Good News Stories That Will Brighten Your Day
We've rounded up the most heartwarming and inspirational good news stories from around the world.
Photo: Courtesy General Drones
These Lifeguard Drones are Actually Helping to Save Lives
Every year, around 263,000 people worldwide die by drowning. And while we may think that a drowning person thrashes about and waves for help, real-life drownings often happen quickly and silently.
Adrián Plazas, a former lifeguard, knows this all too well. Several years ago, he and his business partner, Enrique Fernández, witnessed a woman drowning, and despite acting quickly, they were unable to save her. This experience was life-altering for Plazas.
The industrial engineer is now CEO of General Drones, a Spanish company he founded with Fernández, who works in drone manufacturing. The two combined their knowledge to create a search-and-rescue drone that can help prevent drowning.
If a lifeguard notices a person in distress in the water, they can notify a drone pilot, who’s also at the beach and can send the drone out directly to the victim. The pilot locates the victim with the help of a camera attached to the drone, which can reach them in just a few seconds.
This is important, says Plazas, because “the lifeguards have more time to arrive.” The drone then drops a life vest (which automatically inflates when it touches the water) to the victim while lifeguards are en route. By hovering above the victim, the drone helps the lifeguard quickly locate the person who is struggling in the water.
Though the project started in 2015, Plazas says it took time to get from a prototype to a finished product. “It was important to design something specifically for the beach because it’s a tough environment. You have the humidity, the sun, the high wind,” he says.
To date, their drones have attended more than 60 emergencies, and have been deployed at 22 beaches in Spain. He’s hoping that more investments and attention will help them expand their services to other countries. —Tina Knezevic
Photo: A_B_C / Shutterstock.com
Canada’s New Hotline For Immediate Mental Health Help
Everyone knows that when there’s an emergency, you dial 911. But what if you’re having a mental health crisis? A 2020 CBC investigation showed that 68 per cent of people killed in police encounters in Canada have suffered from mental health or addiction issues (or both).
This is part of why, later this year, Canada is introducing a new emergency number to help people experiencing mental health crises and provide suicide prevention support. When it launches, 988 will be available countrywide, and advocates hope the number will provide people in crisis with an easy way to access help either by phone or text. —Tina Knezevic
Photo: Dmitriev Mikhail / Shutterstock.com
Reigniting a Love of Reading
In the Mediterranean city of Tartus, Syria, Mohamed Zaher spends his time manning a kiosk called Wisdom Seller, which invites passersby to stop and read from the more than 2,000 books that line its walls. To encourage visitors to stick around, anyone who reads at least 15 pages of a book gets a free coffee. The 32-year-old veteran is encouraging his fellow Syrians to get back into reading after the war made certain luxuries, including printed books, unaffordable for many of its citizens.
Zaher says reading was “therapeutic” for him during his time in battle. To keep the kiosk going, he depends on funding from affluent local citizens—but everyone is encouraged to come by. He estimates that more than 20,000 visitors of all ages have stopped by his stall since its opening. —Tina Knezevic
Find out why you should always read before bed.
Harnessing the Power of Design
In Tel Aviv, summer temperatures reach the low 30s and sunlight shines down on the city for about 11 hours a day. So its residents are no strangers to hot weather. And with temperatures around the world projected to continue rising as a result of climate change, it’s not going to get any easier to find respite from the heat. But where some people see problems, industrial and product designer Anai Green sees opportunity.
In 2019, she had the idea to combine her city’s need for shade during the day with the chance to harness the sun for lighting at night. So she created Lumiweave, a fabric embedded with solar panels that catches up to 99.5 per cent of sunlight radiation but also stores solar power, which acts as street lighting in the evening. The fabric can be customized for any city’s needs, whether fitted on a frame, like an umbrella, or hooked between buildings.
When asked about the motivation behind her design, Green says she wanted to change the way people experience their environment. “I took very basic issues and combined them.” —Tina Knezevic
Horses Empower and Equip Youth
United States | Take a walk through the community of Strawberry Mansion in northern Philadelphia and you might think you’ve stepped into a scene from the Old West—except in these streets, Black cowhands ride their horses alongside cars and trucks. The area, which was the setting for the 2020 film Concrete Cowboy starring Idris Elba, has been home to stables for more than 100 years but, since the 1980s, it has also been a haven for youth looking to escape gang violence.
Known throughout the neighbourhood as “El-Dog,” 83-year-old Ellis Ferrell Jr. runs the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club (FSURC). Though iterations of the club have existed since the 1970s, FSURC was officially founded as a non-profit in 2004 and is funded mainly through private donations—it has raised more than $350,000 through crowdfunding.
The club keeps 15 horses and instructs young people from the area how to ride, train and care for the animals, while also teaching life skills such as teamwork and self-discipline. “The kids stay out of trouble because they’re always here with the horses,” Ferrell says. “They don’t have time to get into trouble.”
He estimates that more than 100 youths have been a part of the club and says that some have gone on to become firefighters, police officers and, in one case, a jockey. “They’ve become like a family,” he says. “Taking care of the horses teaches them respect for other people and for themselves.” —Robert Liwanag
A Mining Cities Goes Green
Canada | Greater Sudbury in northern Ontario was once one of the largest producers of nickel on the planet, but the 2008 global financial crisis and dwindling reserves led to a sharp decline in output. The area’s nickel mining was also notorious for causing air pollution and was even at one time the largest source of sulphur dioxide in the world.
For more than 40 years, however, the city has embraced a very different pursuit: tree-planting. Since 1978, nearly 13,000 volunteers have transformed roughly 3,400 out of 80,000 hectares of barren landscapes—the devastating result of nearly a century’s worth of mining and smelting—into thriving greenery. Last July, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and primatologist Jane Goodall helped plant the project’s 10-millionth tree.
Thanks to the re-greening effort, Greater Sudbury now boasts some of the cleanest air in Ontario, and there’s hope it can inspire other municipalities to follow suit. —Robert Liwanag
Challenging the Stigma of Stammering
United Kingdom | More than 1.5 million adults in Great Britain report having a stammer, according to a survey by the British Stammering Association (STAMMA). Of that number, around 70 per cent of British adults try to hide it by choosing their words more carefully or speaking less. The stigma attached to the disorder can often lead to low self-esteem and social isolation for the people it affects; to help combat that, the organization is transforming the public’s perception of stammering.
Since 2018, STAMMA has launched a series of awareness campaigns. One such campaign, “No Diversity Without Disfluency,” calls for broadcast media to feature more people who stammer.
“It is time to end the zero visibility of stammering,” said Jane Powell, CEO of STAMMA. “Until we hear and see people who stammer in the media, people will continue to respond inappropriately.” The organization has already collaborated with one radio show to hire a broadcaster with a stammer. —Robert Liwanag
Refugees Harness the Power of Storytelling
Jordan | Built around the belief that everyone has a right to tell their own stories, an organization in Jordan is hosting mindfulness, creative writing and public-speaking workshops for more than 1,500 refugees. The sessions, which have also been held in cities across Turkey, Lebanon and Germany, are hosted by #MeWe International. The non-profit was founded in 2014 and helps participants work through severe trauma brought on by discrimination and, in many cases, violence.
