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The Unsung Heroes

The Baby Box

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Children do not choose to be born and when they do, they should be loved and provided for by their community no matter what the circumstances. Sadly, this is not always the case. According to UNICEF, in 2004 there were over 143 million orphaned and abandoned children in 93 developing countries worldwide. That’s 8.4 % off all children in the world and the numbers have likely risen. But there is one man who has worked hard to change that, at least in his community in Seoul, South Korea. This is the story of Pastor Lee Jong-rak and his benevolent Baby Box.

A Selfless Calling

A selfless calling

Pastor Lee Jong-rak and his wife Chun-ja had always wanted children, and when their prayers were answered it at first seemed more than they had bargained for. Their son, Eun-man, was born with cerebral palsy and a severely disfigured face and was given just five months to live. Despite the hardships they would have to face, they loved their son very much and spent the next 14 years in and out of hospitals to give him the life he deserved. It was here that their path changed forever. An elderly woman who had been taking care of her paralyzed granddaughter at the same hospital, fearing the child would be uncared for when she passed, asked the Pastor if he would take her in. Pastor Lee Jong-rak could not refuse the old woman and so began their journey as foster parents.

Guardian of the deserted

Guardian of the deserted

One cold April night, the Pastor received a phone call from a woman frantically apologising and telling him she had left her baby on the doorstep of his Jusarang Community Church. By the time the Pastor got to the baby, it died in his arms from hypothermia. With hundreds of babies being discarded in rubbish bins and train stations in Seoul every year, he decided to take matters in his own hands and created a Baby Box, modelled after one made in the Czech Republic. It was with this creation that he hoped to prevent from any more lives being lost to abandonment in his community again.

The Baby Box

The Baby Box

In 2009, Pastor Lee Jong-rak installed a cubicle equipped with a motion sensor, heating and light in which unwanted children could be deposited. Attached to his own home, the Baby Box was programmed to notify the inhabitants of the house when a baby was placed inside. Since that fateful day, over 1,500 children have passed through the Baby Box who would have otherwise died if left on the streets. The abandoned children, who tend to be either mentally or physically challenged, are cared for in the Pastor’s home, placed in orphanages or foster homes and even sometimes happily reunited with their parents, who are given the necessary education and support to take care of a special needs child.

All Lives Matter

All lives matter

With the release of Biran Ivie’s documentary called The Drop Box, much awareness has been raised about child abandonment in South Korea, especially that of disabled children, due to financial and social pressures. Donations to the Jusarang Community Church following the release of the movie has helped relocate the children in care to a larger housing facility. Pastor Lee Jong-rak continues to save the unwanted children of Seoul, but his ultimate desire is for the Baby Box to become a relic of the past. He dreams of a world and society in which all children are protected and cared for, and no child is ever given up. As sad as this story is, it’s people like Pastor Lee Jong-rak that restore our faith in humanity, give us hope for the future and teach us the limitless power of love.

The God of Sight

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We’d like to start this story by asking you this. Why do certain people inspire you more than others? After much pondering and deliberation, we came to the conclusion that for us, it boiled down to one unwavering common trait – focus. Which is why Dr. Sanduk Ruit, and his resolute focus on eradicating avoidable blindness, is the latest Unsung Hero to make our humble hall of fame.

From Tragedy Rises Hope

From tragedy rises hope

Sanduk Ruit was born in 1954 in the remote village of Olanchungola in Nepal’s Taplejung district. Growing up in a mountainous village with no electricity or health facilities, and where the nearest school was over a week’s walk away, sealed the fate of the 200 odd inhabitants of the village to poverty, illiteracy and early mortality. The second of six children, Sanduk had lost three of his siblings by the time he was 17. His elder brother succumbed to diarrhoea at the age of three, his sister to fever at the age of eight and his closest sister to tuberculosis at the age of 15. This last tragic loss hit him the hardest and it was on her death bed that he vowed to study medicine so that he could help save the lives of those who couldn’t afford treatment for curable diseases.

Where there is a will there is a way

Where there’s a will there’s a way

Despite their humble means, Sanduk’s father was determined to give his son the education he never had. After working diligently despite being the target of bullying while at St. Robert’s School in Darjeeling, Sanduk’s personal focus paid off when he received a scholarship through the Colombo Plan which ultimately led him to graduating in 1978 with a degree from King George’s Medical University in Lucknow.

Two men with one vision

Two men with one vision

In 1985, while working on the Nepal Blindness Survey, Dr. Sanduk Ruit met Dr. Fred Hallows, an Australian Ophthalmologist who would become a dear friend and mentor. Both men shared the same noble vision, to bring affordable eyecare and surgery to the people who needed it the most. Together they founded the Nepal Eye Program Australia, which joined The Fred Hollows Foundation in 1992, and helped fund and establish the Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology in Kathmandu in 1994.

The God of Sight

The God of Sight

With the establishment of the Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology, the poorest people of Nepal began to reap the fruits of Dr. Ruit’s labour thanks to free eyecare. A year after the centre opened its doors, Dr. Ruit developed high-quality intraocular lenses for cataract patients that cost just $5 to produce, just to give you an idea of how incredible that feat is, it costs $200 in some parts of the world! His pioneering technique of small incision low-cost cataract surgery has helped restore the sight of more than 120,000 people to this day in Nepal and other developing Asian and African countries.

