Friday, February 12, 2010

Less is more happiness

Thanks very much to RTBH reader Oliver who sent this story from UK newspaper The Telegraph today, about an Austrian millionaire who decided to part with all his property and belongings, in return for a simpler life. Karl Rabeder had humble beginnings and worked hard to acquire his fortune. But when he realized that his many properties - and six gliders! - were not only not making him happy, but had become a kind of weight around his neck, he began to sell them off. All proceeds are going to charities Rabeder supports in South America. The Telegraph quotes Rabeder: "More and more I heard the words: 'Stop what you are doing now – all this luxury and consumerism – and start your real life'," he said. "I had the feeling I was working as a slave for things that I did not wish for or need. I have the feeling that there are lot of people doing the same thing." That's surely true - though not many of us have six gliders... But perhaps Rabeder's story will cause some of the more privileged among us to stop and think: am I really living, or just living it up?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Getting positively younger by the day

It's official! Reading RTBH slows the aging process! Well, not quite. But nearly. An article carried by the BBC today (and linked from the post title above) outlines research that appears to demonstrate that thinking positively, and specifically thinking and acting as you did in the past, can overcome some signs of aging. Harvard professor Ellen Langer's groundbreaking research was actually conducted in 1979, but was only partially reported, until now. Her experiments entailed building a 1950s-style enclave and allowing elderly men (in their 70s and 80s) to recreate their past - reminiscing, reliving old political and cultural deliberations, and generally acting as they had 20 years previously. The amazing thing was that, for many of the men, this went as far as jettisoning their walking sticks, cooking their own meals, and even playing touch football - they really did feel and act 20 years younger. It's the excuse for lifelong immaturity that many of us are no doubt looking for! But more seriously, it also adds some scientific weight to the adage that "you're only as old as you feel"...

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A beat for peace

If you like a good beat, you'll love this. Drummers across the world have come together to engage in a 'virtual session', and the result - seen in this short film - is ear-catching and inspiring. The aim of the film, called 'A Beat for Peace', is to highlight the need for sustainable peace in Sudan, which is at risk of slipping back into civil war. The film was the brainchild of Jamie Catto, drummer from UK-based 'Faithless', but the percussionists in the film hail from a range of countries and play many different types of drums (and cymbals, and in one case a marimba). The film is embedded above. You can link from the post title to the campaign website - where, if you are so minded, you can respond to the film by uploading your own 'beat for peace' photo or video. It'll be hard for the international community not to hear this particular message...

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Aiming for the top, from rock-bottom

I had to post this article from CNN today, after watching a related piece on the evening news. It's a great story, of Kenneth Chancey, a Los Angeles teen, and the NFL star - Nnamdi Asomugha - who hopes to help Kenneth on his way to university. Not that Kenneth needs much help... He's a straight A student, class president, and a running back on his school's football team, with his eyes on Harvard or another top school - and he's managed all that whilst living in a shelter on LA's notorious Skid Row. Asomugha runs a foundation that helps get disadvantaged kids into college and went to meet Kenneth after seeing a CNN report about him earlier this year. Asomugha's now invited Kenneth on his foundation's tour to Washington DC, during which - all going well - a trip to meet President Obama may be on the cards. Let's hope that comes off! Either way, though, you get the sense that Kenneth is going to achieve great things. After all, he's already inspired many people - including Asomugha – by overcoming adversity and striving for excellence. Amazing.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Walking for hope and hospice

Thanks go to RTBH reader Karn for this article, from the Bemidji Pioneer, which reminds me a lot of my previous post (about Jonathon Prince running across America). Colin Skinner walked across the UK, Canada and the US - more than 6000 miles - in 1988 to raise money for hospice care. And now, two decades on, he's doing it again. This time, he was inspired by his own mother's death from pancreatic cancer at the age of 59. On his travels, he's met many cancer sufferers, AIDS patients and others receiving hospice care. He has seen how good hospices can improve the quality of patient's lives, and he walks to raise others' awareness of this as well as to raise funds. His current trek has seen him covering the UK in 2007, and he's now walking from New York to North Dakota, with plans to continue from North Dakota to California in 2010. To quote a nice segment from the article: "The question he poses to other is: If I can walk 12,000 miles to help hospices, what can you do to help? 'There is something everyone can do,' he said. 'It’s just finding that right thing.' "

