Role Model Stories

These are sample stories of various people throughout Europe we chose as role models based on their outstanding character and actions. They are meant to inspire the project's participants and to serve as an example for writing their own stories.

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Austria
Daniela Iraschko-Stolz
Ski jumper
Daniela Iraschko-Stolz is an Austrian nordic skier and one of the most successful female ski jumpers of all time. In a career begun in 2000, Daniela has won virtually every trophy available in her sport. She finished the FIS Continental Cup, the highest-level female ski jumping competition at the time, in first place in three consecutive seasons from 2010 to 2012. She also won the recently created overall World Cup competition in the 2014/15 season and was runner-up on two other occasions. In 2011, she became World Champion on Oslo's famous Holmenkollen hill. She is also the first and thus far only woman to jump over 200 metres, a feat she managed in 2003. Daniela was one of the most important figures in the popularisation and promotion of the sport that led to its inclusion in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi for the first time in the history of the Olympics. She won the silver medal, missing the gold by just one point. Daniela is an outspoken lesbian, having married her partner Isabel Stolz in 2013. During the Sochi Olympics, she was asked to make a protest against Russia's contentious law banning gay propaganda. However, she refused to get involved in the controversy, saying she was there as a sportswoman, not an activist. In a display of sportsmanship, Daniela once loaned her back-up pair of skis to her rival, Slovenian Špela Rogelj, who was then leading the overall World Cup competition ahead of her, when Špela's own skis failed to be delivered to the competition venue on time. Daniela was nominated for the Fair Play Award of the European Fair Play Movement for this action by the Ski Association of Slovenia, and was given the award later that year.
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Belgium
Siona Rondou
Butcher shop owner
Siona Rondou is the manager of Rondou Butchery in Leuven, Belgium, which she owns together with her husband Filip. Rondou Butchery is a successful establishment with a long tradition, serving top quality meat and providing its products to high-end restaurants throughout the region. The Rondous have two children, Elias and Hannah. When Elias was five years old, he was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, an incurable genetic disease that affects one in about 3,000 boys. The disease causes muscles to gradually weaken and atrophy, and those affected by it usually become wheelchair-bound around the age of nine and only live to about 20 or 30 years. Despite the grim diagnosis, the Rondous never lost hope. They established contact with Professor Gunnar Buyse, a neurologist and paediatrician who is part of a team which conducts research into treatment options with the potential to vastly improve and prolong the lives of Duchenne sufferers. Encouraged by their progress, the Rondous endowed the Rondou Fund for Duchenne Research, with Siona becoming the Fund's organiser and Professor Buyse becoming its administrator. The goal of the Rondou Fund is twofold: to raise awareness of Duchenne dystrophy and to raise money for improving patient care and research. Soon after establishing the Fund, the Rondous hosted a well-attended benefit dinner that brought in 70,000 euros for support of researchers, clinicians, afflicted children and their parents.‬ 'We want to give the decisive push because we have already come so far,' said Siona after the fundraiser. ‪'We hope that as many children as possible with Duchenne can eventually see their sickness evolve from life-threatening to chronic.'‬‬‬
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Bosnia and Herzegovina
Arminka Helić
Politician
Arminka Helić is a Bosnian-born Muslim British politician. She grew up near Tuzla in then Yugoslavia and graduated from the University of Sarajevo in English language and literature. In 1992, when she was 24, an ethnic war broke out in her homeland of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Arminka was separated from her family and eventually found refuge in London. The horrific events she had witnessed and a desire to see her family alive and her country safe motivated her to change her focus in life to politics. Arminka was accepted into the London School for Economics and Political Science, and worked in an ice cream store to help pay her tuition fees. She received her master's degree in International History 1996 and entered the political arena, joining the Conservative Party. Arminka built up considerable expertise, going on to serve as Special Adviser to the former Foreign Secretary William Hague from 2010 to 2014. She is considered one of the most impressive foreign policy experts in the British Government and one of the most important persons in the Conservative Party. In 2014, Arminka was nominated to the House of Lords by Prime Minister David Cameron and was created a Life Peer, taking the title Baroness Helic, of Millbank in the City of Westminster. Through her work to stop sexual violence in wars, Arminka met and befriended UN Special Envoy for Refugees Angelina Jolie, who considers Arminka her mentor. Together, they were instrumental in the creation of the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative, launched by William Hague. Arminka and Angelina are also involved in the effort to aid the Syrian refugee crisis. 'The responsibility to help is not determined by the accident of geography but by adherence to universal human rights and values,' they wrote in an article. 'It transcends religion, culture and ethnicity. We should not be reaching for the lowest common denominator in our response to the refugee crisis, but striving to live up to our highest ideals.'
