Polio has been officially wiped out in Somalia. Though torn by war and ravaged by poverty, the African nation has been polio-free for the last year, thanks to a massive inoculation program by the World Health Organization. “This truly historic achievement shows that polio can be eradicated everywhere,” said the WHO’s Hussein Gezairy. Among the 10,000 volunteers who helped vaccinate the population was Ali Mao Moallim, a Somalian who, more than 30 years ago, was the last person in the world known to contract smallpox. “I wanted to help ensure that we would not be the last place with polio, too,” he said.

A note in a plastic bottle, cast into the Pacific off the coast of Seattle in 1987, has been found in a remote fishing village in Alaska. Merle Brandell found the bottle while beachcombing along Nelson Lagoon. The message read, in part: “This letter is part of our science project to study oceans and learn about people in distant lands.” It was signed Emily Hwaung, grade four. It took some doing, but Brandell tracked her down; she is now a 30-year-old accountant who still lives in Seattle. “I don’t remember the project,” she admitted. “It was so long ago. Elementary school is kind of foggy.”

Born with visual and auditory disorders, Ali Cardaropoli of Plano, Texas, wasn’t expected to pass elementary school. In fact, she is about to graduate high school—as class valedictorian. When she was younger, words and symbols were a jumble to her; she couldn’t memorize the alphabet other than the letters A, I, and L. But Ali bore down and studied for at least four hours a night. Now, not only is she first in her class, she is also about to direct a play she wrote, and will perform in two other school productions, one in Spanish. “You either give up on yourself or you go push yourself and say, ‘I’m not going to quit,’” she said.