Monday, December 31, 2007

Day Eighty-One: democracy comes gracefully to Bhutan

Well, here we are folks. The final throes of 2007. In fact, for some of you, it's already 2008. So, consider this the final good news of the year - the last hurrah, as it were...

In stark contrast to the stories dominating headlines around the world - those relating to election violence in Pakistan and Kenya - today saw the culmination of elections in Bhutan. The first elections for a century, in fact! The article I'm posting here is not the only coverage of the elections by any means, nor even the most comprehensive, but it captures beautifully the state of electoral decorum (there can be no better word) in this tiny, fledgling democracy. The article, from Bhutan's online newspaper 'Kuensel', describes the level of commitment from voters in Pemagatshel dzongkhag (district) - many of whom will have to travel for an hour to get to their polling station (though this is nothing compared to the four days that I've read about elsewhere!) - and the mutual support demonstrated by the two candidates for that district, who have said they will work together whoever wins. The elections seem to have passed off largely without incident and the new National Council is now close to being formed. More significantly, the monarchy has shifted with seemingly minimal fuss from an absolute role to a 'constitutional' one. It's a new and promising chapter for Bhutan - and it will be very interesting to see how it pans out.


Kuensel is worth a browse, as are two other websites about Bhutan if you are keen to find out more about this mountain kingdom: and

For some analysis of how Bhutan's newly democratic society may evolve, see the new opinion piece 'Gross National Happiness: putting the concept into practice' on Kuensel's website.

(Picture courtesy BBC online.)

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Day Eighty: Japan comes round on emissions targets

Well, I've just blogged around the world in eighty days! Only 285 to go, until I meet my challenge to myself... not sure what will happen then, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it, eh?

For now, enjoy this great news fresh out of Japan. The Japanese government has just announced that it will set numerical targets for its own carbon emissions reductions, reversing the stance it took in Bali earlier this year. It seems the government has reflected on the Bali negotiations and the public outcry that ensued, and has decided to make a public commitment to specific targets at Davos in early 2008. According to the Reuters article linked here, the Japanese are also proposing a new financial mechanism (to support developing countries in moving towards low-carbon development) and a new category of targets designed for middle-income countries such as India and China. Thank you, Japan, for taking this constructive approach. And thanks for letting it slip out prior to Davos, just in case others decide to follow your lead... ! (Picture courtesy Reuters.)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Day Seventy-Nine: women rise in Kenya

The result of Kenya's presidential election hangs in the balance tonight, with the electoral commission auditing results in several areas to ensure an accurate declaration on Sunday. Meanwhile, many parliamentary seats have changed hands. It seems that several key ministers have lost their seats and some political veterans have been displaced by younger rivals. One positive trend reflected in this election is the advancement of women in Kenyan politics. As the article from 'The Standard' linked here reports, female candidates have truly broken through - many will serve for the first time, though some will return having retained their seats. Many battled in an otherwise all-male field and against cultural expectations, in a society that remains strongly male dominated. It's one positive sign to emerge from an election that has been extremely tense throughout. Let's hope it indicates a democracy coming of age and a society becoming more equal.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Day Seventy-Eight: US foreign policy in the spotlight

What does it take for foreign policy to get airtime in US presidential debates? (Beyond the Iraq 'blame game' of course.) The answer, sadly, seems to be that it takes something both dramatic and tragic - such as the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. As today's linked article from Pakistan's 'Daily Times' reports, Bhutto's untimely death has prompted greater consideration of foreign policy issues by US presidential candidates. Inevitably, the discussion focuses on US and global security, but it could also prompt broader consideration of America's place in the world. It may focus voters' minds on who might best represent the US constructively on the global stage. This must be good news. The world desperately needs a credible US president who demonstrates genuine concern and compassion for the world's less fortunate citizens - in word and deed. The debate started this week will help the US electorate identify someone who fits this bill. There is time yet...

