The top 10 Heroes: In their own words

Updated 1650 GMT (0050 HKT) December 7, 2012
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Pushpa Basnet was shocked to learn that children in Nepal were living in prisons with their parents. In 2005, she started a children's center that has provided housing, education and medical care to more than 140 children of incarcerated parents. "I always had a dream to build our own home for these children, and I want to rescue more children who are still in prisons," Basnet said. See more photos of Pushpa Basnet, who was voted CNN Hero of the Year for 2012. Sumnima Udas/CNN
Wanda Butts lost her son in a drowning accident six years ago. In his memory, she started the Josh Project, a nonprofit that taught nearly 1,200 children -- most of them minorities -- how to swim. "I started the Josh Project to keep other mothers from having to suffer such unforgettable loss," she said. See more photos of Wanda Butts CNN
Mary Cortani is a former Army dog trainer who started Operation Freedom Paws, a nonprofit that helps war veterans train their own service dogs. Since 2010, she has worked with more than 80 veterans who have invisible wounds such as post-traumatic stress disorder. "I'm hoping this brings awareness to the world that PTSD is real and that we will be able to reach more veterans who so desperately need help," Cortani said. See more photos of Mary Cortani Christie O'Reilly/CNN
Catalina Escobar is helping young moms in Colombia, where one in five girls age 15-19 is or has been pregnant. Since 2002, her foundation has provided counseling, education and job training to more than 2,000 teenage mothers. "Teenage pregnancy is a world poverty problem, and we have developed models of intervention that break the cycle," Escobar said. "I want to share it with people around the world." See more photos of Catalina Escobar Kathleen Toner/CNN
Razia Jan is fighting to educate girls in rural Afghanistan, where terrorists will stop at nothing to keep them from learning. She and her team at the Zabuli Education Center are providing a free education to about 350 girls, many of whom wouldn't normally have access to school. "This honor is a God-given gift that will make it possible for me to continue to give a ray of hope to these girls," Jan said. "My goal is to break the cycle of violence." See more photos of Razia Jan CNN
Thulani Madondo struggled as a child growing up in the slums of Kliptown, South Africa. Today, his Kliptown Youth Program provides school uniforms, tutoring, meals and activities to 400 children in the community. "We're trying to give them the sense that everything is possible," he said. See more photos of Thulani Madondo CNN
In memory of his daughter who was killed by a drunken driver in 2007, Leo McCarthy started Mariah's Challenge. The nonprofit gives college scholarships to teenagers who pledge not to drink while they're underage. Nearly $150,000 in scholarship money has been awarded. "We can change an apathetic culture of teenage drinking and driving," McCarthy said. "Hopefully one day soon we will not need Mariah's Challenge." See more photos of Leo McCarthy CNN
Connie Siskowski is helping young people who have to take care of an ill, disabled or aging family member. Since 2006, her nonprofit has provided assistance to more than 550 young caregivers in Palm Beach County, Florida. "I can only believe that when more people understand about this precious population, they, too, will want to recognize and support them," Siskowski said. "These children suffer silently behind closed doors." See more photos of Connie Siskowski Danielle Berger/CNN
After beating his addiction to drugs and alcohol, Scott Strode found support through sports. Since 2007, his nonprofit, Phoenix Multisport, has provided free athletic activities and a sober support community to more than 6,000 participants in Colorado. "This is an opportunity to shine a light on individual stories of recovery and sobriety in a way that will help remove the shame and stigma that surrounds dependency and addiction," he said. See more photos of Scott Strode Kathleen Toner/CNN
Malya Villard-Appolon is a rape survivor dedicated to supporting victims of sexual violence in Haiti. In 2004, she co-founded KOFAVIV, an organization that has helped more than 4,000 rape survivors find safety, psychological support and/or legal aid. "This encourages me to continue to fight on behalf of women and girls who are victims," she said. "I hope it brings about a change for my country." See more photos of Malya Villard-Appolon CNN