According to New York-based founder Mohsin Mohi Ud Din, the key to the workshops is that they are taught by other refugees, creating a unique community that’s “for the people, by the people.”
The results are compelling, he says: participants have reported reduced aggression and improved communication skills. At the end of the sessions, they’re invited to tell their stories through theatre productions, book projects and the like. —Robert Liwanag
Fostering Global Tech Talent
Kenya | In rural Kenya, 4,000 students across 10 schools are busy sharpening their computer skills on refurbished machines. They learn everything from basic typing to coding to robotics, and even take part in remote tutorials with NASA scientists. Before participating in these classes, however, very few of the students even knew what a computer was.
The project, TechLit Africa, is the brainchild of Nelly Cheboi,a 29-year-old software engineer who grew up in poverty in the Kenyan village of Mogotio. In 2012, she received a full scholarship to attend college in Illinois, where she discovered a love for computer science. Upon returning to Kenya after graduation, she founded her own school, Zawadi, which became a launching pad for TechLit. Her organization now works with American colleges and businesses to source the recycled computers.
For Cheboi, TechLit is about more than just giving children a pastime: she hopes the students will use their newfound skills to find professional opportunities.
“If all you have is your small village, then your thinking is small,” Cheboi says. “But once you come to the Internet, you become global—and by being global, you can help the world.” —Robert Liwanag
Airport Pigs Help Keep the Skies Safe
Netherlands | They didn’t get badges or uniforms, but they did receive a generous meal allowance. Near Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, 20 pigs joined a six-week pilot program designed to reduce the number of goose strikes at the busy international hub. The pigs were allowed to settle in a two-hectare sugar-beet field between two of the airport’s runways. The hope was they’d eat up any plant life that appeals to geese and, by their presence, would intimidate other birds in the area, too.
Collisions between birds and aircraft are a nagging problem in aviation—in 2020, there were 150 avian strikes at Schiphol—and these incidents can have serious consequences. Fortunately, the pig patrol appears to have been a success: no bird strikes were recorded during their stay. The airport is currently assessing whether to make the pigs a permanent feature of its overall safety program. —Flannery Dean
The Businessman Who Donated an Island
Canada | There are few things rarer than pristine wilderness. This is true in Canada, which according to Global Forest Watch ranks third in the world for forest cover loss. It’s what makes the recent donation of a forested island within a freshwater glacial lake in Quebec so worthy of celebration.
Last fall, Montreal businessman Andrew Howick donated 26 hectares—the equivalent of 24 soccer fields—of richly forested Molson Island to the Nature Conservancy of Canada. He first began buying up parts of the island in the 1990s as a way of protecting aquatic birds and rare, diverse plant life. The donation of the island—made possible by tax incentives for such land donations—means it will escape development and thrive for decades to come. —Flannery Dean
The Nurses Who Saved 35 Newborns From a Fire
Philippines | Last May, during a fire at the Philippine General Hospital in Manila, two nurses made sure no one was left behind in their fourth floor neonatal intensive care unit. Kathrina Bianca Macababbad was bathing one of the unit’s babies just after midnight when she heard that a fire had broken out on the floor below. As the flames raged, she and fellow nurse Jomar Mallari made multiple trips in and out of the building with their charges. The biggest challenge was rescuing premature babies who were intubated and dependent on ventilators to breathe. Holding the babies in one arm while manually ventilating them with the other hand, the nurses managed to get all 35 of their tiny patients to safety. —Flannery Dean
Restocking the Wardrobes of Female Refugees
England | Poverty brings with it many challenges, not the least of which can be the strain of sorting through clothing donation bins, on a mission to find the right-sized wardrobes for you and your family. Believing that female refugees deserve more than a bag of random castoffs, Sol Escobar, a Cambridge educator and a volunteer at migrant refugee camps, had a novel solution. In 2020, she created Give Your Best, an online “shopping” site that allows women to choose from an array of donated clothing posted by volunteers. All of the clothing is free and can be “shopped” on the site’s Instagram page. Once selected, the items are shipped for free within the United Kingdom. Since its launch, more than 700 women seeking asylum or with precarious immigration status have claimed 7,500 items. —Flannery Dean
Photo: Courtesy of Pier Paolo Spinazze
Fighting Hate With Art
Italy | The number of reported hate crimes has steadily increased in Italy since 2014, fuelled by incendiary populist politicians reacting to an influx of refugees and migrants. In Verona, Pier Paolo Spinazze, a street artist who goes by the name Cibo (Italian for “food”), is being celebrated for his creative countermeasures. “Verona is beautiful,” says Spinazze, “but it has a big problem with the far right.” Whenever he encounters swastikas and other racist graffiti, he paints over them with colourful depictions of his favourite foodstuffs, from cupcakes to pizza.
His art has two positive effects. The extremists often spray-paint over Spinazze’s cheerful food pictures, but he simply re-paints over their hateful messages again, and they usually give up. The other positive improvement: his paintings are awakening Verona’s citizens to the seriousness of the problem. “Before I started this, people were so used to seeing those messages, they didn’t really see them at all. Now people start to see and understand.”
To Spinazze, food is a natural corrective to hate. It represents a language that connects people and cultures. “Food is about union and sharing,” he says. “We are all equal around a table—everybody eats.” —Flannery Dean
Find out how a Canadian charity is using art to fight homelessness.
A Safe Haven for Rescued Animals
Morocco | As a child in Tangier in the late 1970s, Salima Kadaoui made it her personal mission to save strays from animal control. At eight years old, she volunteered at an animal charity and saw firsthand how the city’s lack of vaccination, neutering and spaying programs only exacerbated the challenging situation. “I would go home and cry and say this is unacceptable,” she says. “I promised myself that I would change my country and that promise stayed with me.”
In 2012, after raising her family in the United Kingdom, she returned to Morocco to care for an ailing parent. She also made good on her childhood vow, founding the Sanctuaire de la faune de Tanger. Located just outside Tangier, it’s currently home to more than 450 dogs, 100 cats, 48 donkeys, two wild boars, an ape, two storks and a mule, among other small creatures. The sanctuary, which receives its funding from donations, is run by 14 employees, half of whom were once homeless and now live on site. They collect stray animals, get them neutered and vaccinated, and bring them back to the sanctuary.
Caring for dogs takes up much of their time. There are an estimated three million stray dogs in Morocco today. In Kadaoui’s assessment, poverty and cultural beliefs often set the country’s stray animals and residents against one another. To date, she and her team have treated, neutered and vaccinated more than 3,000 dogs.
