continents -- among which is Colombian Catalina Escobar.
Escobar, 42, was a successful business woman with an international trading company until two deaths changed her life in October 2000.
The first, a 12 day-old boy who died in her arms while working as a volunteer at a maternity clinic in Cartagena, Colombia. A life that could’ve been saved if the teenage mother could’ve raised the money for a treatment.
"His mother [needed] $30 that I had in my pocket. I will never forget that," Escobar told CNN. "It was a preventable death."
The second, the loss of her 16 month-old son after he fell from the balcony of her home.
Overwhelmed with grief and determined to save the lives of children in the city, Escobar sold her company and founded the Juan Felipe Gomez Escobar Foundation (named after her late son). Within the first five years of her work, the Colombian philanthropist helped reduce the infant mortality rate at the hospital by 67 percent.
After being released from the hospital, however, the children returned to the city's slums with their teenage mothers, a poverty cycle Escobar now aims to break.
"When a girl gets pregnant, she drops out of school. ... Next year, she's going to be pregnant again," Escobar told CNN. "She's repeating the same patterns of the mother, the grandmother."
For empowering more than 2,000 teen mothers with education and counseling, Escobar (and the other 9 finalists) will receive $50,000. At the December 2 “CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute,” one will be chosen -- based on the public’s vote -- to receive $250,000 to put towards their work.
But Escobar isn’t the first Latin American to be dubbed a ‘CNN Hero’ -- seven other Latinos have been honored since the award’s inception in 2008.
Among them are Elena Durón Miranda, a woman saving Argentine children from rummaging through trash dumps by providing education and activities, and Mexico’s Oscar Aranda, who patrols Puerto Vallarta’s beaches at night to prevent poachers from taking sea turtles’ eggs.
Thulani Madondo hasn't seen much improvement in the slums where he grew up in Kliptown, South Africa since the apartheid ended, so he's taken it upon himself to provide support, meals and activities to 400 children in the area through the Kliptown Youth Program. Vote for Thulani here.
Haitian rape survivor Malya Villard-Appolon founded an organization that helps advocate for victims of sexual violence. The group has helped more than 4,200 rape survivors in Haiti. Vote for Mayla here. here
To combat the statistic that in Colombia, nearly in in five girls 15-19 gets pregnant, Catalina Escobar set out to decreases Cartagena's infant mortality rate. The Bogota woman was prompted by her own experience after a poor teen mom's newborn died in her arms after losing her own son in an accident. Vote for Catalina here.
African-American and Latino children are three times more likely to drown than white children, a tragic statistic that Wanda Butts knows all too well. Her 16-year-old son died in a drowning accident six years ago. Today, the grieving mother is trying to reduce the number of water-related deaths through her nonprofit, the Josh Project, which teaches swimming to minorities in Toledo, Ohio. Vote for Wanda here.
In order to kick his drug and alcohol addiction, Scott Strode of Boulder, Colo., took up triathlons and mountain climbing. The 24-year-old eventually started Phoenix Multisport, a nonprofit that provides athletic activities and support to people who have experienced similar issues with addiction. Vote for Scott here.
So that children of Nepali prisoners aren't put behind bars with their parents, Pushpa Basnet started the Early Childhood Development Centre in 2005, an organization that offers housing, education and medical care to more than 140 kids of incarcerated parents. Vote for Pushpa here.
Of the 2 million troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, an estimated one in five of them has PTSD or depression, plaguing conditions that Mary Cortani is trying to alleviate through Operation Freedoms Paws. Veterans are paired with dogs from shelters or rescue groups, and are tasked with training the pooches to become service dogs, a process that is believed to help both the vets and dog find healing. Vote for Mary here.
Though schools that provide education to Afghan girls are constantly threatened by terrorists, Razia Jan hasn't been dissuaded. She provides free education to about 350 girls in rural Afghanistan. Vote for Razia here. here
After his daughter died at the hands of an underage drunk driver, Leo McCarthy has pursued a mission to prevent other senseless deaths. For the teens of Butte, Montana who hold off on drinking until they turn 21, his organization - Mariah's Challenge - will give a college scholarship. Vote for Leo here.
Connie Siskowski of Boca Raton, Fla., launched nonprofit American Association of Caregiving Youth in 2006 to help the 1.3 million children who care for an aging, ill or disabled family member. Her work has helped advocate for this population that otherwise may struggle in silence. Vote for Connie here.