While it’s nice to look to the future and focus on what 2020 could have in store, sometimes it can be helpful to look back and reflect on what we can learn from 2019. 

With that said, here are 10 ordinary people from across the globe who inspired us with their extraordinary stories last year.

1. Huang Yung-fu, 96

Huan Yung-fu (also known as ‘Grandpa Rainbow’) was 86-years-old when he set out to save his village from being knocked down by the government in Taiwan. 

Starting with a single bird on his bedroom wall, he began covering as many bare surfaces as he could with beautiful, vibrant illustrations of birds, cats and people. 

News quickly spread about what Huang was doing and people flocked to the village to see his work. Once the government saw how much tourism Huang’s art work was bringing to Taiwan, they agreed to save his home!

Today, even though his village is now safe, Huang continues to paint – often making a 4am start! Over the last 10 years his village (now known as Rainbow Village) has turned into an explosion of colour, made up of tens of thousands of his illustrations.

Grandpa Rainbow told the BBC, “You are never too old to paint. You are always welcome to come visit and say hi.”

If you’d like to learn more about Huang Yung-fu and see some of his illustrations, you can do so on the BBC website.

2. Guy Bryant, 61

Over the last 12 years, single Dad, Guy Bryant has cared for over 50 young men between the ages of 18-21 years old, after they grew too old for the foster care system. 

Guy had worked within the foster care system in New York for many decades, but decided he wanted to do more. He initially took in one young man in 2007, but then decided to foster the man’s friend and that friend’s brother. 

Before he knew it, he was renting space on the floor above for nine men he was fostering, and has carried on ever since.

Inspired by his own childhood – which helped him to realise that a physical home, trust and stability are needed to successfully raise children – Guy has no plans to retire and would like to continue helping children who need a place to call their own. 

Bryant told the Huffington Post, “The Mr Bryant approach is I love you regardless. You could become a brain surgeon or you could be a bathroom cleaner — it doesn’t matter. Once you come into my home and you’ve been with me and you’ve been here, you’re my kid for life. That’s my approach. You’ll always have a bed to come to, a shower to take — you’ll always be able to come home. This is home.

3. Annette Flaherty, 50

To mark her 50th birthday last year, Annette Flaherty decided to do something she would never forget – run 50 miles for 50 weeks throughout the year to raise money for St Andrew’s Hospice and neurological research charity Funding Neuro

However, she exceeded her expectations and managed to run closer to 60 miles every week, raising nearly £7,000 for her chosen charities.

Annette, from Airdrie, completed her last run of 2019 at midnight on New Year’s Eve, making her total mileage for the year equivalent to 109 marathons!

Annette told the Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser, “My friend was asking what I was going to do for my birthday; at first I said I’d do 50 different things but then said, ‘I’ll run 50 miles a week for 50 weeks. I don’t know why, as I’d never done more than 30 miles in one week before this. I just blurted it out on a whim – but then I knew I was going to do it.

It’s a big commitment as my regime also includes yoga and stretching as well as the run, and I have my husband Tom, daughters Heather and Hayley, three dogs, working full-time and everything else in daily life.

Well done Annette!

4. Maura Ward, 70

Last summer, Maura celebrated her 70th birthday by climbing Mount Fuji – Japan’s tallest and most iconic mountain, standing at 3776 metres tall – and raising over £14,000 for The Cure Parkinson’s Trust

The mum-of-two and former Education Officer was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2013, which only intensified her desire to see as much of the world as possible. To date, she has travelled to over 60 countries, including Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and North Korea!

Speaking to Rest Less last year, Maura said, “I am affected by Parkinson’s, but it’s manageable and I feel very strongly that you have to fight these things and not take them lying down. I’d always wanted to travel when I retired and I was damned if Parkinson’s was going to get in my way.

“Travelling has given me a completely new lease of life. It’s given me something to aim for – to get as much done and under my belt as I can. I feel that tomorrow is too far away and that if you have things you want to do, the time is now.”

You can read Maura’s full interview with Rest Less here.

5. Edith Oakley, 99

In 2019, Edith Oakley was named as Bloodwise’s longest-serving volunteer. She has raised £240,000 for the UK-based blood cancer charity since losing her son John to Leukemia sixty years ago. 

At the time of John’s death, there was a lack of medical knowledge and treatment about blood cancers and Edith became determined to make sure that others would have a better chance at surviving the disease.

Edith and her husband Laurie began fundraising for the Leukaemia Research Fund (now called Bloodwise) in 1961, by selling handmade aprons, holding dance events and taking part in sponsored walks and bike rides. 

Two years later, the first Leukaemia research unit opened and since then Bloodwise has invested £500 million into scientific research on blood cancer. This has had a huge impact on the survival rates of people diagnosed with a range of different blood cancers – and currently, six out of every 10 people diagnosed with blood cancer in the UK survive for 10 years or more.

