PHOTO: Somali-born model and human rights campaigner, Austrian Waris Dirie poses, on March 4, 2010 in Paris, during an interview as part of the sales campaign of the film Desert flower based on her eponym book.

International Youth Day: 5 People Making a Difference

Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images

Today is International Youth Day, adopted by the United Nations to bring attention to some of the issues young people around the world face. The theme this year is "Youth Migration: Moving Development Forward." According to the UN, there were 27 million young international migrants in 2010 alone. Often, young people move for better opportunities - to get a job or to go to school. But sometimes migration is forced upon young people by civil war or famine. Other times, young people try to go abroad for a better life and end up enslaved as sex workers or laborers. Children are powerful, creative and smart, but they can also make for vulnerable and innocent targets. Here are five migrants who overcame all the odds and have used their childhood traumas to draw attention to the obstacles young people face around the world.

Waris Dirie
Supermodel Waris Dirie's life may look like it's been a glamorous whirlwind of photoshoots and catwalks, but it didn't start out that way. Dirie was born in Somalia and like nearly every girl there, experienced female genital mutilation as a child. She fled at age 13 after she was forced into a marriage with a man old enough to be her grandfather. She eventually ended up in London, where a photographer discovered her and her modeling career took off. She was also appointed to be a UN special ambassador to draw attention to the thousands of girls who experience female genital mutilation every day. She has traveled the world to talk about the issue and has her own foundation, books and a film dedicated to ending the practice.
PHOTO: Model Waris Dirie presents her new book Schwarze Frau, Weisses Land at Hotel Adlon on May 18, 2010 in Berlin, Germany.
Emmanuel Jal
The hip-hop artist has used music to draw attention to the plight of child soldiers, a life he knows well. Jal was born in war-torn Sudan and conscripted to be a soldier as a young boy after trying to cross into Ethiopia for a chance at an education. He eventually escaped and was adopted by British aid worker Emma McClune, who was killed shortly after taking him in, but not before smuggling him to Kenya. After a tumultuous childhood that involved time spent struggling to survive in slums, he began recording music and speaking about the need for peace and prosperity in Africa. He opens up about his experience in the song "War Child" and in a documentary by the same name that received acclaim on the film circuit, including at the renowned Tribeca Film Festival. "I believe I've survived for a reason, to tell my story, to touch lives," he raps. In addition to his music, Jal founded a charity that offers scholarships to Sudanese war refugees.
PHOTO: Singer and former Sudanese child soldier Emmanuel Jal addresses the audience during the 2010 Courage Forum with Sir Richard Branson & Philippe Petit presented by The Americas Business Council Foundation at MOMA on May 5, 2010 in New York City.
Malala Yousafzai
Yousafzai drew the eyes of the world after she was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen as she returned home from school in 2012 at the age of 15. The Pakistani teen had drawn the ire of the group for speaking out in favor of educating girls and against bans on the education of women. After months of rehabilitation and surgery, Malala spoke at the United Nations last month "for the right of every child," she said. The UN declared her birthday, July 12, "Malala Day." The teen, who now lives and attends school in Britain, has vowed to keep fighting for women and girls in Pakistan and around the world.
PHOTO: Pakistani student Malala Yousafzai speaks before the United Nations Youth Assembly July 12, 2013 at UN headquarters in New York.
Leo Manzano
Manzano earned national acclaim when he won a silver medal for the United States in the men's 1,500 meter running event at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. But stepping onto the podium in red, white and blue wasn't always a sure bet. The runner crossed into the United States from Mexico without papers as a toddler and didn't gain legal status until he was a teeenager. He even stirred a cultural debate after he waved both Mexican and American flags following his victory. Regardless, his win drew attention to the uncertainty many young DREAMers face and served as an example of what they can achieve when given the chance.
PHOTO: Leonel Manzano of the United States celebrates after winning silver in the Mens 1500m Final on Day 11 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 7, 2012 in London, England.
Somaly Mam
Mam was born into extreme poverty in Cambodia and sold into sexual slavery as a child. After years of rape and torture, she escaped to Paris. She returned to her home country to fight sex trafficking, however, and has a foundation dedicated to saving and empowering survivors of the sex trade. She has won recognition from the U.S. State Department and was named one of Time Magazine's 100 most influential people in 2009.
PHOTO: Somaly Mam speaks at the Somaly Mam Foundation NYC benefit gala at 583 Park Avenue on September 17, 2009 in New York City.
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