Not all teenagers were playing online games and watching live-streams during the pandemic. Five teenage girls were developing a low-cost, lightweight ventilator to help treat patients diagnosed with Covid-19 in Afghanistan. After final testing, its release is expected to offset a shortage of ventilators in the country.
The five girls—Somaya Faruqi, Ayda Hayderpoor, Elham Mansoori, Florance Pouya and Diana Wahabzada; all aged between 15 and 19—are part of the Afghan Girls Robotic Team, an all-female robotics team that was formed with help from New York-based nonprofit Digital Citizen Fund in 2017. They are also among the 20 honorees on this year’s 30 Under 30 Asia list who are 21 or younger proving that you’re never too young to make a difference and inspire others.
Yong Xun Ong, a 21-year-old in Malaysia, is another example of Gen-Zers not wasting any time during the pandemic. At the start of 2020, Ong, then 19, was teaching himself to code from YouTube videos while working part-time at a delivery company. That June, he released JomStudy, a free study app for students in Malaysia, which clocked over 10,000 downloads within the first four months of its release. Since then, the number of downloads doubled to 20,000 as the pandemic shut schools in Malaysia. Ong provides revision notes from high school graduates on the app and plans to expand its list of study aids, including videos and end-of-chapter quizzes in the second half of the year.
Kamal Singh‘s story is an inspirational one of following your passion. Singh was 17 years old and didn’t even fully understand ballet when he was admitted to the Imperial Fernando Ballet School in Delhi. He just knew he loved it after watching the Hindi dance film ABCD: Any Body Can Dance. Four years later, Singh has been training at the prestigious English National Ballet School since last year—the first Indian ever to be selected to the London-based ballet academy’s professional trainee program. The son of a rickshaw driver, Singh raised the $28,000 needed for school fees and other living expenses in just a few weeks through crowdfunding. Almost 300 people donated to his crowdfunding campaign, including Bollywood stars Kunal Kapoor and Hrithik Roshan.
In New Zealand, 21-year-old Grace Stratton, a lifelong wheelchair user who has cerebral palsy, started All is for All in 2019 to champion people with disabilities in the fashion industry. Her consultancy helped in casting six disabled models at New Zealand Fashion Week 2019‚ where Stratton was also named the keynote speaker. She was awarded New Zealand’s Attitude ACC Supreme Award in 2020 and the Innovation Award at the 2019 New Zealand Youth Awards.
This year’s honorees also include prodigies and future sports stars from across the region.
In Japan, 12-year-old Sumire Nakamura made her debut in April 2019 as a professional player of the ancient board game Go. At age 10, she was the youngest pro player ever. She lost her first match but won her second in July 2019, defeating 67-year-old Chieko Tanaka. Nakamura, who advanced to a 2nd-dan in March, is the daughter of a 9th-dan pro Go player Shinya Nakamura. She started playing the strategy game at age 3 years and competed in national tournaments by age 7.
Gaurika Singh, 18, has been swimming since she was 9 years old and has been competing for Nepal from the age of 12. At the 2019 South Asian Games she won four golds, two silvers, and three bronzes. She was the youngest athlete at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Singh had been selected for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, which have been postponed to July-August 2021. Aside from swimming, Singh is involved in charity work and is a goodwill ambassador for nonprofit organizations including Maiti Nepal and Shanti Education Initiative.
In 2019, Komalika Bari, who was just 17 at the time, became only the second Indian female archer, after Deepika Kumari in 2009, to win gold in the recurve cadet event at the World Archery Youth Championships in Madrid. The teenager followed that up with a silver medal in the individual event and a gold in the team recurve event at the inaugural Khelo India University Games in February 2020. Last month, Bari cleared the final trials to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.
And in Indonesia, sprinter Lalu Muhammad Zohri, dubbed “the fastest man in Southeast Asia,” set a new national record for an Indonesian of 10.13 seconds in the 100 meter race in 2019, winning a silver medal at the Asian Athletics Championships in Qatar. Zohri, now 20, will run at the Tokyo Olympics after finishing third at the 2019 Golden Grand Prix Osaka. At the 2018 World Athletics U20 Championships in Finland, Zohri became the first Indonesian to win a gold medal in the 100 meter at the junior championships.
To see the full list of the youngest honorees on this year’s Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list, click here.