You can visit Colin Skinner's website to find out more about his walks, his book (Beyond the Setting Sun) and his fundraising efforts.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hope - and change - start with you

I discovered this fascinating case study of the power of hope today. In case you haven't heard of him already, let me introduce you to Jonathon Prince. Jonathon has already run across America twice - that's right! about 5000 miles in total, apparently - once to raise money for those affected by Hurricane Katrina, and then again on the hurricane's anniversary. He raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for his chosen cause. He now calls himself an 'athlivist' - an athlete-activist hybrid, using his sporting abilities to effect positive change in the world. And he's just launched his third cross-country effort! This time, he's running from community to community, hoping to help out in some way in each one, whilst also raising money for 6 charities. It's all pretty inspiring, I must say - which is exactly Jonathon's intention. His main aim, he says, is "to inspire others to make whatever change may be desperately needed to give their own lives more meaning. It’s that ‘Hope Factor’ that can move mountains!" I'm sure all RTBH readers would agree with that...

You can link to Jonathon's 'hope or die' website from the post title above, where you'll find his bio, news reports and other information about his quest. You can also donate to any of the charities involved, or follow his blog / tweets.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Saving energy the Danish way

As promised, a video! I discovered an online news channel called WorldFocus, which was set up by several ex-mainstream journalists who wanted to counterbalance the dearth of international news carried by major networks. The result is well worth a look. Linked from the post title above is a video report from Denmark, which shows how the country has maintained high growth rates over recent decades, whilst keeping its energy use constant and providing lots of 'green jobs' for Danish workers. Renewable energy sources, taxes on energy consumption and an educated and frugal public seem to be the keys to Denmark's success. It's a recipe we could all seek to replicate with a little effort - and some sound public policy!

Monday, November 2, 2009

First Olympic skier for Ghana

Well, it's been a while... I definitely owe RTBH a post! First, I should say that I am planning to expand the range of things I share on RTBH, moving beyond news articles to include the occasional video, advocacy campaign, inspiring website, competition etc. I'm hoping that will make for a more exciting read - but please let me know your thoughts.

In the meantime, I found this wonderful video on the BBC website today - it's an interview with Ghana's first ever Olympic skier, who will be competing at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in February 2010. Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong, also known as the 'snow leopard', started ski-ing when he arrived in the UK in 2000 and landed a job in an indoor ski centre. Since then, he's progressed rapidly and has already skied at the World Championships. His aim is to close the gap between his own performance and that of the medal winners - and overall, not to come last in Vancouver. Most Ghanaians think he's 'crazy', he says, but I'm pretty sure they and many other people across the world will be cheering Kwame on in 2010.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Passing it forward

Every now and then, I read a news report that really stuns me - and this story from the BBC is one of those. It's part of a series the BBC is running at the moment, called 'Hunger to Learn'. At just 16 years old, Babar Ali has set up a school in his parents' yard that now serves around 800 pupils. Each day, he goes to school himself, and then he returns home to transmit the day's lessons to others. Though he started by teaching a handful of friends when he was 9, other student-teachers have now joined him and together they give lessons in a range of subjects to children aged 5 to 14. For many children from poor families, this free school is the only chance they have to escape illiteracy. Most work themselves - as laborers, farmers or domestic workers - in the morning before attending Babar's school in the afternoon. The commitment of these children to better themselves is as inspiring and humbling as Babar's desire to pass on his own knowledge. There's a lesson for all of us there...

Friday, October 9, 2009

Creating a local vision of a better world

Thanks to RTBH reader Jacqueline for drawing my attention to this local newspaper article about a hopeful initiative in New Jersey, USA. The article from the Star-Ledger highlights an event, to be held tomorrow, entitled 'Visions of a Better World'. The conference-style event is the brainchild of one woman, Barbara Velazquez of Maplewood, whose objective is to foster a "modern renaissance". In other words, it's a chance to get people thinking and exploring how each of us can play our part in creating a more caring, compassionate world... And it's heartening to see modest, local efforts pushing for positive change, even against the backdrop of economic uncertainty and today's (ironic) hullaballoo over the Nobel Peace Prize!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Man's skull regenerates after 50 years