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Estonia
Pavel Kadõkov
Company owner
Pavel Kadõkov is an Estonian entrepreneur of Ukrainian heritage. When he was 19 years old, he lost his eyesight and right hand in a bomb explosion. After the accident, Pavel went through an existential crisis. Rather than give up on living, he looked inward, re-evaluated his life and decided to do the best he could with what he had. He funded and now runs two small businesses. One of them is providing training on how different sounds affect people's mind and body, and the other is producing natural cosmetics. Pavel leads all the processes from beginning to end, and establishes contacts with other companies for selling his products. He also worked with the library of Tartu University as a counsellor and manager for the production of audio books, a project that received recognition at international level. Despite his best efforts, Pavel cannot do everything by himself. He employs helpers and gives them instructions on how to assist him. However, his most important aide is his wife, whom he affectionately calls his 'eyes and hands', and who is instrumental in keeping his companies going. Pavel's condition has taught him to not take things for granted. His advice to sighted people is to learn how to see, a recommendation that does not seem to make any sense at first glance. However, he explains: 'Most people tend not to see things like they are, but in the light of earlier life experiences. So most people are actually more in contact with their memory instead of really seeing the ongoing situation. To be able to see the ongoing situation, we have to learn how to see.'
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Ethiopia
Urige Buta
Janitor / Athlete
Urige Buta is a Norwegian marathon runner hailing from Ethiopia. In 2003, he fled his home country after his father was arrested for political reasons. He eventually managed to make his way to Norway with no ID and no passport. At first, Urige was confined to a refugee camp, but after seeing him run and recognising his potential, Norway's athletic federation enlisted a local club to sponsor and arrange better accommodations for him. Within two years, Urige was the country's best long distance runner, winning the national 10,000 metre title in 2005, but due to his refugee status, he was unable to compete outside Norway. Furthermore, his full-time employment as a janitor left him little time to train and improve. He spent his days tidying up the local high school and divided the few hours of his free time between training and spending time with his wife and young son. In addition, the long and harsh and snowy Norwegian winters offered limited opportunities for outdoor training, so Urige would spend the winter months running up and down a mile-long service tunnel built for sewage pipes while he waited for the snow to melt. Despite these setbacks, Urige never gave up on his dream of competing in the Olympics. He finally managed to acquire full Norwegian citizenship in 2011 and qualified for the marathon competition in London 2012. He was given paid leave to focus on training, and he went on to represent his new country in the Olympic race. He finished in 36th place in a field of over 100, many of which professional athletes. Despite not having optimal training conditions, Urige does not complain. After his tribulations as a refugee, he is just happy to be alive and safe, and he is grateful to Norway for giving him a chance and enabling him a decent life.
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Germany
Christiane Woopen
Medical ethicist
Christiane Woopen is a German doctor of medicine and medical ethicist. She became a medical doctor in 1993 and worked in gynaecology and obstetrics before deciding to focus on medical ethics. She was elected into Germany's Ethics Council when it was founded in 2001, being its youngest member at the time, and went on to become its Chair in 2012, and the President of the Global Summit of National Ethics/Bioethics Committees in 2014. She is also a member of the International Bioethics Committee of UNESCO and a member of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts. Christiane's main research interests pertain to ethical questions in reproductive and prenatal medicine, neuroethics, health literacy and quality of life, as well as the future of health care in times of digitalisation. As Chair of the German Ethics Council, Christiane must often make difficult decisions that affect a nation of 80 million people. She and her 25 colleagues examine, discuss and form opinions on controversial issues such as stem cell research, preimplantation genetic diagnosis, abortions, biological weapons, organ transplantation and euthanasia. Many of the questions they consider are on the threshold between life and death. Despite being leader of the Council, Christiane sees her position as only a moderator role. 'It's not my job to influence majorities,' she says, 'but to allow debate and find solutions.' Christiane believes that people should take their decisions freely, but before they make a decision, they should be made to think. 'If you act ethically, you have to consider everything.' In addition to her many responsibilities, Christiane also finds time for her family. She is mother to four children, all of them girls.