During the pandemic, they also delivered food and essentials to both the city’s homeless population and its starving strays. Kadaoui believes her work has ultimately helped people feel more sympathy for animals. “It connected their plights,” she says. “And now more people care.” —Flannery Dean
Photo: Courtesy of Veronica Robles
How Mariachi Brings a City Together
United States | Boston, a city synonymous with Irish-American culture, is also home to more than 130,000 Latino residents, who make up nearly 20 per cent of the city’s population. When professional mariachi performer Veronica Robles decided to settle there with her husband 22 years ago, however, she noticed that the Latino community suffered from the effects of cultural dislocation. Every day, they also encountered racist stereotypes about Latin-American culture.
“They were afraid or ashamed of saying they were Latino,” says Robles, who was born in Mexico City. To help Latino immigrants reclaim their sense of self and a connection to their cultural heritage, the couple began offering night classes in the art, music and dance of Central and Latin America at a school cafeteria.
Then, in 2013, Robles and her husband, using their own money, opened a dedicated facility. At the Veronica Robles Cultural Center, they offer everything from flamenco to capoeira classes. Robles estimates the centre has so far hosted more than 5,000 students. Over the years, she’s seen her students, who range from children to seniors, develop a better sense of themselves—and even feel more comfortable in their new home.
“They’re more confident, they’re more educated and they’re more eager to learn English,” she says. “Some who are undocumented try to find a way to adjust their status. They are looking to stay here.” —Flannery Dean
Ditch Your Car, Get Free Transit
Spain | The push is on around the globe to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions and break our collective reliance on fossil fuels. To encourage greener forms of getting around, many countries are offering rebates on electric cars. The city of Barcelona, however, is offering up a trade: lose the gas guzzler and ride public transit for free. People who trade in or get rid of cars that don’t meet environmental specs are given a free transit pass that lasts for three years. The approach isn’t just environmentally sound, it’s cost-effective for residents. And it may significantly reduce the stress of car ownership, too. —Flannery Dean
North America’s First Whale Sanctuary
Canada | An estimated 60 killer whales are being kept in captivity at large marine parks and sea aquariums. Soon, some of them will experience the joys of retirement. North America’s first wild refuge for captive orcas (potentially beluga whales, too) aims to open its 40-hectare coastal location in Port Hilford, a small town near Sherbrooke, Nova Scotia, by early 2023. (The operation’s headquarters and visitor’s centre are already complete.)
The refuge, which will contain underwater nets to keep the whales free but still contained, has a depth of 16 metres and provides the whales with 150 times more space than they’ve known in captivity. After passing the environmental-assessment stage, the site will one day welcome six to eight whales into its waters. —Flannery Dean
Catching a Glimpse of the Stars
Kenya | As a child growing up in Nairobi City, the astronomer Susan Murabana didn’t get much encouragement to look to the stars. The solar system wasn’t a big part of her school’s curriculum.
Her disappointment turned to wonder in her early 20s, when she encountered her first telescope and spotted Saturn and its icy rings. “Seeing something I had only read about in a textbook, it made me realize how small we really are.”
In 2014, Murabana, now married, bought a telescope with her husband. Inspired by how studying space had opened up her life, the couple decided to give kids the same experience. They called their program The Travelling Telescope, and circle around Kenya bringing astronomy education and a portable planetarium to schools and communities. So far, they’ve met with 300,000 children in the process.
Kids can’t resist the lure of the telescope and the opportunity it offers to see the moon (a favourite) up close, as well as stars and planets. Murabana says the telescope is the main attraction wherever they go. In January 2021, the visiting musical artist Madonna booked a private session for her family. Murabana watched the pop star’s face light up with the same sense of wonder.
“It’s a way of reminding people about the universe that sits just above their heads, and that they remain an intrinsic part of,” she says. “It’s there, but we forget to look up.” —Flannery Dean
Making Refugees’ Lives Easier
United Kingdom | For the 70 per cent of the world’s population without access to electric washing machines, simply keeping up with laundry is a time-consuming, often painful physical task. The burden falls disproportionately to women and girls, who can spend 20 hours a week hand-scrubbing clothes, often without electricity or running water. London engineer Navjot Sawhney, however, has come up with an off-grid solution: a portable, lightweight and hand crank-powered washing machine that resembles a plastic drum. It also does double duty as a dryer, and costs around $60.
The 31-year-old Sawhney calls it the Divya, after the woman who inspired the project—his former next-door neighbour in South India, where he spent a year volunteering after leaving his job as an engineer at high-end vacuum maker Dyson. “When I got to know Divya, I was so frustrated by all the unpaid labour she needed to do for the sake of clean clothes,” says Sawhney. He returned to the United Kingdom to found the Washing Machine Project in 2018. After a few months developing a prototype, he received a grant from Oxfam’s Iraq Response Innovation Lab.
Since March 2019, more than 150 Divyas have been distributed to refugees in Iraq through non-profit partners. “The feedback was overwhelmingly positive,” Sawhney says. His goal is to deliver 8,000 machines in 10 countries over the next three years. By saving 75 per cent of the time and 50 per cent of the water required to wash clothes, he says, women and girls will be freer to pursue education.
Aside from the Divya, Sawhney has also worked on making clean and fuel-efficient cookstoves, and plans to develop off-grid refrigerators, air conditioners and lighting. Sawhney, whose father had to flee his home during the Partition of India in 1947, sees the world’s growing refugee crisis as an urgent call for innovation: “There is a huge need for appliances that make life better for people.” —By Anna-Kaisa Walker
Turning Old Tires into New Playgrounds
India | In and around more than a dozen cities in India, brightly coloured caterpillars, octopi and elephants have begun appearing in empty lots, much to the joy of local children. Built from old tires and industrial waste like scrap metal and ropes, these climbers, jungle gyms and swings are low-cost, sustainable play spaces created by Bangalore’s Anthill Creations. A new playground can be built in just five days for around $2,500, a fraction of the cost of a standard playground.
The project’s CEO, Pooja Rai, a trained architect, was inspired to found Anthill Creations in 2014 after watching children at an orphanage play with broken pipes and flip-flops—far from a luxury, play is a human right, she realized. Reusing some of the 100 million tires discarded in India every year also helps the environment, reducing the air pollution created by tire burning. Each tire is carefully cleaned, inspected and painted before being repurposed in the 300 playgrounds Anthill has so far built across India.
Rai aims to work with governments, corporate donors and Anthill’s team of about 30 active volunteers to make cities more child-friendly, converting empty lots into playful community spaces. “Children come up with hundreds of different games exploring their creativity, and there is something new every time they play,” Rai says. —By Anna-Kaisa Walker
Finding Shelter Animals Homes—Through Tinder
Germany | Looking for a long-term relationship with someone single, lonely and a little on the furry side? Your next date could be with an adorable dog or cat—all you have to do is swipe right. Faced with an influx of animals who had been adopted during lockdowns and then surrendered when owners returned to work, the Munich Animal Welfare Association teamed up with an advertising agency to create “dating” profiles for 15 adoptable pets on the popular app Tinder. Complete with professional photos and a bio that includes likes and dislikes—Captain Kirk, for example, a two-year-old black and white cat, enjoys cuddles but not small children—the pet profiles have received an overwhelming number of right swipes, says the shelter. After being screened, prospective adopters can arrange a meet-and-greet with their new match at the shelter. —By Anna-Kaisa Walker
These pet adoption stories will warm your heart!
