the year in people our 12 favorite saturday profiles of 2023

From a Nobel Peace Prize winner, to a mayor hunted by the Russians, to a poet whose muses are cats, our profiles featured people shaping the world around them, often under the radar.

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.

All our subjects, from a teenage rapper in Chile to an 87-year-old climate scientist in Canada staring the “death zone” in the face, are leading lives of purpose. And whatever their passions — from protesting to sewage to lakes to batik to contemporary dance to legal marijuana — all our subjects are memorable characters.

Here are our 12 favorite Saturday Profiles of the year.

Johannes Fritz hatched a plan to show the endangered northern bald ibis a new, safer migration path that would bypass the Alps.Nina Riggio for The New York Times

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, a prominent Canadian TV anchor, let her hair go gray during the pandemic when hair salons shut down. Months later, she lost her job.Ian Willms for The New York Times

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

Shinjiro Atae, a J-pop idol, decided to come out publicly as gay during a fan event in Tokyo.Noriko Hayashi for The New York Times

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

María Mercedes Coroy, a Guatemalan actress who plays Princess Fen in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”Daniele Volpe for The New York Times

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

Tharshan Selvarajah, this year’s winner of the “Grand Prize of the Traditional French Baguette,” at his bakery in Paris in September.Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

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

Narges Mohammadi at her home in Tehran last year during a medical furlough from prison.Reihane Taravati

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 in his village, Deir al-Asal al-Fauqa. It lies just east of a gray wall, hundreds of miles long, that Israel built to curb Palestinian attacks from the West Bank.Laura Boushnak for The New York Times

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

Hwang In-suk said her nocturnal cat-feeding routine allows her to quietly observe not only cats, her favorite muses, but also her changing neighborhood.Jun Michael Park for The New York Times

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

Mayor Dan Carter at city hall in Oshawa, Ontario. Homeless and addicted to drugs from his teenage years until he was 31, he said he was fired from more jobs than he can remember.Ian Willms for The New York Times

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

Sadiq Fitrat Nashenas in the Netherlands in October.Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

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 performing in Johannesburg. She wrote the chorus to the global hit “Jerusalema” in 2019. While the song brought her global recognition, she is still fighting for financial reward.Alexia Webster for The New York Times

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

Smoke and dust rose in the air seconds after a Russian shell landed near the vehicle that Halyna Luhova, the mayor of Kherson, was traveling in, in Kherson, Ukraine, in February. Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

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

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