You would be forgiven for thinking that we currently live inside a huge, literal, steaming pile of garbage. As politics becomes more and more divisive and the world has to respond to new threats everyday—whether its climate change, white supremacy, or sexism—it can be all too easy to want to throw in the towel. Although we’ve heard it time and time again, it’s hard to really believe that one person can truly make a difference, especially if you’re young and still figuring out the world. We get made fun of for liking avocados, for Pete’s sake. How could anyone really take us seriously if we tried to stand up for what we believe in?
When we hear of examples of the great activists of the world, whether that’s Martin Luther King Jr. or Mother Teresa, they can sound otherworldly. Their contributions to society were great, but they are venerated in a way that strips them of their humanity and makes us feel like we’ll never be able to live up to them, no matter how much we want to. But that’s simply not true. All it takes is one idea and the right mix of determination and willpower to effect change at the local level. Start with one thing you’re passionate about, and find small, local ways to organize and find solutions to the problem.
That’s what the 15 people on this list did—but the catch is that some of them started as early as six years old. They’re here to prove that no matter the obstacle, and no matter your age, you can work hard and make sure that you leave behind a world that is just a little bit better than when you found it. Use this list to inspire you to either start your own non-profit, or simply find local organizations that you can help. After all, with the way the world going nowadays, the teens really are our only hope.