Never Ending Ripple

A never-ending ripple

Thanks to Dr. Ruit’s efforts, blindness has decreased to 0.3% amongst Nepal’s 29 million population. It has become the first country in South Asia to eliminate Trachoma, the leading bacterial infectious cause of blindness in the world. The Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology is now a training destination for surgeons from around the globe, who hope to establish its methods in other developing countries. Mobile eye camps are able to reach isolated rural villages and not-for-profit eyecare centres have opened up in all 77 districts of the nation.

The Barefoot Surgeon

The Barefoot Surgeon

Never losing sight of what mattered, Dr. Ruit is still the determined and humble Sanduk we met at the beginning of this story. His patients and peers admire him for his kindness and humility, despite being an award-winning and globally celebrated doctor. He still stands by his promise to extend and enrich the lives of the less fortunate by not only giving them back their sight, but a new lease of life. What we need in the world is more people like Dr. Sanduk Ruit who inspire us to pick a cause and stick to it no matter what in order to better the lives of those around us.

To find out more about Dr. Sanduk Ruit and his institute’s incredible achievements, visit or read his biography The Barefoot Surgeon by Ali Gripper.

The Lone Rider

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Not only is this next inspirational person an award-winning architect who has won us over with her radical transformations of unusual spaces such as the Munstead Water Tower, which she calls home, she’s blown us away with her daring spirit and unwavering determination to boldly go where no British woman had gone before. This is the story of Elspeth Beard.

Destined for the road

Born on 28th April 1959, Elspeth Beard had a fairly regular childhood. At the age of 16, she rode her first motorcycle and developed a passion for riding, but it’s what she did at the age of 23 that put her on the world map. A third-year student of architecture, Elspeth had her heart broken before her finals, causing her to underperform. Left disillusioned and full of doubts, she packed her bags and much to the chagrin of her parents set off on a solo trip around the world in the autumn of 1982, attempting a feat that never been accomplished by a British woman.

Wanderlust for the soul

In a time where few women travelled alone, let alone on a motorcycle, Elspeth’s need to escape was so strong that she defied conformity to embark on a soul-searching journey across the planet. She shipped her secondhand 1974 BMW R 60/6 to New York and there began the journey of a lifetime. From the US to Canada, back down to Mexico and across to Australia.

Against all odds

Elspeth found herself broke at this point and had to spend seven months working in Sydney and living in a garage to replenish her funds before she could carry on. In Queensland, Elspeth had her first major accident, leaving her concussed and in hospital for two weeks, but that did not stop her from seeing her mission through. Soon after, she left for Singapore, not faring any better when her valuables and documents including her passport were stolen. Chalking it up to a six-week setback, she replaced her papers and went on to traverse Southeast Asia and India, always moving forward.

When fate steps in

What started as an endeavor to flee from a broken heart drove Elspeth towards a kindred spirit, the only overland motorcycle traveler she had seen since she left her home. Riding alone no more, the duo went on to Pakistan and through Iran while Elspeth battled hepatitis, only stopping in Turkey to rest and recuperate. From there they rode to Greece and through Europe, braving the ‘Highway of Death’ across former Yugoslavia and the bitter conditions of the Alps to return once more to England.

The lone rider

In a time before sat-nav, mobile phones and the Internet, a woman travelling all alone while challenging stereotypes in the predominantly male world of biking may have come naturally to Elspeth, but her journey has encouraged women around the world to break free from society’s constrains and trust in their intrinsic powers to pursue their calling. We hope that Elspeth’s story has also inspired you to get in the driver’s seat on your personal journey and follow your passion no matter what life throws at you.

To find out more about Elspeth Beard and look through photos of her amazing travels visit

The Power of Pink

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Being a mother of five and the wife of an ice-cream vendor from one of the poorest villages in India did not stop this inspirational woman from standing up for women’s rights. Nothing could keep her from seeking justice, even if she had to wield a bamboo stick to get the job done.

Avengers in Pink

It all began when Sampat Pal Devi, the daughter of a poor shepherd from Banda, Uttar Pradesh, a village in Northern India, saw a man mercilessly beating his wife. She begged him to stop, but what she received in return was abuse for her insolence. The following day, she rounded up five women armed with bamboo sticks and evened the score.

The Gulabi Gang

Since then, women from far and wide have joined Sampat Pal Devi to create a sisterhood that watches out for its own. In 2006, they made their movement official by donning pink saris and calling themselves the Gulabi Gang. Today, they champion for the voiceless, fight corruption in the community and have dedicated their cause to giving women back their power – the power of pink.

Empowering women

With education for girls taking a backseat to child marriages that often result in domestic violence and dowry deaths, the Gulabi Gang have made it their mission to support and train women to develop skills that will allow them to become more independent. Striving to resurrect basic human rights for women, these justice-driven band of women promote education, expose corrupt government officials and even settle domestic disputes.

A rebel with a cause

Defying her parents to go to school, married off at the tender age of nine and a mother at only 13, Sampat Pal Devi worked as a government health worker before becoming a social crusader. She is living proof that with sheer courage and determination, one person can make a difference and pave the path for future generations. That’s why Sampat Pal Devi and her Gulabi Gang have made it into our personal hall of fame.

To find out more about the Gulabi Gang, what they do and how you can help, visit

The Lemonade Stand

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When life gives you lemons

We can’t imagine how we would react to being diagnosed with cancer, let alone learning that our child may suffer from it. It takes immense fortitude to combat such an unforgiving disease here. To turn such adversity and tragedy into a life-affirming cause that promises hope to others and cures in the future makes us think twice about how we deal with what life throws at us. So, thank you Alex for making an indelible impact on us and for teaching us to look beyond ourselves and make lemonade.

To find out more about Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation and how you can get involved, visit