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Germany
Miroslav Klose
Footballer
Miroslav Klose is a professional footballer and former German international striker. He was born in Poland to a Polish mother and a father of German heritage. His family moved to Germany when Miroslav was 8 years old and only knew two German words. He was not considered particularly talented, playing part-time in a local lower league club until he was twenty while learning to become a carpenter. He was once sent home from training with the words 'You'd be better off learning another job because you'll never have a career as a footballer.' However, his dedication, tenacity and efficient style of play eventually got him noticed, and he went on to be the second most prolific scorer in his first year in Germany's national league. Miroslav's biggest successes came on the international level, where he holds a number of records. He has scored the most goals (16) in the history of the FIFA World Cup, and he is also the German national team's top all-time scorer with 71 goals. He has played in four consecutive World Cups from 2002 to 2014, scoring at least twice in each one. In those four tournaments, the German team never finished worse than third, being runners-up in 2002 and world champions in 2014. Germany never lost a match in which Miroslav scored a goal. Along with being a world-class footballer, Miroslav is also known for his modesty and sportsmanlike conduct. Once, when his side was awarded a penalty after Miroslav was brought down by the keeper in the penalty area, he told the referee there had been no foul committed, thus getting the penalty kick cancelled. Another time, he accidentally put the ball in the net with his hand. He admitted this to the referee, who then disallowed the goal. Both these actions won him fair play awards. 'It's a big honour for me to receive this award,' Miroslav once said. 'But I am also a bit irritated. For me, it was something you should always do. I would do it again – always.'
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Greece
Antonis Deligiorgis
Army sergeant
Sergeant Antonis Deligiorgis is a member of the Hellenic Army who was involved in the rescue of several migrants and asylum seekers from Syria and Eritrea whose boat was wrecked off the island of Rhodes. The boat, carrying people from the Turkish coast, hit a reef at Zephyros beach and disintegrated, forcing its occupants to jump off. Antonis was at a local cafe at the time. As soon as he saw what had happened, he ran to the beach, took off his shirt and shoes and leapt into the sea. With the help of the skills he had learned in the army, he single-handedly helped 20 people to the shore, including women and children. With the help of other rescuers who arrived at the scene, 90 of the 93 shipwreck victims were saved from drowning. One of the women that was rescued, an Eritrean named Elizabeth, was heavily pregnant at the time. A few days later she gave birth to a boy, whom she named Antonis George after his saviour and the patron saint of the Greek Army. Antonis visited Elizabeth in the hospital, bringing her flowers, and although she was later granted asylum in Sweden, he kept in contact with her. The two still occasionally talk over the phone. Photos from the rescue were published in news media throughout the world. A week later, Greece's Defence Minister awarded Antonis the Cross of Excellency.
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Ireland
Kieran Behan
Gymnast
Kieran Behan is an Irish artistic gymnast and an Olympian who had to battle back from several setbacks during the course of his gymnastic career. In 1999, when he was ten years old, a tumour was discovered in his leg. The operation to remove it resulted in complications that left him in a wheelchair. Remarkably, he managed to recover and get back to training after only 15 months. Soon after, he hit his head on the high bar and suffered brain damage that confined him to a wheelchair again. He had to relearn basic skills such as sitting and moving his head, and was told he might never walk again. However, after three years of intense rehabilitation and support from his family and friends, Kieran astonished his doctors by once more making a full recovery and returning to training. He even managed to win several accolades in the junior categories. Kieran joined Ireland's national team and began to compete at senior international level in 2009. A few weeks before he was due to compete in the European Championships, he suffered another heavy blow when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in one of his knees, and tore the same ligament in his other knee soon after. He never gave up, however, and in 2011, he won three World Cup medals, made it to the number one spot in the world rankings on his preferred apparatus, the floor, and went on to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. He accomplished all this without a sponsor or national funding, acquiring the money needed for his travel and accommodation expenses with the help of his friends and family, who supported him with bake sales and other fundraisers. Competing in the Olympics, only the second Irish gymnast ever to do so, won Kieran international fame, a sponsor and a grant from the national Sports Council. Despite achieving his successes through his own perseverance and iron will, Kieran never forgets to thank his friends, family and coaches – and his luck.
