What is a Hero?

“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles” said Christopher Reeve.

I like this definition, particularly the notion that a hero is basically an ordinary person, who develops extraordinary qualities. Have you ever thought about what attributes make a protagonist someone we admire and empathise with? For me, heroes, whether in real life or fiction, are characterised by their outstanding ability to overcome adversity. Such a person can inspire us to be better, in the same way that Captain Sir Tom Moore did by going the extra miles with his Zimmer frame to raise millions for the NHS.

Recently, I was very moved by a news report, which told the story of a young schoolboy who has stepped in to take classes at his school. The BBC news film, by correspondent Orla Guerin from the city of Taiz in Yemen, showed us a horrifying glimpse of school life on the front-line of a war. The country’s government is fighting Houthi rebels and recently reclaimed the area from the insurgents.

Teachers decided to re-open the school in spite of the extensive damage to the buildings. They did not want the fighting to prevent the children from continuing their education. Hundreds of infant school children make the journey each day to the ruins of a school, which has no roof or windows and few walls. Their lessons are interrupted by the sound of shelling and gunfire. Due to the war, the teachers work without pay and don’t make it into school every day.

Ahmed, a nine-year-old boy who has been blind from birth, stands in for the absent teachers some days. He likes to teach the subjects he has already studied – science and the Koran. He stands at the front of a packed classroom where the pupils are sitting cross-legged on a concrete floor. He and his sister, who is also blind, are led to school in a chain of three by a schoolfriend, who Ahmed calls his “car”. The film shows them running, sometimes stumbling, along a dusty road, strewn with rock-sized debris. During the interview, we see Ahmed twitching painfully each time he hears the bang of an explosion. He says “When I hear the noise, I think I’m going to die.”

Ahmed’s inner strength is clearly visible in his determined expression. The courage of all the children and teachers in a horrendous environment is truly incredible. Let’s hope that Ahmed’s dreams come true. That his school can have more blackboards. That one day soon it will have chairs, doors, windows and even a roof to protect the children from the rain. And that one day soon the sound of the shelling will cease for good.


  1. Carol Rutherford

    Another thought-provoking piece, Nick. I’ve enjoyed reading all your blogs.
    I, too, saw Orla Guerin’s report from Yemen, and was full of admiration for the young, blind boy. What a lot he can teach us about determination in the face of extreme danger: a true hero!
    And so is Orla Guerin who frequently travels to war- zones in attempting to make the wider world aware of the atrocities suffered by so many.

    • Nick Sands

      Thanks Carol, I’m glad you like my blogs. I think it’s great to find out about truly brave people like Ahmed and Orla. Recent times of crisis have made us to appreciate many more unsung heroes. Best wishes.

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