It's a long way from the city dumps of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where children climb hills of trash to forage for food to eat or for goods to salvage and sell, to Gripsholm Castle in the quaint town of Mariefred, Sweden to accept an award from the Royal Queen.
It may sound like a fairy tale, but this is the story of a real life hero -- Phymean Noun. Indeed, Phymean, who accepted the World's Children's Prize on October 14, is one my heroes and friends, and I was honored to attend the award ceremony with her.
Phymean embodies what this honor (often called the Children's Nobel Prize) is all about. She has dedicated her life to helping children who live in the slums and garbage dumps of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. In 2002, she used her own savings to start a school so that these children could get an education and break out of poverty, instead of risking their lives in the garbage dumps.
She started out with just 25 students at her school next to the garbage dump. Today, the organization she founded, People Improvement Organization (PIO), has grown to include three schools and a shelter for orphaned children. PIO is now helping more than 1,200 children every day.
PIO doesn't just offer free, quality education--the organization also provides children and youth with food, clean water, health education, and vocational training. All of these services help remove the financial burden from the parents, who will then be more likely to send their children to school.
Phymean is a true hero and an inspiration. She is talented, courageous, and fiercely committed to children's rights. She is utterly selfless. And the amazing thing is that throughout the world, there are others like her who are working tirelessly to make life better for children in their communities.
At The Global Fund for Children, we make it our job to identify leaders like Phymean who are transforming children's lives through grassroots organizations. And then we provide these organizations with small infusions of capital and support so they can grow and reach even more children in need.
Nearly two million children around the world cast ballots to decide who would take home the 2015 World's Children's Prize for the Rights of the Child. I'm humbled that Phymean is one of eight of our partner leaders who have been nominated for the World's Children's Prize since 2007, and she is the fourth to take home this prestigious honor. We couldn't be more proud.
Still, after the celebrations, the work continues.
Just a few days before this year's awards ceremony, I heard news from our partner Challenging Heights in Ghana. Their founder, James Kofi Annan, won the World's Children's Prize in 2013.
Challenging Heights had just rescued more than 20 children from slave labor on the fishing boats of Lake Volta in central Ghana. Some of the children had been working on the lake for years, separated from their families and laboring under hazardous conditions. Thankfully, they are now safe at the organization's rehabilitation center, where they will receive counseling and care as they prepare to return to their families and go back to school.
Meanwhile, Indira Ranamagar, a nominee for the 2014 World's Children's Prize and founder of our partner, Prisoners Assistance Nepal, is back to work helping hundreds of children whose parents are in prison. The earthquakes this spring left many children homeless, and Indira has been tirelessly supporting them as they rebuild their lives.
I call on all of us to remember this: my friend Phymean Noun, the same woman who shared the stage with Queen Silvia of Sweden for a moment, will soon return to the garbage dumps of Phnom Penh in Cambodia. And she will continue the courageous work she has been doing for the last thirteen years.
Phymean, as well as James and Indira, have a vision for the future of their communities. And it's a future where kids are in school, safe from harm, healthy, protected, and loved.
Please visit www.globalfundforchildren.org to learn more about The Global Fund for Children and how you can support the work of people like Phymean Noun.