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Day Seventy-Seven: Pakistan's neighbourhood

Following the shocking assassination of Benazir Bhutto earlier today, little positive reporting of any significance could be found. However, on Pakistan's 'Dawn' newspaper site, I found an article that predated Bhutto's death by hours. It seems that Hamid Karzai, the President of Afghanistan, is on a state visit to Pakistan right now. In fact, he met with Bhutto hours before her death. Prior to that, the Dawn article reports, he also met with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, and the two leaders committed themselves to co-operation in order to suppress extremism and shore up the region's stability. Now, following Bhutto's death, Pakistan seems to be teetering on the brink of collapse - making the strength and support of its neighbours vital. Pakistan's relationship with Afghanistan - and, of course, that with India - may hold the key to the future of the South Asian region. If there is hope to be found anywhere today, it is in the overwhelming and universal condemnation of Bhutto's assassination and sympathy for Pakistan's citizens - particularly from leaders in Afghanistan and India. We must hope today's events have not eroded Karzai's commitment, but rather reinforced it.


BTW: The Dawn website is worth reading in more detail, if you wish to deepen your understanding of Pakistani politics, security and culture. The coverage of Bhutto's assassination and its aftermath specifically is fairly comprehensive, though factual rather than analytical.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Day Seventy-Six: harnessing brain power to change lives

I found this article tucked away on the ABC News website today, and it's a fascinating read. It outlines progress towards developing technology that could intercept signals sent by the brain to the vocal chords - something that could ultimately restore the power of speech to those currently without it. At the moment, the project team is concentrating its efforts on developing a wheelchair that can move in response to brain signals - but it's clear that the technology has many potential applications. Indeed, it's easy to see how it might be misappropriated. But, for now, efforts are rightly focused on realising its tremendous promise for those with limited speech or mobility.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Day Seventy-Five: messages of peace

With many people across the world celebrating Christmas today, there were renewed calls for peace and tolerance from Christian and world leaders. It is thus every Christmas, of course. This year the messages carry particular poignancy, though, as peace talks are renewed between Israeli and Palestinian administrations - whilst conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere rage on. This AFP article carried in the Middle East Times captures succinctly the desire for peace expressed by so many communities at this time of year. A particularly striking image evoked in the article is that of Muslims and Christians praying alongside each other for peace in Kashmir. When hopes and dreams are shared across different faiths and cultures, they must surely edge closer to realisation...

Monday, December 24, 2007

Day Seventy-Four: promise for India's widows

Yep, I'm still here. Is anybody else? I hope and expect you are all with your families having some well earned rest and recuperation... If you get the chance to look in on Reasons to be Hopeful, then I hope you enjoy today's little bit of positivity.

It seems that the Indian government may be on the path to addressing one of the nation's most deprived groups - its 33 million widows. At the weekend, Renuka Chowdhury, the Minister for Women and Child Development, announced her intent to forge the way for widows to remarry if they wish and to provide training to help them find work. This is a very promising development. If the Minister's plans are enacted, they could help break down some of the stigma attached to widowhood - currently, Hindu custom forbids widows from remarrying and they may be ostracised by friends and family. Many must beg to survive. The plans are not yet law of course, and any change in societal attitudes will take many years. But, if the government follows through on these recent promises, many Indian women may find some hope where before they had none.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Day Seventy-Three: the spirit of Christmas, in China

A classic heartwarmer today, courtesy of the Indian newswire. Kailee Wells was born in Hunan, China, in 1997 and abandoned soon afterwards. She was brought to the US by her adoptive parents. But in 2002, at the age of five, she was diagnosed with aplastic anaemia, a rare and potentially fatal blood disorder similar to leukaemia. By Christmas 2003, having been given a very poor prognosis by successive doctors, even poor Kailee believed she might not see another Christmas. So her parents went on their own search for a bone marrow donor, eventually returning to China to find a match for Kailee there. After one failed transplant, Kailee's family got lucky - a young doctor from Hangzhou was identified as a perfect match. The transplant was successful. Kailee is now ten (going on eleven) years old, healthy and doing well at school. This week she returned again to China, to meet her donor, Wang Lin - and this Christmas is launching her own recruitment drive for bone marrow donors in China, in the hope that other children will benefit too.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Day Seventy-Two: modern city living