Fighting “Period Poverty” with Free Menstrual Products
Canada | One-quarter of young women in Canada say they can’t afford period products like pads and tampons, and, according to a United Nations report from 2014, one in 10 youth worldwide have missed school because of their menstrual cycle. The Ontario government plans to ease this burden through a new partnership with Shoppers Drug Mart, which will distribute 18 million free pads in washroom dispensers at all public schools in the province over the next three years. The fourth Canadian province to take such an initiative, Ontario’s plan is part of a global movement to end “period poverty,” where stigma and lack of access to menstrual hygiene supplies have negative consequences for education, employment and health, causing absenteeism, anxiety and depression. —By Anna-Kaisa Walker
Urban Farming on a Grand Scale
Canada | Imagine a city that grows most of its food on its very own rooftops, where tomatoes ripen on the vine year-round—even in the dead of winter. That’s the idea behind Lufa Farms, which operates four rooftop greenhouses in and around Montreal and delivers more than 25,000 fresh-picked vegetable baskets to its customers every week.
Founded in 2009 by Mohamed Hage and Lauren Rathmell, Lufa sprouted from the idea that urban farming could grow crops where people live, without using any new land, and deliver food without the carbon footprint of long-distance transportation. (In Canada, 92 per cent of imported produce travels more than 1,500 kilometres.) “When you buy a tomato in the winter, you’re probably getting one that’s been trucked in from California or Mexico,” says Rathmell. “We deliver ours right to you the day after they’re picked.”
Hydroponic technology helps Lufa’s greenhouses operate sustainably, recycling about 90 per cent of the water used by the plants. In lieu of pesticides, ladybugs and parasitic wasps devour aphids and other pests. Using residual heat from the buildings below, each farm requires half the energy of greenhouses on the ground. Meanwhile, the company’s programmers keep operations nimble with greenhouse automation. Software manages delivery logistics while allowing customers to tailor their own baskets, choosing from 50 varieties of fruits and vegetables, plus other items, like bread and cheese from local producers.
Lufa Farms is one of many similar urban-farming projects around the world, with commercial greenhouses and gardens springing up in places like London, Paris and New York. Analysts predict city-grown crops could eventually make up 10 per cent of the global food supply. —By Anna-Kaisa Walker
Photo: Courtesy of Maria Andrejczyk
Selling an Olympic Medal to Help a Sick Child
Poland | When Maria Andrejczyk captured the silver in javelin at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, it was a triumph over the odds. Having missed a medal at the 2016 Rio Games with a toss that was just two centimetres short, she overcame shoulder surgery in 2017 and a bone-cancer diagnosis in 2018 to compete again.
So when the 25-year-old Andrejczyk heard about a fundraiser for an eight-month-old boy, Miloszek Malysa, who was born with a serious heart defect, she was inspired to help a fellow Pole beat the odds, too. His family needed US$380,000 for a life-saving operation that would be performed in Barcelona. They had already raised half from their own campaign, and Miloszek was running out of time. “It didn’t take me long to decide,” said Andrejczyk, who chose to auction off her medal for the remaining funds. The winning bid of over US$125,000 came from Polish supermarket chain Zabka, which later told Andrejczyk to keep her medal. —By Anna-Kaisa Walker
Discover all the ways the Olympics changed Canada.
Greening the Steel Industry With Renewable Energy
Sweden | When companies burn coal to produce steel, they spew carbon dioxide into the atmosphere—an estimated seven to nine per cent of all direct emissions from fossil fuels. That’s 2.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide—more than the combined mass of all animals on Earth.
But one Swedish steel company has figured out how to make steel without coal. Stockholm’s SSAB recently announced that it has produced the world’s first fossil fuel–free steel, using hydrogen and electricity from renewable energy sources. Automakers Volvo and Mercedes-Benz have signed up for the first deliveries, and SSAB hopes to be able to produce the steel on an industrial scale by 2026. —By Anna-Kaisa Walker
A Family Reunites With Their Kidnapped Son
China | It took more than two decades, 500,000 kilometres, 10 motorcycles and a few broken bones, but Guo Gangtang’s search for his son finally ended last July. Xinzhen disappeared in 1997, at age two.
In China, an estimated 20,000 children are kidnapped every year and often sold into adoption. Guo criss-crossed the country on a motorbike while flying a flag with his son’s picture on it. Once found, police used a photo database and DNA testing to confirm the identity of Guo’s son, now a teacher. A man and a woman were arrested for abduction, having sold Xinzhen to a child-trafficking ring that delivered him to his adoptive parents. —By Anna-Kaisa Walker
Photo: Courtesy of Fionn Ferreira
An Innovative Pollution Solution
Ireland | Growing up kayaking around the southwest coast of Ireland, 20-year-old Fionn Ferreira saw the devastating effects of ocean pollution first-hand. Shocked by the amount of plastic littering the shores, he began learning more about the estimated 300 million tonnes of plastic waste humans produce every year. The most dangerous form of plastic, Ferreira discovered, is the kind you can’t see—microplastics, tiny fragments that can end up inside fish and our bodies. We ingest five grams of microplastics every week—about the equivalent of a credit card—from the food we eat and the water we drink. Even more microscopic plastic particles are shed from carpets and synthetic textiles.
After noticing that oil-spill residue on the beach attracted plastic particles, Ferreira set out to design a device that used ferrofluid, a type of magnetic liquid, to remove microplastics from drinking water. In 2019, his prototype—which removed 87 per cent of microplastics from a water sample—won him the grand prize at the Google Science Fair.
Now a chemistry student at the University of Groningen, Ferreira is working with an Ohio-based company to fine-tune his invention for use in homes and potentially in wastewater-treatment plants too. “I love the process of inventing and doing things for the planet,” he says, “and there are many more ideas in the pipeline.” —By Anna-Kaisa Walker
Photo: Courtesy of Italian School of Water Rescue Dogs
Canine Lifeguards to the Rescue
Italy | Move over PAW Patrol and make way for the Italian School of Water Rescue Dogs. The Milan organization has been patrolling Italian beaches for more than 30 years, with about 400 fully trained and certified “lifedogs”—Newfoundlands, primarily, but also Labrador retrievers and German shepherds—who save about 30 lives a year.
Founder Ferruccio Pilenga, a 61-year-old former photographer and volunteer with Italy’s civil protection service, began operations with his own Newfoundland dog, Mas. Pilenga and Mas saved several lives during the first few years, working closely with the Coast Guard, military and police to rescue sailors, divers and swimmers up and down the Italian coast.
Pilenga uses the “dolphin system,” in which a handler holds onto the dog’s harness as the dog swims out to the person in distress. Over the years, Pilenga incorporated various watercraft and helicopters into his missions, and began to train other canines.
Volunteers can apply with their own pooch, but the training is arduous and takes at least a full year. Dogs are taught how to leap into the water from helicopters and rescue boats, as well as patented survival techniques. Newfoundlands and other water dogs are especially good at this work, Pilenga says, because of their power, water-resistant coats and ability to navigate currents.