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Italy
Giovanni Maddaloni
Judo trainer
Giovanni 'Gianni' Maddaloni is the founder of Star Judo Club and the Maddaloni Sport Centre in Naples. He is the father of three successful judo athletes, among which is Giuseppe Maddaloni, the 2000 Olympic champion in the lightweight division. Giovanni grew up in Scampia, an area of Naples dominated by the camorra, a powerful local organised crime society. While many of his fellows became involved with crime, Giovanni avoided such a fate thanks partly to his judo master, who taught him not only the rules of the sport, but also respect for others. Despite opposition by the camorra, Giovanni went on to set up a judo training facility near his home. It was founded not only with the goal of teaching judo to aspiring athletes, but also as a safe and positive environment for local youth to learn the right moral values and stay away from drugs and violence and avoid the influence of the camorra. Through the years, the centre has produced many national and international judo champions and provided a safe haven for many children and youths at risk of social exclusion. Handicapped children are encouraged to train along with others, and young criminals are rehabilitated and given a second chance. Giovanni also promotes cancer awareness, organises a prevention campaign, and has created an office where people can get diagnosed free of charge. Giovanni has written a book about his life, his work and his son's Olympic triumph, titled The Gold of Scampia. The book was later adapted into a movie. While grateful for this success, Giovanni has stated that what he considers truly valuable is what he has given to his community. His stated dream is to put an end to organised crime in his neighbourhood, and beyond.
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Malta
Dylan Muscat
Secondary school student
Dylan Muscat attends the St Thomas More College Boys' Secondary School in Ħamrun, Malta, and is the best friend of schoolmate Kyle Agius, who has communication difficulties. Dylan befriended Kyle in primary school, where the latter was hardly spoken to due to his condition. The two soon became inseparable, walking to and from school every day, spending school breaks together, with Dylan assisting Kyle in any way he could. He helped Kyle join his group of friends, making him grow in confidence and happiness. When Dylan was accepted into a church secondary school, it became clear that would mean he would become separated from Kyle. When he realised this, he refused the move and chose to stay with Kyle instead, and convinced his parents to support his decision. For this sacrifice, Dylan was awarded the Pope John XXIII Award in the President's Palace in Valletta in an event attended by Malta's President, Prime Minister and Education Minister. The award is given to children who show kindness and generosity to less fortunate people in need of help. At the ceremony, Dylan's mother said: 'We have always tried our best to raise our son with strong values. May he remain the kind person he is, helping others from the heart without expecting anything back.'
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Netherlands
Marianne Thieme
Politician / Animal rights activist
Marianne Thieme is a Dutch politician and co-founder of Party for the Animals (Partij voor de Dieren), a political party standing for animal rights and animal welfare. A jurist by education, Thieme became a vegetarian and started to campaign for animal rights during her student days. Along with other animal protectionists, she started the Party for the Animals in 2002. From its inception, the party steadily gained voters, eventually obtaining two seats in the House of Representatives of the Netherlands in the Dutch general elections in 2006, becoming the first party in the world to represent animal rights in parliament. Thieme was chosen as the party's parliamentary leader. In 2014, the party got over 4% of votes for the European Parliament election, which was enough for a seat in the European Parliament. Party for the Animals has already achieved noticeable results in the Netherlands, from enforcement of stricter video monitoring in slaughterhouses and live markets to securing public funding for the development of meat substitutes. They convinced the majority of the parliament to agree with them to outlaw the slaughter of animals without stunning. Their successes have also inspired the formation of many more animal parties throughout the world. Their stated long-term goals are to end the treatment of animals as economic products, to abolish factory farming, and to achieve a better society. Thieme criticises modern society's lack of compassion and sustainability, and links the troubles of our time – the economic crisis, climate change and widespread starvation – to greed and short-term human interests. She warns that if humanity does not change its attitude towards animals and nature, the consequences for future generations will be dire. However, she is an optimist, and predicts that through the efforts of people who share her vision, this will happen within 50 years.
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