I found this feature in The Independent newspaper (UK) a very interesting read. It details an assessment of the world's cities, using a range of measurable criteria such as the number of major tourist sites, UNESCO heritage sites, flights into the city, 'ethnic' restaurants etc. It's good news for Londoners - London narrowly pipped New York to top spot in the rankings. (Though I suspect if cost of living had been a factor, New York would have soared above London, given the current dollar exchange rate!) It's also a great read - lots of detail on different cities around the world, from Tokyo to Johannesburg. More importantly, it shows improvements in the quality of urban living in general - and given the world's seemingly inevitable drift towards urbanization this has to be welcome. Many of the cities described in The Independent were once dirty, smog-covered and crime-ridden - London is one example. Some are still heavily burdened with such problems. But the fact that so many cities have evolved into cultural and culinary capitals, with well-kept public spaces, shows that cities can become great places to live - as local incomes improve and with appropriate public and private investment. Makes you wonder what the world's big cities will look like in 20 or 50 years' time, doesn't it?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Day Seventy-One: maintain your brain

After much rooting around today, I finally located this fascinating little story on CNN. It documents some of the findings from a study of Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, which has already been going for 20 years and will continue a while yet. What makes this study so unusual is that all the subjects are nuns. 677 initially enrolled in the study. Just 61 are still alive - all of whom now appear to be in their 90s ... and very lucid. In addition to undergoing regular interviewing and testing over the last two decades, all the nuns agreed to donate their brains to the study upon their death. And because their lifestyles are so uniform, it has been relatively easy to distinguish contributors to the onset of dementia - and, indeed, things one can do to delay or prevent it. These include staying intellectually active and - all readers of this blog will be pleased to note - maintaining a positive and optimistic outlook! So, get reading and keep smiling. You'll be glad you did when you're 96...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Day Seventy: accessing information in Cuba

A really interesting article from the BBC today - part of their 'Free to Speak' series, launched to celebrate 75 years of the BBC World Service. (The stories in the series are really worth a read, incidentally.) It also chimes with the article posted yesterday on open access university lectures - which has stimulated a lot of RTBH interest! Thanks very much for all your comments and emails on that - and with the post on Middle Eastern media outlets (Day Sixty-Six).

So, to today's story. It documents the ingenious efforts of Cubans to gain access to the internet and, through it, to knowledge and opinions beyond Cuba's borders. Some Cubans now have internet access at work, but hooking up at home is not possible - though some people are paying to use foreigners' internet access for a set time per month, so desperate are they to surf. In addition, the Cuban government appears to be loosening restrictions on access to information, just a bit. Serving president Raul Castro has apparently called on the Cuban press to be more critical, and earlier this month the government said it would sign two UN human rights accords (which should enshrine press freedom, at least on paper).

So not quite 'good news' yet, then - but cause for hope? Certainly.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Day Sixty-Nine: sharing knowledge and a little love

This article from the International Herald Tribune made me laugh out loud today. It tells of a charming and theatrical physics professor from MIT, whose internet-broadcast lectures are proving quite a hit. He is known for bouncing around the lecture theatre, performing dramatic experiments with props and generally making physics fun. When Walter H G Lewin gained a cult following at MIT, the institute created a global classroom using its OpenCourseWare - and now anyone in the world can log on and benefit from his knowledge and enthusiasm for FREE. And they do. Apparently, Prof Lewin has received fan mail from India, China, Iraq and many other places, and he was No 1 in the download charts on IPhoneU for a while. It's a fantastic example of someone with a gift for teaching thinking of new ways to reach out and touch their students, wherever they may be.

