Last year, 17-year-old Malala Yousafzai became the youngest person to win a Nobel Prize for her heroic stand against Pakistan’s Taliban in their attempts to keep girls from receiving an education. But she’s not the only teenager to show grit, determination, and courage in the face of problems that most adults are at a loss to grapple with. These 6 young women and men all have a shot to radically lower the average age of a Nobel laureate.
Naelyn Pike, Age 16, USA / Chiricahua Apache
Cause: Native American Rights And Legislative Transparency
Before it was passed last December, Arizona senators McCain and Flake slipped a rider into the National Defense Authorization Act, giving 2,400 acres of Apache holy land to an Australian mining company. In protest of the shady legislation (and a symbolic middle finger to the Trail of Tears) Pike and 100 fellow Apaches traveled by caravan from Arizona to New York then D.C. to demand the return of Oak Flat to the 15,000 tribesmen who’ve held it sacred for centuries.
Zhan Haite, Age 17, China
Cause: Migrant Rights
Zhan attended primary and middle school in Shanghai, but China doesn’t require local governments to provide free secondary education and other social services for migrants like herself. So at age 15, Zhan organized a protest in front of Shanghai’s education bureau and wrote a scathing op-ed in China Daily — not exactly standard teenager behavior in a country that suppresses press. Her family was evicted and her father jailed, but she triggered a nationwide debate challenging Chinese law. Big Brother, meet little sister.
Jack Andraka, Age 18, USA
Cause: Cure For Cancer
After Andraka’s uncle died of pancreatic cancer, the 13-year-old whiz kid did his own research and unveiled that over 85 percent of pancreatic cancer victims have a 2-percent chance of survival because the standard test is 60 years old and 30 percent inaccurate — and it costs $800. Andraka thought he had a better idea and circulated it to 200 professors. One hundred and ninety nine rejected him, but the one who didn’t provided him a lab, where he went on to invent a new test that’s 90 percent accurate for pancreatic, lung, and ovarian cancer. And it costs $.03.
Jazz Jennings, Age 14, USA
Cause: Transgendered Youth
Jazz was born a biological male but “came out” in a one-piece swimsuit for her 5-year-old birthday party. Her 20/20 special with Barbara Walters in 2007 marked the beginning of Jazz’s life as the youngest transgender activist in the public eye. Today, the 14-year-old fights for LBGT rights with her YouTube channel, company that designs mermaid fins for transgender youth, and new TV show, I Am Jazz, not to be confused with DJ Jazzy Jeff’s eponymous R&B mixtape.
Joshua Wong, Age 18, Hong Kong
Cause: Voting Rights
The son of once lower-class citizens who rose to the middle class through hard work and education, Wong founded Scholarism as a young teen. This pro-democracy activist group for students is dedicated to reforming education and political policies regarding Hong Kong youth. Last year, Wong and Scholarism led the 4-month Umbrella Revolution protest in the streets of Hong Kong. Or, as many remember it, the coolest drone video of 2014.
Mezon Almellehan, Age 16, Syria
Cause: Girls’ Education
Almellehan fled the Syrian Civil war only to discover that female classmates in the refugee camps are pressured into early marriage (often with much older men) out of desperation to secure their financial futures. But Almellehan knows true security comes through education. Formerly at the Zaatari camp (population: 80,202) and now at the Azraq camp (21,885), she visits the thousands of refugee tents every morning to urge girls into class. Bust that fact out next time your kid complains about going to school.