“If I intervene alone,” he says of lifesaving, “I am alone. If I intervene with a dog, I’m a rescue team.” Currently working alongside another Newfoundland named Reef, Pilenga has provided demonstrations and education to rescue services in the United States, Germany and Switzerland. —By Jason McBride
Photo: Thomas Hagenau/Shutterstock
Turning a Coal Mine Into a National Park
Norway | With many countries around the world abandoning fossil fuels for renewable sources, what are countries to do with the now-toxic landscapes left behind? Norway has one very good idea. It’s turning the country’s last Arctic coal mine, located on the Svalbard archipelago between Norway and the North Pole, into a nearly 3,000-square-kilometre natural park. (The decades-old mine ceased operation in 2019.) Svalbard was already of vital ecological importance: 20 million birds nest on the islands during the late summer, while about 3,000 polar bears use its sea ice as prime hunting grounds. Now, the new Van Mijenfjorden National Park—named for one of Svalbard’s largest fjords—will unify this wilderness and, over time, return it to a pristine and well-managed state. —By Jason McBride
The New Home a Community Bought
Canada | In 2018, a Halifax youth worker, 33-year-old Alvero Wiggins, was diagnosed with kidney failure. Unable to work and anxiously awaiting a transplant, the father of four soon had no choice but to move his family into run-down public housing. Sarah MacLaren, one of Wiggins’s co-workers, was appalled by the situation and organized a GoFundMe campaign to help buy him a home. That fundraiser brought in several thousand dollars and also drew the attention of a kind-hearted real estate agent, Brenda MacKenzie, who was waiting on her own kidney transplant. With additional funds raised by lawyers, tradespeople and MacKenzie’s housing charity, the thrilled Wiggins family took possession of a four-bedroom townhouse this past spring. MacLaren referred to it as a “miracle house,” but it was a miracle made possible thanks to guardian angels like herself. —By Jason McBride
Photo: Courtesy of Remade
A Simple Solution to Throwaway Culture
Scotland | Fast fashion, same-day shipping and planned obsolescence—nowadays, we expect things to be delivered quickly but don’t expect them to last. The United Kingdom, for example, generated 222 million tonnes of waste in 2018. But a grassroots operation in Glasgow called Remade, founded by former environmental activist Sophie Unwin, aims to alter that thinking. Handy technicians at its three locations help residents mend, repair and reuse everything from laptops to lamps, jeans to jumpers. (The fees are modest—repairing a broken extension cable costs $10 CAD, for instance.) Customers can also buy refurbished computers and other gadgets, or, through workshops, learn how to repair and restore their own items. In a throwaway world, Remade is a keeper. —By Jason McBride
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Photo: Courtesy of Terence Crowster
Creating a Safe Haven—with Books
Terence Crowster, a development worker, has long helped disadvantaged youth in the hardscrabble, crime-ridden Cape Town neighbourhood of Scottsville. At various high schools, he helped create, among other things, valuable skill-development, anti-bullying and leadership programs. But it’s the new libraries he’s built out of repurposed shipping containers—with donations and second-hand books solicited through Facebook—that have truly transformed the neighbourhood. The first of these, which opened in 2017, was dubbed the Hot-Spot Library, a reference to both its location at the border of an area fought over by two rival gangs and its aim to be a helpful resource to youth in the area.
Despite the dangerous postal code, the library has flourished, becoming as much a safe space as an academic one. In its first year, its membership grew to 750 young people. Its shelves are now stocked with more than 2,000 books, and educational programming is offered six days a week. Last July, Crowster opened an additional branch in the adjoining Scottsdene neighbourhood, with future branches and libraries-on-wheels planned for elsewhere in Cape Town.
Crowster sees the libraries as part of a larger movement towards social justice in the city: “If this can inspire more people to stand up and do their part, then I have done my job towards changing our community.” —By Jason McBride
Photo: Courtesy of Ambulance for Monuments
The Team That Races to Save the Past
Romania | The architect Eugen Vaida grew up during a tumultuous time in Romania: after decades of communist dictatorship, a bumpy transition to a free market society left citizens economically desperate. When he was 16 in the mid-’90s, he witnessed fleets of cars, filled with antique furniture, ceramics and traditional costumes, leaving the country to be sold in the West. Outraged at this pillaging of the country’s heritage, he and his brother later began to collect or purchase whatever valuable objects they could find.
Now, Vaida has greatly expanded this mission, turning it into his life’s work. In 2016, he founded the Ambulance for Monuments, starting with a truck, loaded with tools, that roamed Romania repairing neglected historical buildings and monuments with the help of volunteers. Five years later, Vaida has seven trucks, 500 volunteers and has saved 60 structures, including medieval churches, ancient windmills and castles. Various sponsors, including Prince Charles’s educational charity, the Prince’s Foundation, help bankroll the project, but local communities also donate food and housing to volunteers, and their governments (which usually own the structures) supply construction materials.
“It works similarly to an emergency medical intervention,” Vaida says. “There is an ambulance that comes on-site, assesses the damage, stabilizes the patient, and then the patient is ready for treatment.” The end result is heritage rescued from oblivion, but also renewed interest in Romania’s history. Vaida estimates there are still about 600 monuments in Romania that need help, but he would love to see his efforts reproduced in other countries as well. —By Jason McBride
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Photo: Vova Shevchuk/Shutterstock
A Simple Solution to the Work Week
Iceland | The pandemic has all but obliterated the idea of work-life balance, so what better time to re-evaluate the work week? Iceland was ahead of the game. In 2015, for four years, 2,500 workers (about one per cent of the country’s work force) reduced their typical 40-hour work week by four or five hours while still receiving the same pay. Researchers found that, unsurprisingly, the workers (drawn from hospitals, preschools and offices) were happier and less stressed. Importantly, they were also just as productive. Nearly 90 per cent of Iceland’s workers now work fewer hours. Similar experiments have been completed in New Zealand and Spain, while politicians in Japan and California have proposed dry runs of their own. —By Jason McBride
Photo: R.M. Nunes/Shutterstock
Building an Urban Forest to Combat the Climate Crisis
Spain | Planting trees has long been considered an effective way to fight the climate crisis. It’s elegant and relatively inexpensive, after all—plant a billion trees and watch them suck destructive carbon dioxide from the air. Madrid, however, is taking large-scale tree-planting to another level: its officials plan to encircle the city with a 75-kilometre-long forest consisting of nearly half a million new trees (100,000 of them indigenous) that will, at maturity, absorb more than 170,000 tonnes of CO2. While not a park designed for human use, this so-called green wall, which will take a dozen years to grow, will nevertheless make the city cooler, more attractive and an ecological model for other urban jungles. —By Jason McBride
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Photo: Courtesy of The Pups of High Park
The Dog Café That Brought a Neighbourhood Together
Canada | In this dog-eat-dog world, where’s a weary pooch supposed to go for a break? If you live near Toronto’s High Park, you might stop at the free snack bar for pups that Kaya Kristina set up on her front lawn. Kristina started off small—a few years ago, she began putting out bowls of water for tired, thirsty dogs on their way home after a romp in the park. When the pandemic hit and Kristina was cut off from friends and family, she expanded her front yard’s offerings to include dog biscuits, beef liver bites, dried chicken tenders and even a stick “library.” Now christened StarPups—complete with its own Instagram account, The Pups of High Park—Kristina’s yard has become a popular community hub, as beloved by human residents as canines. —By Jason McBride
Photo: Courtesy of Jaylo Miles
Combating Mental Illness—with Owls
Wales | Jaylo Miles has endured abusive foster homes, several years of homelessness, and drug addiction, all of which left him with complex post-traumatic stress disorder. In the last few years, however, the 39-year-old Cardiff resident has helped himself by helping others, embarking on several charitable and social media initiatives—singing competitions, long-distance bike rides—to raise awareness of mental health and suicide.