The BBC reported a fascinating story from the UK today. Gordon Moore suffered severe damage to his skull 50 years ago and has worn a metal plate ever since. However, when surgeons removed the plate recently to treat an infection Gordon had, they found his skull had grown back beneath the plate. This is, apparently, extremely rare in adults - though less so in children whose bones are still growing. Now Gordon has had the plate removed and is, he says, very pleased he won't trigger airport metal detectors any longer.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

HIV vaccine promise

My uncle once joked that this blog should be called 'reasons to be cautiously optimistic'! Well, that moniker could well apply to today's linked article from the Bangkok Post. The world's largest and longest HIV vaccine trial - conducted in Thailand - has just released some promising outcomes, showing that trial participants who received the experimental vaccine were 31% less likely to be infected with HIV over the 6 year trial period than those who received a placebo. So, not good enough to use more widely - but the kind of modest success that could yield significant clues as to what might work better. And with more focused research we may just get an HIV vaccine that bit quicker. Definitely a reason to be cautiously optimistic...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Planting the seeds of hope

What a wonderful story this is from the BBC! It's about an Indian civil servant, SM Raju, who just led an effort to break the world record for the number of trees planted in one day - but that's really the least of his achievements. He took advantage of an Indian government commitment to guarantee families living below the poverty line 100 days of work a year, and used monies from this program to employ villagers to plant and protect trees. In his state, Bihar, almost half the population is below the poverty line, and on 30 August alone 300,000 of them planted trees that they will tend over the coming years in return for a living wage. SM Raju's initiative not only has environmental and economic benefits, it brings hope to communities that had been hopeless. As a result, fewer people are moving away from the area. And with his success story attracting more attention to the government policy that made it possible, it's quite likely others across the country will seek to replicate it.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Go, tennis mother!

I can't help but rave about Kim Clijsters - along with the article linked above from the New York Times! What a woman! After retiring from her tennis career, having a baby girl and raising her through her first 18 months of life, Kim returned to tennis this summer and today won the US Open women's singles title. On the way, she claimed victory over both the Williams sisters (quite a feat in itself) and several other top-seeded players, though she was at the tournament on a wildcard. She really is an inspiration - such character, dedication and grace. In a tournament that has seen a few tantrums on court, there were none today - from either Clijsters or her toddler daughter. Just some good tennis, and a great comeback story.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Improving health and cutting crime

Poor RTBH has been neglected of late. Sorry about that! I've found recently that my creative, intellectual and emotional energy has been sucked into a range of other things - but I have to say that I've also struggled to find compelling, positive news. The continued anxiety around the world's financial and economic situation seems to have infected reporting on other issues. Perhaps the mood will lift a little now that a few big economies seem to be pulling themselves out of recession? Or perhaps reporters and readers alike will grow weary of the gloom and push towards optimism and hope... Who knows.

Anyway - I did find this interesting story today, in Newsweek (linked from the title above). It's a tantalizing piece on the ways in which some aspects of US healthcare reform may have knock-on social benefits. Specifically, there is evidence from pilot programs that home visits by nurses to support disadvantaged and teenage mothers have helped to cut crime. How? Well, it seems that the assistance given to mothers helped them stay healthy and happy and also reduced substance dependence. This translated into kids that were less likely to commit crime, being arrested half as often and convicted 80% less than similar children whose mothers weren't supported. It's a very interesting approach - and it's in the current draft US healthcare bill... though only time will tell if it'll stay there. Definitely one to watch.


RTBH reader Karn just sent me something very cool. It's a film about how thousands of Estonian volunteers cleared their nation of garbage in just a day last year. It's 5 minutes long and well worth a watch - very inspirational and translatable to many other contexts. In fact, Karn tells me that Portugal is planning a similar event in March 2010. Hopeful happenings are infectious, it seems! Thanks, Karn!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