Well, guess where I'm off to next? Yes, to an online science lecture - I want to witness Prof Lewin for myself and develop my own love of physics. If anyone can help me do that - something of an upward climb - then I guess Prof Lewin may be the man. (Photo from IHT online.)

(Actually, you can link to the lectures from a little box to the side of the IHT article. I've already had a peek. All 36 lectures are there so you can view them in order, or pick a subject that takes your fancy. The high res versions are more or less like being in the lecture hall yourself... though you are less likely to be hit by any flying props. Each is 45 mins, so this is something to do when you have some time, and a cup of tea in your hand...)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Day Sixty-Eight: living with HIV in Lesotho

In direct contrast to yesterday's post on Madagascar, today I found this article on Lesotho. This tiny, mountainous, landlocked country is one of the poorest in the world - the locals joke that its biggest export is soil, which is washed down the mountains into South Africa as it erodes. In fact, the nation is defined nowadays by its export of water, the landscape dominated by the enormous Highlands Water Project (which pipes water over the border towards Johannesburg) - and also, sadly, by its HIV epidemic, with around 25% of adults infected. And yet, despite its lack of resources the country is beginning to get to grips with HIV, as this story from the BBC demonstrates - it tells of a new recruitment agency dedicated to placing HIV-positive people in stable employment (no mean feat in a country with 45% unemployment). It's early days, but the agency seems to be having some success, as taboos break down a little and people are willing to be more open about their HIV status - but also as the local community, in which nearly everyone has lost a close friend or family member to AIDS, is more willing to act and to show its compassion. Could this be the turning point for Lesotho? I have my fingers tightly crossed...
(Photo from BBC online.)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Day Sixty-Seven: health and hope in Madagascar

A really impressive little story today, about how the Madagascan government and its people have 'got it right' in terms of improving public health. For a start, the island nation has the lowest rate of HIV infection in sub-Saharan Africa, due in large part to early and significant investment in sex education, condom promotion, HIV testing and targeting of high-risk groups. But it doesn't stop there. The government and its partners have also rolled out comprehensive programmes in malaria, childhood vaccination, nutrition and other services. The result? Child deaths have dropped by around 40% in recent years. It shows what can be done with leadership and commitment, and appropriate and timely external support in the right places. It makes me wonder why I don't hear more about Madagascan healthcare professionals sharing their knowledge with their African neighbours - let's hope that is happening, even if it's done quietly. Meanwhile, if the Madagascans sustain their own efforts, I have no doubt that health indicators will improve further and the country will be recognised as a model for others.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Day Sixty-Six: many voices, many choices in Middle East media

This opinion piece in Middle East Online caught my eye today. It documents the exponential growth in media outlets across the Middle East, sparked - the commentator says - by the popularity of Al Jazeera. Now everyone wants a piece of the airtime action, it seems, and the result is the airing of a more diverse range of opinions, perspectives and ... talkshows! Indeed, even Oprah has found a new audience across the region, as the influx of entertainment from the west gathers pace. One suspects the intercontinental cultural traffic may be moving in one direction though, with local versions of 'Pop Idol' also achieving huge popularity. It would be great to see as much traffic coming the other way - after all, improvement of cross-cultural understanding is by its nature a two-way process. Here's hoping! Keep tuning the dial...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Day Sixty-Five: hang on... just two years to wait!

It's hard to know quite what to make of the outcome of the climate change negotiations in Bali. Certainly, there appears to have been more emotion on display than is customary at international environmental negotiations. The NYT article linked here does a good job of presenting a balanced summary, whilst highlighting some of the positive aspects that give cause for hope. Chief among them, the authors say, is the fact that a new US president will enter the fray half-way through the two-year negotiating round initiated in Bali - and most analysts agree that he or she will feel and respond to the pressure for a credible and meaningful outcome. So, deferred hope, perhaps?


