A teenager jailed in Egypt, determined to bear witness to the abuses he suffered during years of detention. A proponent of peace in Colombia, shadowed by death threats. A father in India, fighting his own patriarchal impulses to give his two daughters a better life.
With reports from six continents and 34 countries, the Saturday Profile in 2023 revealed people making a difference, mostly under the radar. Every week, our correspondents often sought out not the famous nor the powerful, but the unheralded with stories worth hearing.
A Muslim cleric in Ukraine, now a medic on the front lines of the war. An anticorruption whistle-blower in Bangkok, with (he’d be the first to admit) a disreputable past. A scientist and hair salon owner in Paris, dedicated to styling curly hair.
Some of our subjects spoke to top news trends, like Africa’s first heat officer; an ex-fisherman devoted to persuading fellow Senegalese not to migrate to Europe; and a rap producer in France, who lost his voice to A.L.S. and was experimenting with artificial intelligence to replace it.
Using an ultralight aircraft, Johannes Fritz once taught endangered ibises a migration path over the Alps. Because of climate change, he decided he had to use the same innovative method to show them a much longer route to a winter’s refuge, or the birds, which had once died out entirely from the wild, would disappear a second time.
“Two or three years, and they’d be extinct again,” Mr. Fritz said.
— By Denise Hruby, photographs by Nina Riggio
Lisa LaFlamme was dismissed after a decades-long TV career, not long after she had stopped dyeing her hair, setting off debates across Canada about sexism, ageism and going gray.
“The most comments I ever received were not for months in Baghdad or Afghanistan, or any story, but when I let my hair grow gray — bar none,” Ms. LaFlamme said. “And I will say this, 98 percent positive, except a couple of men and a woman — it’s funny that I can actually remember that — but they were summarily destroyed on social media because women do support women.”
— By Norimitsu Onishi, photographs by Ian Willms
Standing onstage in a dark auditorium in front of 2,000 fans in central Tokyo, Shinjiro Atae, a J-pop idol, revealed something he has kept hidden for most of his life: He is gay.
“I don’t want people to struggle like me,” Mr. Atae said, making an announcement that is extremely unusual in conservative Japan.
— By Motoko Rich and Hikari Hida, photographs by Noriko Hayashi
After filming her part in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” María Mercedes Coroy returned to her life of farming and trading in a Guatemalan town at the base of a volcano.
“People ask me what I do after filming,” Ms. Coroy said. “I go back to normal.”
— By Julia Lieblich, photographs by Daniele Volpe
After 17 years in France, Tharshan Selvarajah has yet to apply for citizenship. But he has made bread for President Emmanuel Macron.
He said it’s his hands that make his bread special.
“My mother’s chicken curry and my wife’s chicken curry may use the same chicken but they do not taste the same,” he said. “God gave me the hands to make the best baguette in France! I am never angry with the flour as I knead the dough.”
— By Roger Cohen, photographs by Dmitry Kostyukov
Fighting for change has cost Narges Mohammadi her career, separated her from family and deprived her of liberty. But a jail cell has not succeeded in silencing her.
“I sit in front of the window every day, stare at the greenery and dream of a free Iran,” Ms. Mohammadi said in a rare and unauthorized telephone interview from inside Evin Prison in Tehran. “The more they punish me, the more they take away from me, the more determined I become to fight until we achieve democracy and freedom and nothing less.”
In October, four months after this profile was published, Ms. Narges won the Nobel Peace Prize.
— By Farnaz Fassihi
Moha Alshawamreh is among the few Palestinians working in Israel’s tech industry. His commute shows both the inequities of life in the West Bank and an exception to them.
“My message is that we should learn more about each other,” Mr. Alshawamreh said. “Break the walls, talk — and put ourselves in each other’s shoes and see each other as two traumatized peoples.”
(This profile was published in March, seven months before a Hamas-led attack on Israel led to a war in Gaza.)
— By Patrick Kingsley, photographs by Laura Boushnak
The South Korean writer Hwang In-suk feeds stray cats on late-night walks through Seoul. The routine informs her poems about loneliness and impermanence.
“I’ve found worlds that I wouldn’t have found if I had not been feeding cats at night,” she said on a recent nocturnal stroll.
— By Mike Ives, photographs by Jun Michael Park
Dan Carter was on the streets for 17 years. His experience informs his policy agenda as mayor of Oshawa, Ontario, a city of 175,000 struggling with overdoses and affordability.
“For 17 years, I was an absolutely horrible individual,” Mr. Carter said of his years as an addict. “Horrible individual. I lied, cheated, stole.”
— By Ian Austen, photos by Ian Willms
For his fellow exiles, Sadiq Fitrat Nashenas, an 88-year-old star singer from a golden era, evokes the Afghanistan they left behind, and one that could have been.
“I was just trying to hold on to my music, because music takes me to God, to the heavens,” he said before taking the stage for a recent concert, his first public performance in nearly 20 years. “Life without music is a mistake.”
— By Mujib Mashal, photographs by Jim Huylebroek
Nomcebo Zikode, the South African singer of the pandemic hit “Jerusalema” that inspired a global dance challenge, wrote the chorus while battling her own depression.
“As if there’s a voice that says you must kill yourself,” Ms. Zikode said, describing her depression at the time. “I remember talking to myself saying, ‘no, I can’t kill myself. I’ve got my kids to raise. I can’t, I can’t do that.’”
— By Lynsey Chutel, photographs by Alexia Webster
Being the leader of Kherson may feel more like a curse than an honor. But one woman isn’t giving up, even though the Russians are sitting just across the river and shelling her city nearly every hour.
“If I could disappear into the air and end this war, I would,” said Halyna Luhova, the mayor. “I’d easily sacrifice myself for ending this hell.”
— By Jeffrey Gettleman, photographs by Ivor Prickett