Although Edith isn’t able to remain as active as she once was with her involvement in the charity, she is currently the main contact for the Borehamwood and Radlett branch of Bloodwise and stays connected with them in any way that she can.

Edith did a full interview with Rest Less last year, which you can read here.

6. Jeanne Socrates, 77

Last year, Jeanne Socrates was named the oldest woman to sail around the world alone, on a non-stop voyage lasting 320 days – which raised £2,000 for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).

Jeanne, from Hampshire, began sailing with her husband in 1997 and when he died in 2003, she continued to sail alone. During this time, she experienced many setbacks including two failed attempts at a non-stop sail around the world and a fall from her boat which broke her neck and several ribs. 

Nonetheless, her persistence and determination paid off and she triumphed last year as she completed the round-the-world trip for a second time, at age 77 (she had already been the world’s oldest person to complete it in 2013)!

Jeanne, we salute you!

7. Vidya Raju, 60

Sixty-year-old Vidya Raju, from Kochi (Kerala), India, is a wildlife rescuer who has rescued more than 1,000 snakes in her local area over the last couple of decades.

Vidya’s work began when she was working as a volunteer for the World Wildlife Fund. She realised that she was particularly intrigued by snakes, so she carried out research into how to identify venomous and non-venomous species (common poisonous snake species in Kerala include the Indian Cobra, King Cobra, Russell’s Viper, Saw-scaled Viper and Krait)!

Before long, Vidya was rescuing snakes that were infringing on the local area and handing them over to the Forest Department.

Her role became particularly useful when the area flooded in 2018 – she was getting two to three calls a day from people who had snakes turning up in their houses. Vidya admits that she has been bitten a few times by non-venomous snakes.

She told Your Story, “Once, I took the live snake with me to the hospital to show them it was non-venomous. But to be on the safe side, they kept me under observation at the ICU. Kochi holds a very special place in my heart, but I am 60 now, and don’t know how long my reflexes will hold. But I hope to continue with my work. All I want to do is contribute my bit to society, in whatever way I can. And this is the way I know best.”

8. John and Phylis Cook, 100 and 102

John and Phylis Cook first met at their Ohio senior living facility, where they are now living as newlyweds! 

John is a 100-year-old veteran and Phyllis – whose mother lived to be 106 – is now 103. And their relationship blossomed over the course of a year, until they finally tied the knot in the summer of 2019. 

News of their marriage has given hope to millions of us across the globe by reminding us that it’s never too late to find love again.

Phylis told 24 News, “To tell you the truth, we fell in love with each other. I know you think that may be a little bit far-fetched for somebody our age, but we fell in love with each other.”

Although the couple are smitten with one another and spend many hours together dining and sitting in the sun, they still understand the importance of space and have decided to keep their separate apartments – John upstairs and Phyliss down. 

However, when asked what they’re favourite thing to do together was John told 24 News, “Well I probably shouldn’t talk about that.”

We’d like to wish the happy couple all the best for the future!

9. Benôit Lecomte, 52

French swimmer, Benôit Lecomte, recently swam through The Great Garbage Patch – a vortex of swirling plastic rubbish between Hawaii and California – to raise awareness of climate change and find out more about how plastics pollution is affecting our oceans. 

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch stretches on for 371 miles and holds 79,000 tons of rubbish including toothbrushes, laundry baskets, sandbox shovels and beer crates!

Benôit – who was accompanied by a team some of the way – is the first swimmer to ever attempt a swim of this kind and used it as an opportunity to collect plastic samples and attach GPS tags on larger plastic waste to help scientists get a better idea about the journey that plastic takes through our oceans.

Partway through his swim last year, Benôit told The Guardian, “Our goal is to arrive in California with the first transpacific dataset on plastic pollution, and engage as many people as possible to be part of the solution.”

10. Christine Rollinson, 57

Christine Rollinson was 52 years old when she left an unhappy relationship and found herself with no job, no home and no clue where to turn next! 

Having been out of work for 25 years (whilst raising her three children) and out of education for 40 years, she felt unsure about what opportunities would be available to her.

However, in July last year, at age 57, Christine graduated with a 2:1 degree in Criminology from the University of Sunderland and by October, she was starting her Master’s degree and continuing to look towards the future! Now Christine would like to encourage others to believe in themselves and keep moving forward – even when it seems like all is lost.

In an interview with us last year, she said, “To anyone thinking about doing something similar, I would say don’t even think about it, just go for it – without a doubt. I’ve heard people say they’re frightened of failing, but once you get into the work, you realise that you can do it. Age isn’t a barrier – if you get out of that mindset of thinking that you’re too old, then you really can achieve anything.

You can read Christine’s full interview here.

Are you inspired by the people in this article? Do you know of any other inspirational individuals? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.