He hasn’t done it alone, of course; Miles has a supportive partner, three kids and a pair of British barn owls named Oscar and Louie. Miles rescued the two birds and, over time, they became his unlikely support animals. The two owls, which are brothers, have very different personalities, which Miles has come to see as reflecting his own divided self: the wary Oscar is fiercely protective, while Louie is a calm, loving, “cheeky chappy.” “I firmly believe I didn’t choose the boys,” Miles says. “They chose me.”
Over the years that Miles has had the owls (Oscar is four, Louie two), they’ve become local celebrities in their own right, accompanying Miles on visits to nursing homes and schools, where he gives talks, and even on a hike up Pen y Fan, the highest mountain in southern Britain. “Sometimes just being able to see the owls can bring comfort to somebody’s day,” Miles says. —By Jason McBride
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Photo: Ale Karmirian, Courtesy of Gastromotiva
Changing Lives, One Plate at a Time
Brazil | Every bite counts in Brazil’s favelas, sprawling shantytowns on the outskirts of major cities. The country has one of the highest COVID-19 death tolls, and severe unemployment has led to 19 million Brazilians experiencing chronic hunger over the past year.
But for David Hertz, food is more than sustenance. It’s a social-bonding tool, an $8-trillion global industry and, through his non-profit, Gastromotiva, a way to empower the world’s poorest citizens. Gastromotiva provides free courses in restaurant cooking, kitchen-assistant training and food entrepreneurship, all with a focus on nutrition. Students apply online, and after they finish the program, they not only find jobs, but often start their own restaurants and soup kitchens.
What’s more, through 65 grassroots “solidarity kitchens,” many based out of the homes of alumni, as well as partnerships with local homeless charities and food banks, almost 80,000 free meals are distributed to hungry families in Rio de Janeiro every month.
“With Brazil and the world facing all the challenges the pandemic has caused, the greatest reward of my work is seeing people employed and being able to feed themselves,” Hertz says.
A former chef, Hertz was inspired to start Gastromotiva in 2006, after quitting his restaurant job and spending time designing training programs for a São Paulo favela. The non-profit has expanded its courses to Mexico City and Cape Town, and is also working in El Salvador through the UN’s World Food Programme. —By Anna-Kaisa Walker
An Unlikely Mammal Returns to the Mainland
Australia | The voracious, whirling Looney Tunes character might be the first Tasmanian devil that springs to mind, but the real-life creature is actually one of the world’s most vulnerable marsupials. Devastated by a facial-tumour disease that wiped out up to 90 per cent of the population in some areas of Tasmania, devils were declared an endangered species in 2008.
Now Tasmanian devils are thriving on the Australian mainland for the first time in 3,000 years, thanks to the efforts of conservation group Aussie Ark. Dozens of devils were introduced to a 400-hectare sanctuary in New South Wales last year, and this spring, the first generation of joeys were born.
Once widespread over the entire continent, prehistoric climate change, combined with hunting by people and dingoes, left Tasmania the only place where devils survived after 1,000 B.C. Aussie Ark hopes to create a self-sustaining population of devils that can help rebalance the ecosystem in the face of invasive species. —By Anna-Kaisa Walker
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Photo: Courtesy of Just Believe Inc.
Building a New Sanctuary for Troubled Veterans
United States | Up to 30 per cent of American veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, while 14 per cent of people who die by suicide in the U.S. every year are vets. Many veterans also struggle with homelessness and addiction.
In June, Marty Weber, himself a vet, donated 15-hectares of New Jersey forest to homeless-outreach organization Just Believe Inc. The land will become a retreat for veterans struggling with addiction, mental illness and homelessness. Weber named it Jeff’s Camp, after Jeff Poissant, his Army buddy-turned-life-partner who died of bladder cancer in 2017.
Weber blames Poissant’s death on an inadequate military health-care system, which didn’t properly treat him until it was too late. For the almost one in four veterans who suffer from mental illness, accessing mental-health care is often difficult and complicated. “Our government is not taking good enough care of our vets,” said Weber. “I have to do what I can in Jeff’s memory to help make things right.” —By Anna-Kaisa Walker
Photo: Courtesy of House of One Berlin
Three Faiths—and a New Hope for Reconciliation
Germany | In the heart of Berlin, a new place of worship will redefine the idea of sacred space. House of One is a new multifaith centre with the purpose of fostering community and dialogue. The building will house a church, a mosque and a synagogue in three separate sections linked by a communal domed hall in the middle. House of One will also be open to all other faiths, as well as secular society.
Religious leaders from three communities—St. Petri-St. Marien Protestant Church, rabbinical seminary Abraham Geiger Kolleg and the Muslim founders of Forum Dialog—came together a decade ago to discuss their shared dream of a peace project in a time when religiously motivated attacks were on the rise. —By Anna-Kaisa Walker
Photo: Courtesy of Adolfo Damian Berdun
Lessons from a Basketball Star
Italy | Adolfo Damian Berdun isn’t just any kids’ basketball coach. The captain of Argentina’s national wheelchair basketball team and MVP of his Italian Cup–winning team, Unipolsai Briantea84 Cantù, taught four classes of elementary-school kids this past spring as part of a project called “At School I Learn to Play Without Limits,” a five-week sports and inclusion course run by Polisportiva Veranese, a local athletic association.
But when Berdun rolled onto the court in front of a wide-eyed group of Grade 2 students, he made it clear they weren’t there to talk about his missing leg—they were there to play basketball. Deprived of team sports for almost a full school year during the pandemic, the kids immediately launched into dribbling and shooting drills. For Berdun, who has visited many schools to talk about disability issues over the years, it was the first (of what he hopes are many) opportunities to simply be called “Coach.”
During the last class, Berdun explained how he lost his leg at age 13 after being hit by a truck in his hometown of San Nicolás de Los Arroyos. But moments later, the kids were back on the court. “I was surprised how quickly the children forgot about my disability,” he says. “All they thought about was basketball.” —By Anna-Kaisa Walker
Photo: Courtesy of the Nature Conservancy
A Rainforest for Everyone
Belize | Rainforests are well known as habitat for extraordinary numbers of species of flora and fauna. They’re also the Earth’s lungs. But deforestation from development and farming is a constant threat: between 2010 and 2020, South America lost 2.6 million hectares of forest per year.
One section of rainforest now has a lifetime guarantee against that fate. This past April, a coalition of 16 conservation partners, including the Nature Conservancy, a global non-profit, bought about 95,000 hectares of land from the Forestland Group, a logging company. Named the Belize Maya Forest by its new guardians, the area is a vital habitat for jaguars, spider monkeys and pumas.
“If that area had not been purchased, the likely future of it was going to be full clearcutting of the forest for large-scale mechanized agriculture for crops or for cattle ranching,” says Elma Kay, science director at the University of Belize Environmental Research Institute.
Because of its rugged terrain, humans haven’t lived in the area for 200 years. Kay, who leads the team that consults with local communities, hopes the region will soon attract tourists; among its most stunning features are cenotes, natural pools of water that were central to ancient Mayan culture. The safeguarding of the Belize Maya Forest may also lead to programs that would make crop-growing in the surrounding area more sustainable.
Now rainforest conservationists will turn to another nearby project: protecting a corridor of 12,140 hectares of jungle that connects the Belize Maya Forest to pristine forested mountains on the Guatemalan border. —By Al Donato
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Endangered Cheetahs Make Historic Comeback
India | More than 70 years after India’s cheetahs were hunted to extinction, the big cats are finally set to return. In a project spearheaded by India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, upwards of 40 African cheetahs will be relocated from Africa to India. The first eight to 10 will arrive at Kuno National Park, a 74,800-hectare area with a healthy population of wild pig and cattle, by the end of the year.
There were 100,000 cheetahs worldwide at the turn of the 19th century—just 7,100 survive today. In 1947, the last three Asiatic Cheetahs in India were reportedly killed during a hunt by a local prince.
Ecologists hope that the cheetahs will play a pivotal role in preserving India’s dwindling grasslands—regions that, if maintained, may help the country reach the carbon-sinking goals it set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement. —By Al Donato
Bunnies Dust Up a Prehistoric Win
Wales | In March, Richard Brown and Giselle Eagle, wardens of the small island of Skokholm, spotted rabbits digging up pebbles and pottery shards. The couple, wondering if the items were of any significance, sent photos to archaeologists. They were surprised to learn the pebbles were, in fact, remnants of 9,000-year-old Stone Age tools, while the shards were from a 3,750-year-old cremation urn from the Bronze Age, making them the oldest known artifacts from the island.
“Thanks to the sharp eyes of the wardens, we have the first confirmed Mesolithic tools and first Bronze Age pottery from Skokholm,” said Toby Driver, an archaeologist at the Royal Commission, Wales. The discoveries are evidence of hunter-gatherer occupation on the island—prior studies went only as far back as the Iron Age, which extended in Great Britain from 800 BC to AD 100. Once COVID-19 travel restrictions are lifted, researchers are planning a trip to the island for further exploration. —By Al Donato
Photo: New Africa/Shutterstock
A Solution to Gum Litter
Denmark | Our habit of chewing minty gum is not without its toll on the environment. Most of it is made from synthetic polymers, like plastic, which aren’t biodegradable. That’s why so much discarded gum seems to permanently stick to sidewalks. To help tackle this problem, entrepreneurs Peter Juul Regnersgaard and Morten Ebdrup created their own plastic-free alternative.
Launched in 2017, True Gum produces 400,000 pieces of plastic-free chewing gum a day at its Copenhagen factory. Each piece of True Gum has a chicle base, a resin that Mayan and Aztec peoples were chewing hundreds of years ago. Now people in such countries as the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium are True Gum chewers. If the eco-friendly candy catches on, it could spell the end of gum-spotted sidewalks the world over. —By Al Donato
Photo: Courtesy of Jacob Faithful
An Albertan With a Big Heart
Canada | When COVID-19 arrived in Frog Lake First Nation, Jacob Faithful, a 42-year-old owner of a janitorial business, was inundated with requests from his friends and neighbours for personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks. The pandemic disproportionately affected Indigenous peoples in Western Canada, including Frog Lake, a community some 200 kilometres northeast of Edmonton, with an on-reserve population of 2,100.
But PPE supplies remained hard to come by, especially in remote towns. Last November, Faithful had an idea: why not make masks right there in Frog Lake?
Working out of the gym of the local health centre, his company became the first mask-manufacturing business on a Canadian reserve that’s fully owned and operated by Indigenous people. Young Spirit Supplies, named after Faithful’s traditional music singing group, now employs 30 people and produces 100,000 face masks every day, to be shipped across Canada and globally. “I really feel we are making significant change,” he says. “We’re adding to much-needed protection for us and for people around the world.”
The company also collaborates with Indigenous artists to design the masks’ patterns and packaging. Faithful sees no shortage of demand for masks in the future, and plans to build his own facility in Frog Lake later this year. —By Al Donato
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Love Conquers All
Naples resident Luca Trapanese had long wanted to adopt a child, but that presented problems for a gay, single man in Italy. “I was told that I’d only be given a child with an illness, a severe disability or with behavioural problems,” says Trapanese, 41. But he didn’t hesitate when an orphanage called to say they had a month-old baby called Alba with Down’s Syndrome that had been abandoned by its mother and rejected by 20 potential adoptive families.
Trapanese says: “Since I was 14, I have volunteered and worked with the disabled, so I felt I had the right experience. When I first held Alba in my arms, I was overcome with joy.” Trapanese has documented his and his daughter’s life together over two years on social media–challenging stereotypes about fatherhood and the idea of family. “I didn’t mean it to be that way,” he says. “This is nothing but our life story.” [Source: Metro/BBC News]
Disabled army veteran conquers the Matterhorn
Neil Heritage lost both his legs in an attack by a suicide bomber in Iraq in 2004. After recovering from his injuries, he completed triathlons, learned to ski and even joined a team to row across the Atlantic Ocean. Now, 39, the former soldier from the United Kingdom has notched up another achievement, becoming the first above-the-knee double amputee to scale the Matterhorn.
The ex-corporal, whose ascent raised 6,500 euros for his veterans’ charity, says he is “over the moon—it’s been a dream of mine for a long time.” It was his third attempt in three years to reach the peak. Co-climber Mark Hooks said it was “just so special, managing to achieve something we’ve worked so hard on over the years”. Hooks said his friend’s specially designed prosthetic limb fell off near the summit and took more than 20 minutes to reattach. Heritage won’t be resting on his laurels. His next challenge is to kayak the Amazon river. [Source: BBC]
Birds colliding with turbine blades is one of the main negative effects of onshore wind farms. But a nine-year study at Norway’s Smøla wind farm has found that bird strikes can be cut by up to 70 percent simply by painting one blade of a wind turbine black.
Scientists believe this reduces what they call “motion smear”, allowing birds to see the three rotating blades. Trondheim-based researcher Dr Roel May says further tests at other wind farms are needed to confirm the findings. [Source: BBC News]
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The Golden Labrador Who Keeps on Giving
Stumpy (above) is a handsome labrador who was destined for a career as a guide dog. Sadly, problems with a deformed leg meant it wasn’t to be. But then Stumpy found a new way to help others: by giving blood.
The nine-year-old labrador has saved more than 100 canine lives since the age of one by donating blood for emergency transfusions.
Stumpy has been crowned the United Kingdom’s most prolific blood-donor dog. He has a negative blood type which is especially valuable because it allows his blood to be given to any dog.
Stumpy’s owner, vet Elly Pittaway, says: “Stumpy obviously has no idea what he’s doing it for, but if he did, I’m sure he’d be very proud of himself.” [Source: Daily Mail, BBC News]
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The Art of Conversation Lives On
In front of Barcelona’s Arc de Triomf, 26-year-old Adrià Ballester (above) sets up two foldaway chairs and a sign in large letters that reads: “Free conversations!”
Anyone is welcome to stop, sit and chat with him in Spanish, English or Catalan about anything they like. “The idea is just to talk freely for a while,” the 26-year-old writer and storyteller explains. “We have lost the art of conversation,” agrees a young Italian psychology student among the day’s visitors.
“We live in a world where it’s often easier to send a message to someone from another country than to say good morning to our neighbours,” says Ballester, who uses Facebook (Free Conversations Movement) and Instagram (@freeconversations) to promote his project. He posts photos of himself and those who choose to chat along with their reflections and sometimes startling revelations.
At times he feels like a therapist. “You hear good, positive stories and really tough ones, too. A lot of people will tell you about a tricky episode in their life, maybe heartbreak or a job loss. There’s a bit of everything,” he says. A 70-year-old Lithuanian woman even talked about the years she spent in a Russian concentration camp.
During the coronavirus crisis, Ballester took the conversation online, setting up randompenpals.com, a site that invites users to “get a quarantine PenPal in 10 seconds”. He plans to publish a manifesto and aims to spread his initiative to other major cities around the world. [Source: El Pais]
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Sailor Braves Waves to Save Crew of Burning Ship
HMS Argyll (above) was sailing towards Plymouth after nine months in the Asia-Pacific region when it picked up a mayday call. The Grande America, a 28,000-tonne merchant ship was in flames, belching toxic smoke in the Bay of Biscay, 240 kilometres off the French coast. Its crew had abandoned the ship, but their lifeboat’s engine was damaged when it hit the water.
The Argyll’s Leading Seaman David Groves, went into action, battling the “worst conditions” he had ever faced. In a night-time swell of around six metres, with wall-like waves, Groves used a small sea boat to “nudge” the lifeboat half a mile towards HMS Argyll. After four exhausting hours, he had saved all 27 crew, some of them suffering from smoke inhalation. “The whole thing went by in a matter of seconds in my head, even though it ended at four in the morning,” said Groves later. He was awarded the UK’s Queen’s Gallantry Medal for his bravery. [Source: BBC]
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Whales Find New Home After a Life in Captivity
Two 12-year-old beluga whales that spent years in captivity entertaining humans at an aquarium in Shanghai, China, have found freedom at an open water sanctuary in Iceland.
The four-metre-long whales, which each weigh about 900kg, were flown 6,000 miles for over 30 hours in a 747 aircraft fitted with purpose-built containers from Changfeng Ocean World to a sanctuary in a bay on Iceland’s Heimaey Island.
The whales, both females and previously known as Little Grey and Little White, will enjoy open water for the first time since they left a Russian whale research centre in 2011.
Andy Bool, head of the charity Sea Life Trust, said: “We’re delighted that they are safely in their sea sanctuary care pools.” Conservationists hope the sanctuary will be a model for rehoming 3,000 whales and dolphins currently housed in traditional captive facilities or performing in shows. [Source: The Independent]
City Replaces Asphalt with Greenery
The Dutch city of Arnhem is changing its layout to protect itself from the extremes of climate change, such as flooding and heatwaves.
Under a 10-year plan, 10% of the city’s asphalt will be replaced by grass and other greenery to help dissipate heat and improve absorption of rainfall. The city aims to absorb 90% of rainwater into the soil rather than it running off into sewers.
Arnhem sits 13 metres above sea level and has suffered serious flooding in recent years, while droughts have dried up its parks. Trees will be planted along roads to provide cover from the sun, and sheltered “cooling down” areas, centred around ponds, will be constructed near squares and shopping centres.
“We must adapt to the climate change that is taking place now,” says city alderman Cathelijne Bouwkamp. [Source: Dezeen]
Italy’s Oldest Graduate
Giuseppe Paternò has become Italy’s oldest graduate at the age of 96 after being awarded first-class honours in philosophy from the University of Palermo in Sicily. “It’s one of the happiest days of my entire life,” said Paternò on graduating.
Prevented from going to university when younger by poverty and war, he finally enrolled in 2017. “Neighbours used to ask, ‘why all this trouble at your age?’. They couldn’t understand the importance of fulfilling a dream, regardless of my age,” says Paternò. [Source: The Guardian]
Portugal Teaches World How to Deal With Drugs
As many countries struggle with escalating rates of drug addiction, Portugal has successfully reduced overdose deaths by more than 90% since 1999 as a result of a radical shift in its drugs policy.
The country had a serious addiction problem in the 1990s, but then decided to decriminalize all drugs. Rather than being arrested and possibly jailed, those caught with no more than a ten-day supply instead received a warning, small fine or were told to report to an official about treatment.
Under Portugal’s drugs czar João Goulão, needle exchange programs and easy referral to treatment were stepped up. “The policy is to treat each individual differently,” says Goulão. “People are considered as a sick person and they must access treatment with the same dignity as people who suffer from other diseases.”
The figures are startling. In 1999, Portugal had 369 overdose deaths; in 2016 there were just 30. New HIV cases from infected needles dropped from 907 in 2000 to 18 in 2017. [Source: Statista, The Guardian]
Young Mountaineer’s Life-Saving Feat of Strength
Nineteen thousand feet up Ultar Sar mountain in Pakistan’s treacherous Karakoram range, three mountaineers found themselves trapped after the weather turned unexpectedly fierce. Tim Miller, 21, and Bruce Normand, 51, from Glasgow, and Austrian climber Christian Huber, decided to wait for a break before descending.
They dug in, waited for two days—and then an avalanche buried them six feet deep in snow. Undeterred, Miller (above) used his teeth to rip the tent fabric, crawl out and claw his way to the surface. In freezing temperatures, he dug Normand out of the snow and the pair then dug out their broken tent. Sadly, their fellow climber Christian Huber had died from suffocation. The survivors spent two days waiting for better weather before they were finally airlifted to safety by a military helicopter.
For his bravery, Miller, a geology graduate, has been awarded the Scottish Youth Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture. “I am really delighted and humbled to be receiving the award. It is a big surprise,” says Miller modestly. [Source: Daily Telegraph]
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