Kimberly Motley freely admits that she took up the post of Afghanistan’s only foreign lawyer for the money. Then the job turned into a cause as she went up against the country’s complicated legal system to advocate for those who may be unjustly treated by it.
In documentary Super Woman in Kabul now streaming on SBS On Demand, Motley jests that she’s Wonder Woman. But she’s just one of countless “super heroes” changing the world. Here, we profile five of them…
Maya Terro: Food activist in Beirut
Maya Terro co-founded the non-profit FoodBlessed in 2012 to help tackle debilitating food poverty and wastage in Lebanon.
"I felt paralysed by the fact that while lots of food is going to waste every day, there are many who aren't able to afford a meal,” Terro says.
With 30% of Lebanon’s population living below the poverty line, food deprivation is major issue - one in five people in Lebanon are Syrian refugees who struggle to makes in meet.
The street feeding program uses donated food from restaurants, food manufacturers, farmers and supermarkets that would otherwise be wasted, to provide 400 meals a week across Beirut. To date, FoodBlessed has served up over 270,000 meals.
Dr. Jim Withers: Physician for the homeless in Pittsburgh
For 25 years, physician Jim Withers has treated Pittsburgh’s homeless through his programme Operation Safety Net. He’s even made himself up to look like he lived on the streets in order to connect with, and treat those living rough.
"I was actually really shocked how ill people were on the street. It was like going to a third-world country," he says. "Young, old, people with mental illness, runaway kids, women (who) fled domestic violence, veterans. And they all have their own story."
Withers’ organisation has cared for more than 10,000 homeless and assisted over 1,200 into housing since it was founded in 1992, and includes a primary health clinic for free medical care.
His street medicine program has gone national and global with the nonprofit Street Medicine Institute, which helps other communities set up their own treatment programs.
Geraldine Cox: Taking in abandoned children in Cambodia
Geraldine Cox is founder of Sunrise Cambodia, one of the most iconic charities to come out of Australia. The vivacious Cox started the organisation almost 25 years ago as a haven for orphaned, trafficked and disadvantaged children.
Unable to have children herself, she’s currently ‘Big Mum’ to over 400 abandoned children at the organisation based in the Cambodian countryside, and has cared for countless more.
Sunrise Cambodia has expanded from an orphanage to a fully-fledged movement to provide community welfare, infrastructure, housing and educational assistance.
"I have 40 children doing university degrees in Cambodia. I have had 10 children in Australia," she says. "They are part of the next generation that's going to change Cambodia and that gives me huge satisfaction — I can see them striving to improve their country."
Jeison Aristizábal: Caring for disabled kids in Colombia
Jeison Aristizábal has a very personal connection to his humanitarian work supporting children with disabilities. As a child with cerebral palsy he faced the same challenges as his charges.
While he was raised in one of the poorest neighbourhoods of Cali, Aristizábal was fortunate enough to have a family that could support him, but it was for the thousands of other disabled kids that he set up ASODISVALLE (Association of Disabled People of the Valley).
The non-profit foundation offers free services including a school, medical clinic, speech and physical therapy, healthy meals and a job-training program.
“Around the world, when families have a kid with a disability, they think that child won't be capable of much. We have to change that idea completely,” says Aristizábal. “We have to tell these families that their child may have a disability, but that doesn't mean that person doesn't have talents that will enable them to succeed in life.
Christy Turlington Burns: Advocate for women’s prenatal health
The supermodel formally known as Christy Turlington is now a well-established social entrepreneur as founder of maternal health organisation Every Mother Counts.
The non-profit, founded in 2010, came about in part from a complicated childbirth Turlington Burns experienced and has developed from advocacy to a full-blown platform that invests in maternal healthcare programs around the world providing services like educating birth attendants and provision of medical supplies.
One woman dies every two minutes from pregnancy and childbirth related complications - and many of these deaths are preventable. Turlington Burns wants to raise awareness of the many deaths that occur outside of medical care.
"A lot of people have become so focused on facility-based births around the world looking at maternal and child health they’ve forgotten about women outdoors," she says. "A lot of the deaths occur once they go home and are isolated."
Watch Super Woman in Kabul on SBS On Demand: