11/04/2011 10:58 am ET | Updated Jan 04, 2012

Meet the 2011 World of Children Award Honorees: Cause for Optimism at Home and Abroad

Between the devastating earthquake in Turkey, flooding in Thailand and food crisis in the Horn of Africa, the headlines can make us feel helpless, even hopeless. Fortunately, a plethora of social changemakers here in the U.S. and around the globe, provides plenty of cause for optimism.

Seven such changemakers have just been announced as the 2011 World of Children Award honorees ( -- extraordinary individuals whose life-changing work on behalf of the world's most vulnerable children is a poignant reminder of the tremendous potential of one individual to change the trajectory of others' lives:

Dr. Ashok Banskota has dedicated a lifetime of service to Nepal's most disadvantaged children, spending the past several decades volunteering his time and talents to provide more than 43,000 poor, disabled children with life-changing medical care. After training and earning his board certification in New York, Dr. Banskota returned to Nepal and was shocked by his country's lack of medical resources for the poor.

In 1984, Dr. Banskota started a small program to help poor children with disabilities and has since grown it into what is now the Hospital and Rehabilitation Center for Disabled Children, a world-class center that provides surgery and rehabilitation for disabled Nepalese children who would otherwise be ostracized by society or even sold to circuses to live a short life of humiliation. HRDC treats children under 17 for issues ranging from club feet, to burns to tuberculosis of the spine.

Denisse Pichardo, Founder, Caminante Proyecto Educativo

When Denisse Pichardo was asked in 1994 to study the issue of sexual tourism and children working in the streets in the municipality of Boca Chica, Dominican Republic she was moved to action by what she saw: foreign tourists coming and going with local children, especially young girls, and extremely poor families forced to give or sell their children to preying tourists.

To help, she established Caminante Proyecto Educativo (Caminante Educational Project), a nonprofit dedicated to empowering the most vulnerable youth in the sex tourism center of Boca Chica, Dominican Republic, as well as in neighboring Haiti and beyond. To date, Denisse's nonprofit has changed the lives of nearly 13,000 youth affected by sex tourism -- preventing the sexual exploitation of children, reducing violence in their communities and rescuing and healing youth affected by prostitution and other traumas.

Tatiana Grossman, Founder, Spread the Words

When Tatiana Grossman learned at age 12 that 75 percent of children in some African countries could not read and lacked access to books, she immediately took action. She lead a solo book drive on the lawn of her community's children's library to collect thousands of books that now serve 62 schools and villages in Botswana and Lesotho.

Fueled by her initial success, and her successful collaboration with the African Library Project, she soon founded her own nonprofit organization, Spread the Words, to increase early literacy around the world by helping children create school libraries in impoverished communities, support the libraries they've started, and bring digital curriculum and textbooks to schools that need them.

Today, Tatiana and Spread the Words have established libraries serving 99 African villages and primary schools where before there were none. Now she's consulting with Silicon Valley engineers and digital content providers to provide African classrooms with the latest in digital classroom technology and free digital teaching materials.

Neha Gupta, Founder, Empower Orphans

Neha Gupta began volunteering in orphanages while visiting her grandparents in India when she was only 9 years old. Realizing these orphans were neither receiving a proper education nor the love and guidance of a parent, she was moved to do more and founded Empower Orphans, which strives to help orphaned and underprivileged children gain a basic education and become productive members of society.

Since then, all volunteer-run Empower Orphans has served more than 10,000 orphans in India and the United States by establishing health clinics, libraries, computer labs and sewing centers and proving them with food, schooling, books, bicycles, clothing and other basic life necessities. Neha has also motivated her peers to follow suit by developing teams of youth volunteers in the USA, U.K., Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and India and will soon expand Empower Orphans to Africa and other Asian countries in the coming year.

Luke Lancaster, Founder, Young Pioneers

Crowhurst, East Sussex teen Luke Lancaster founded his organization, Young Pioneers, at age 12 after being continuously bullied at school. This experience led him to notice that many other students were like him -- struggling to succeed in school and life, and yet still wanting to make a positive difference in the world.

Inspired to find a solution, Luke created a youth-led organization whose goal is to "make it cool to care." Young Pioneers's research found that 83 percent of young people today would rather ask a friend for advice than an adult, parent or teacher. In response, Young Pioneers has created a training program to equip young people with the tools and abilities necessary to overcome adversity and lead change.

Luke's international education training program, "Tomorrows Leaders," is identifying and developing young people around the world to be a catalyst for change in their own lives, as well as in their schools and communities. The Young Pioneers is now building on its success by expanding from the U.K. into France, Germany, the Netherlands and the U.S.

Laura & Harry Slatkin, Co-founders, New York Center for Autism

The World of Children Award's Board of Governors bestowed a non-monetary World of Children Advocacy Award to Laura and Harry Slatkin for their extraordinary efforts to improve children's health through the New York Center for Autism (NYCA), which they co-founded.

Their own family story inspired them to open the center in 1999 as an organization dedicated to autism education, community outreach and biomedical research. Laura and Harry have also launched consortiums of national, regional and local autism organizations to advance a new national agenda for autism advocacy and research. In addition to their tremendous dedication to children and autism, the Slatkins are successful entrepreneurs -- with Laura serving as CEO of NEST Fragrances and Harry leading Belstaff as CEO.

For the past 14 years, the World of Children Award has honored remarkable changemakers for children like these and provided funding and recognition to leverage and amplify their efforts to transform children's lives.

As an ambassador for the World of Children Awards, I was especially excited to meet them in person this week when they were honored at the World of Children Awards Ceremony in New York City. For anyone seeking an inspirational alternative to today's gloomy headlines, read up on them at and let their examples inform how you can help change the world in your own right.