Thanks go to Reasons to be Hopeful reader, Milli, who sent me a link to a BBC article giving an upbeat account of the Bali negotiations. Unfortunately, by the end of today, the BBC had watered down the article's enthusiasm considerably! It, and the accompanying analysis by Richard Black, is still worth a read though: I also found an article closer to the original on a Bangladeshi news site: Thanks so much, Milli!

You can send me links to positive news stories anytime you like, at: I've also posted this contact email to the right hand side of the blog posts, for ongoing reference.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Day Sixty-Four: is US - N Korea relationship thawing?

Having placed my faith in the New York Philharmonic and their planned tour of Pyongyang on Day Sixty, it was some relief to see that political diplomacy continues in parallel - and with some hope. The New York Times reports that President Bush today received a letter from Kim Jong-il, confirming that North Korea will decommission its nuclear weapons provided the US fulfills its promise to 'normalize relations'. It's clear both sides are dancing round each other a little, but the overall direction appears to be forwards, and this must be welcomed - the alternative trajectory, namely continued tension and possible escalation into conflict, is definitely to be avoided.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Day Sixty-Three: grandmother fights local battles to win a bigger war

Since retiring as a primary school teacher just over two decades ago, Le Hien Duc has waged a daily war against corruption in Vietnam. Acting on behalf of her fellow citizens, the 75-year-old grandmother purues their complaints and allegations against local officials from her home in Hanoi - armed with such resources as a computer and digital camera (to catch the unscrupulous 'in the act'). This week, her tireless efforts were recognized by Transparency International, which awarded her the 2007 Integrity Award. Her hard work has attracted other, less welcome, attention too - including death threats. Nevertheless, she remains optimistic, saying “Vietnam has won every war it has fought in the past. There is no reason it cannot win the war against corruption.” If enough people take a brave stand against everyday corrupt practices, like Le Hien Duc, her faith may well be rewarded.

(Photo courtesy AFP, from Khaleej Times.)

By the way, although this AFP article is on broad circulation, I chose to include the version from Khaleej Times online - an interesting newspaper from the United Arab Emirates. It's worth a browse if you have a spare minute. It includes some interesting and thoughtful (and sometimes provocative) opinion columns.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Day Sixty-Two: a new deal for Sudan

With Darfur now (rightly) dominating news coverage about Sudan, it's easy to forget that until 2005 the country was engaged in a bloody civil war. That conflict – between the north (with its largely Muslim population, housing the capital Khartoum) and the south (mostly Christian and Animist, with more productive land) – lasted two decades and claimed the lives of 1.5 million people. Recently, the peace deal has appeared fragile, with the ex-rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) pulling out of the nation's power-sharing government. Now, it seems, solutions may have been found - a deal has been struck to rotate the home of government every three months, between Khartoum and the southern city of Juba. Troop withdrawals will follow, and a national census is planned. The final outstanding issue – how to share the country's oil wealth – is apparently also close to resolution. The SPLM Secretary General said today, "We are hopeful that by Saturday there may be a solution - we are hopeful." Well, then, we must be hopeful too. Even more so if the momentum of success can help generate similar 'deals' for the people of Darfur.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Day Sixty-One: relationships with Iran

Today, the last in our mini-series (!) on building hope in totalitarian states. Actually, according to this eminently readable and thought-provoking article by Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek, Iran is less totalitarian than those in the West might think, with a range of powers vested in different institutions - many of which do not always (or even often) see eye-to-eye with hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Iran has been 'shunned' by the US of late and the words 'military action' have even been whispered. Most agree that is not on the agenda. But alternatives are needed, and fast, to safeguard global and regional security. Zakaria argues that, rather than backing Iran into a corner where building up its nuclear capability is the obvious response, the US and Europe should work hard to develop ties with Iran, making use of the full range of institutional viewpoints that currently exist there. The New York Philharmonic might yet play Tehran...

