In Search of Hope the introduction to the book.

More than a year ago, I embarked on a journey around the world—a physical trip with a spiritual motivation. It had to do with the meaning of my life and the meaning of the deaths of those I have loved, but first and foremost, it had to do with my son. How could I inspire my boy, Adam, now five years old, to embrace the world and claim it as his own? It would be legitimate for him to be scared; aren't we all? But was there a way he could genuinely feel hopeful instead?

When confronted with seemingly endless headlines about everything that's going on in the world, most of us take it all in on automatic pilot, struggling to resist the claws of helplessness—that feeling that makes the heart crack open the same way droughts split the thirsty earth. Those cracks in our hearts are where fear settles, distorting our perception of the world and our relationships with others. That fear allows the values that are essential to our integrity—justice and dignity, empathy and price—to remain hostage to empty rhetoric. But that's not the world. Not necessarily. And the women in this book will prove it.

Personally, I learned the lesson about helplessness the hard way, when my father killed himself. A Dutch idealist, he believed politics could save the world, and so he enthusiastically joined other people's revolutions in Africa, Portugal, Cuba and France. My dad did not take into account that people are people; some thirst for power, others are easily lured into corruption. When politics failed him, disillusion hit him hard. I was nine years old when he passed away. The Cuban revolution had turned into a dictatorship; the French students' rebellion of May 1968 was long forgotten. Africa was soaking into its own blood; and my father was dead. But his last words to me saved my life. It was the conclusion he had reached after a lifetime of searching for the meaning of his own life in the midst of demonstrations and feverish political plans. These words are my heritage, and no money could buy their wisdom: "Don't be cynical," my father told me. "Cynicism is the weapon of the weak."

Then there was my Cuban mother, who taught me how to live. She believed in people, ordinary ones. She had many friends and was expert in matters of the heart. She practically raised all the kids on the Paris block where I grew up, and she had genuine faith in them. Even though she was a woman left alone with two children far away from her beloved native Cuba, she wasn't helpless. To us children she was a triumphant queen, blessed with the fit of bringing others joy. She passed away in 1999.

A few years later, my husband, Danny Pearl, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, was kidnapped and brutally murdered by religious extremists in Pakistan. I was five months pregnant with our son. Danny's killers claimed that he was a spy working for the CIA and Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, and that because he was a Jew and an America, he deserved death. In reality, Danny was a true citizen of the world who spoke several languages, even some Arabic; he was full of life, smart as hell and funny, too. I adored him. When he died, everything I learned from my parents' lives and deaths came back to me—the politics, the cynicism, my mother's fundamental belief in human nature, the justice, the pride, the dignity. It all came back. And I knew too well the one thing that could defeat me and, my extension, my husband's memory and our son: helplessness. I decided that if those who killed my husband were determined to show the gruesome side of humanity, I would display its integrity, beauty and resilience. That would be my true revenge.

So I embarked on this journey in search of light. It couldn't be a divine light—it had to be human, as I believe only people can undo what people have created. And I chose to focus on women. Why women? Will all due respect to the other half of humanity, I have found that women are the most courageous, tough and determined agents of change around—that's just the way it is on every continent. If women were in power everywhere, I believe that the world would be in different shape, even though women (and their children) are always the most vulnerable victims of hunger, war and disease. Women are the foundation of every family—and every community—and so when a woman stands up to fight for her beliefs, entire families and communities are lifted up. Because the women profiled in this book knew to fight helplessness first, no evil person or deed has been able to stop them. It doesn't matter what others did wrong or how little power they once thought they possessed. They fought doubts and fears, converted anger into indignation and indignation into action, and in doing so gave birth to a renewed hope. Any woman or man who builds hope never fails to inspire it in others.

The women featured here have championed issues that ultimately affect us all. They are real women who have cried, sweat and bled, each making her own life the raw material from which a role model has arisen. With them, I marched into the brothers of Phnom Penh, where I looked into the eyes of five-year-olds who had been raped and couldn't even blink anymore, their little faces frozen in terror. I saw them find their smiles in the arms of Somaly Mam, the woman who saved them. I saw entire families in Uganda defeated by AIDS staring at the ground, as if wanting to be swallowed by it. But there was Dr. Julian Atim, the young doctor who herself lost both parents to the disease, teaching other AIDS orphans that they, too, could become physicians and save lives. I saw housewives in Havana whose husbands were rotting in jail simply because they believe freedom isn't a negotiable right; these women led dignified protests, resisting the fear that has quieted Cuba for almost 50 years. I met Lydia Cacho, the Mexican journalist who has risked her life to unveil a pedophile network involving politicians and businessman, and Mayerly Sanchez, who at 23 is leading a group of Columbian children seeking to halt years of violence in their country. There are other women featured here—and still others I haven't met who I hope will soon join this informal international network of women with faith and guts.

I embarked on this journey with the help of Glamour magazine, which has supported by quest and trusted my work. For inspiration along the way, I have turned time and time again to a quote from a speech the late Senator Robert Kennedy gave at the University of Cape Town, in South Africa, in 1966:

"Few will have the greatness to bend history; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation...It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is thus shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

Here are some ripples of hope: real women and their dreams for humanity.