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World Award Honors Heroes for Kids

Three children's advocates were honored recently for their work on behalf of kids from around the globe. The World of Children Awards, which nominees call a kind of a Nobel Prize for children activists, took place at UNICEF House.

A Nepalese plastic surgeon performed seven thousand free surgeries on children suffering from birth deformities or disfiguring burns. A Malawi man who, as a child, was the only survivor of a plane crash that killed both his parents, dedicates his life to caring for orphans in a country where thousands of children lose mothers and fathers to AIDS. These are two of seven nominees from around the world who the World Children's Awards celebrated.

Hui Jung Chi received the Kellogg Child Development Award for getting young prostitutes off the streets of Taiwan and into safe houses. And she did her work despite threats from organized crime and a widespread cultural attitude that places little value on girls. When she began more than a decade ago, the youngest girl she rescued was only eight years old. In 1995 Hui Jung Chi organized to pressure the government into passing anti-prostitution laws. Recently she even opened one of her "Garden of Hope" shelters for Chinese-speaking women in New York City.

"I would like to say something for the girls. The girls [situations] in the world are getting worse because of the commercial exportation. So I would like to say adults have a responsibility for the girls. Either empowering program(s) or protective program(s), they all need it," he said.

One of the most inspiring honorees is a child himself. Seventeen-year-old Cristiano Pinheiro (pin-YERO) Fedrigo, from a poor mining hamlet in Brazil, began helping others at age 10. A teacher scolding him for begging, learned that Cristiano was trying to buy milk so that a destitute 16-year-old mother could feed her infant. After a friend's brother drowned in the local quarry, Cristiano and his gym teacher initiated swimming lessons for kids. A few years later, he convinced a local dentist that she would attract more patients if she discounted her fees.

Then when Cristiano was 16 his father, a miner, died of lung disease. To honor his father's wish that his son not suffer the same fate, Cristiano hopes to become his town's first chiropractor -- but first he wants to learn English.

His translator and friend Fritz Louderback explained: "His first intentions are to come to the U.S. and study at a university where he can learn English. The Baruch College of New York City University is very receptive to students from foreign countries who need to learn English in order to start their education. And so we're meeting tonight with the chancellor and hoping Cristiano will start the school year in New York City in September."

Pediatrician Dr. Irving Williams also names his father as his inspiration. Dr. Williams moved from the United States with his wife and four young children to Tanzania in 1974 where he has worked ever since. He created mobile clinics under trees or in one-room school houses -- anywhere he could set up his needles and vaccines - and raised the immunization coverage of kids in one district from 28 to 98 percent. He taught villagers to pasteurize drinking water with a simple solar heating unit. Dr. Williams said he was passing on the know-how gleaned as one of 10 kids growing up on a farm, where his father taught him how one should treat others.

"He would say to me during the time of harvest or planting, 'You know, you must always grow more things than you might need for yourself. Grow some things for the birds and the animals to eat. Grow some things just to give away. And then grow some things just for people to steal. There are some people who just don't feel good unless they can steal something.' So I have to blame my parents for planting the seed for some of what I've been doing,'" he said.

Each winner was awarded $100,000 with finalists receiving $10,000. Now in its eighth year, the World of Children Awards are funded in part by the Kellogg Company and the Cardinal Health Foundation.