Monday, December 10, 2007

Day Sixty: diplomatic overtures

After the recent discussions about what might work best to effect positive change in Zimbabwe, this story, about North Korea, seems particularly apt. The New York Philharmonic orchestra announced today, after months of debate, that it will play a concert in Pyongyang when it tours East Asia next year. The tour date has been agreed in response to an unexpected official invitation from the North Korean culture ministry that was received in August. The project is not without risk or controversy, of course (so I am expecting those comments to come rolling in!) but those who support it point to recent moves made by the North Korean government towards engaging in dialogue with the US and others about scaling back its nuclear ambitions. They see cultural exchange as complementary to renewed diplomacy. Interestingly, US orchestras have paved the way for diplomacy before - the article linked here, from the New York Times, cites past orchestral tours of China and Russia as examples. So, the New York Philharmonic will bring Beethoven to the people of North Korea (and apparently the 'Star Spangled Banner' too!?), and in doing so may open their doors just a crack to the rest of the world. Nothing else seems to have achieved that to date, so it is probably worth a try.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Day Fifty-Nine: strong words and actions from Sentamu

Back to Zimbabwe again. The pressure is certainly mounting for positive change. Today, Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York (second most senior in the Church of England hierarchy) cut up his clerical 'dog collar' live on television and said he would not wear it again until Mugabe was gone and Zimbabwe was free. At the same time, he called for significant economic and political pressures to be brought to bear on Mugabe, not just by African leaders but by the world, as they were against Charles Taylor in Liberia and the apartheid regime in South Africa. It was a passionate call to action - hard for any of us to ignore now, and one we're unlikely to forget given Sentamu's unusual and hugely symbolic cutting up of his own 'identity'. It seems the ball is now fully in our court. The world holds Zimbabwe's future in its hands...

[ It is well worth watching the whole interview the Archbishop gave to Andrew Marr, via BBC online, using the link in the title above. If you'd like to read more about related gestures made by several European leaders on the final day of the EU-Africa summit, use this link: ]

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Day Fifty-Eight: heroic humanity

I had to post this today. Over the last few days, CNN has been showing footage from its 'Heroes' awards ceremony on television. It's the culmination of a lengthy process to identify some of the people doing their best to change the world for the better. Some of their stories are quite amazing. I'll let you take a look and see for yourselves - but if you need guidance on where to find inspiration, start with the stories of Ecuadoran lawyer Pablo Fajardo, young leukemia patient, activist and "viewers' choice" Pat Pedraja, or 'Young Wonder' Kayla Cornale (who at the age of 18 has already contributed more to scientific discovery that most of us could ever hope to!)... All power to CNN for putting something together that is not schmaltzy, but is instead rather understated, and yet incredibly moving. Hope for humanity indeed!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Day Fifty-Seven: offering hope to Zimbabwe

It's hard to imagine quite where the current diplomatic muddle around Zimbabwe will end. Will EU leaders at the Lisbon summit talk 'tough' to Mugabe, having seemingly condoned his political and economic mismanagement by lifting his EU travel ban? Can Mugabe's peers across Africa serve the role of 'critical friends', or will deference persist?

An interesting and thoughtful opinion piece in the South African Business Day today asserts that democratically elected African leaders - such as Kufuor in Ghana and Mbeki in South Africa - must draw on their popular mandate to take bolder steps. Kofi Bentil, a Ghanaian academic and consultant, argues that such boldness is needed not only in relation to Zimbabwe (on which he clearly believes African leaders are out of step with the 'vast majority' of their citizens) but on human rights abuses across the continent and on other areas such as economic reform. In short, Bentil argues that a more discerning form of leadership is required to facilitate the 'African renaissance' craved across the continent. The only way such leadership can be fostered is by many more Africans calling for it, loudly and publicly - and with the same thoughtfulness modelled by Bentil today.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Day Fifty-Six: good business for dyslexics

I am normally a little reticent about posting frequently on the same topic. Variety is the spice of life, after all! However, this article from the New York Times today echoed so beautifully the story about Tom Sweet posted on Day Fifty, and the brief discussion that ensued here, that I had to include it.