East Africa gets bandwidth

Long-time RTBH readers may recall post 311 from August last year, which referred to the new undersea cable gradually being laid along the East African coastline. It's all part of a grand plan to get Africa connected to high-speed internet services, with all that means in terms of tapping into knowledge and market opportunities. Well, now it's finished. According to the BBC article linked from the post title above, launch ceremonies were held in Kenya and Tanzania this week, and some large companies have already started exploiting the new bandwidth. Bit by bit, governments in the region - Kenya's, for example - are laying fibre-optic cable to connect towns to the network, in the hope that schools will be able to access an expanded range of educational materials. The question, as the article points out, is when smaller towns and villages will benefit. Surely something worth funding by international donors and local governments alike?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

More than good enough

I found this a bit late (it's from last weekend) but it's an extremely interesting piece - sad in some respects, but ultimately hopeful - from the UK's Guardian newspaper. It's about Alex Goodenough, a teenager from the UK with Asperger's syndrome, who has struggled to navigate his way through the UK educational system even with his mother battling on his behalf. Despite being let down along the way, Alex has emerged from school with a raft of A grades at GCSE, several more at AS and A level, and a place to study engineering at Cambridge later this year. It's an amazing story, of one woman's determination to get the best education for her son, and of a young man's eagerness to acquire knowledge - but to do that his own way. Alex seems happy in his own skin, whatever labels are applied to him by others. And so he should! His educational achievements thus far should make him, and his mother, proud, as well as offering hope to other children with Asperger's.

Friday, June 26, 2009

An entrepreneurial stimulus

Over recent months, I've been boring my economist husband with views on what governments ought to be doing in response to the financial crisis, beyond bank bailouts - i.e. extending bridging funds to small businesses and putting in place more effective safety nets for individuals and families in trouble. Well, today I found a great article on CNN about an Ethiopian woman who is working to support communities in New Jersey in exactly this way. Alfa Demmellash watched her mother struggle to thrive economically, first in Ethiopia and then in the US. This inspired her to develop ways to support underserved entrepreneurs - especially women - to develop their business management skills in order to increase their prosperity. She founded the non-profit Rising Tide Capital, with her now husband, which has so far provided training and other support to more than 250 small businesses. 70% of those helped are single mothers. The CNN article includes several quotes from business owners who have increased their profits significantly whilst working with Alfa and her colleagues, which is amazing in the current economic context. If initiatives like these were taken to scale, it might be possible to stimulate the economy from the bottom up - possibly more effective than hoping bank bailouts will somehow trickle down...

Monday, June 22, 2009

A river runs cleanly through it

I've been out of action for a while - my laptop expired! :-( But I got back online today, just in time to find this great story on NPR. It documents the progress made in cleaning up the Cuyahoga River in Ohio, USA, over the last 40 years. Amazingly, this river was so polluted in the 1960s and 70s it caught fire (more than once). Most fish couldn't survive in the water, and it would certainly have been foolish to swim in it. But media coverage led to environmental activism, which in turn spawned regulation and ultimately the birth of the Environmental Protection Agency - and the Cuyahoga got cleaned up. Now, people kayak up and down the river, which is filled with all kinds of fish. As the NPR article points out, the waters aren't pristine, but they are much healthier. It seems the public spotlight is quite an effective bleaching agent!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Environmental justice comes to those who wait

A very positive milestone has been reached in the name of environmental justice, as reported in Nigerian newspaper This Day. For more than a decade, the Ogoni tribe in the Niger Delta has struggled to protect their land and their people from the damage done by local oil exploration and extraction. In the 1980s and 1990s, local protesters - many of them targeting their ire at Shell as the major corporation operating in the region - had some success in attracting international attention, but were then suppressed by Colonel Sani Abacha's military regime. Ultimately, several protesters - including local leader Ken Saro-Wiwa - were tried and hanged, all as Shell turned a blind eye. Indeed, many have postulated that Shell gave a helping hand to the Nigerian authorities... We may never know the details. However, the families of the protesters have now secured something of a victory, following a 13-year attempt to take Shell to court under an ancient US federal law, now winning an out-of-court settlement of $15.5m. Saro-Wiwa's son and other plaintiffs will use some of the funds to establish a community trust for the Ogoni, which will support projects in areas such as education, agriculture and small enterprise development. It's not a huge amount of money, but it will help. Perhaps more important are the ramifications of this case across Nigeria and globally, as the concept of corporate social responsibility is reinforced and multinationals are shown not to be above the law. This is Saro-Wiwa's legacy.