In short, recent research suggests that people with dyslexia often excel as entrepreneurs, due to their well-developed verbal and interpersonal skills and a willingness to delegate responsibility to others. Indeed, this particular research project - conducted by Professor Logan at the Cass Business School in London - found that 35% of entrepreneurs interviewed identified themselves as dyslexic. Incidentally, so do several hugely successful business people, such as Richard Branson and Charles R Schwab. When you think about it, it makes a lot of sense that a person's need to adapt to constraints spurs broader creativity and innovation. But it's really important to have research confirming the trend and documenting success stories more formally. Meanwhile, the future for Tom Sweet looks hopeful indeed...

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Day Fifty-Five: kidnapped toddler returned to parents

Brian Rincón Arias was kidnapped by guerillas from his nursery in Cúcuta, Colombia, on June 15. This week he was carried across mountains for 24 hours by a female guerilla, who then handed herself and Brian to soldiers on patrol. The woman, known as La Negra, had fled with the boy from the rebel gang with which she had lived for years. Not without significant risk, it must be said, since the rebels had demanded £370k ransom for the boy's safe return – they would have had little sympathy for La Negra's 'maternal instinct', which Columbian authorities think drove her to return Brian. La Negra is now in a protection programme, which aims to reintegrate ex-rebels into society. As for Brian, he has been reunited with his parents – a happy ending that provides a rare glimmer of hope in a country that has seen 393 people kidnapped by rebels this year alone...

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Day Fifty-Four: Islam and tolerance

A quite extraordinary story today. It tells of one man, seeking to shift minds across a worldwide religious community. At the International Consultation on Islam and HIV/AIDS in Johannesburg last week, Abu al-Sameed 'came out'. He asked that he and other homosexuals be respected and supported as community members, so they can seek support and help protect themselves against HIV infection. Such a plea was, apparently, unprecedented. The audience reaction? Well, after some initial discouragement, followed by a tense silence, Abu al-Sameed held the floor. At the end of the session, several listeners came up and apologised to him for anything offensive that they or others may have said about homosexuality in the past.

Abu al-Sameed's experience is reassuring for gay Muslims. But the story has broader significance. It seems that tales depicting the intolerance of Islam abound in the press. (Witness the furore over the British teacher and her class teddy bear in Sudan.) Stories like Abu al-Sameed's lend a balance and perspective that may prove critical if we are to build mutual understanding and trust between those of different faiths.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Day Fifty-Three: a miraculous escape

I went for an old fashioned good news story today. Devon, UK: young boy falls into river whilst playing with dog, father jumps in to rescue him, both manage to grab on to some rocks until rescue services arrive... and both are pulled out and brought to safety. According to the rescuers, it was something of a 'miracle' that they both survived, in what were described as 'horrendous' conditions following significant rains. One imagines the water wasn't too warm either...

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Day Fifty-Two: Malawi feeds itself

It's a rare thing indeed - alas - to find good news on the front page, let alone as the lead story. Yet, lo and behold, this is exactly what I found as I picked up my copy of the New York Times this morning. (The only hard copy newspaper I read these days...)
The story in question documents Malawi's significant increase in agricultural productivity this year, following a national programme to distribute subsidised fertiliser to farmers. The programme was instigated by Malawi's president – following severe food shortages in recent years, which had led to widespread suffering across the country - and he was keen to find a solution that didn't entail dependency on humanitarian aid. Interestingly, many international donors had urged the government not to enact subsidies - and some are now eating their words. The UK, for example, has latterly given $8m to support the subsidy programme, having apparently voiced concern initially. There are of course questions over the programme's sustainability (indeed it's worth reading the whole NY Times article to appreciate the nuances) but for now the strategy appears to be giving Malawian agriculture (and sovereignty) just the boost it needed. And for those who can now feed their families, having been unable to last year, it's a most welcome sign of hope.

(Picture from NY Times slide show.)

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Day Fifty-One: teaching hard lessons

I found this story really thought-provoking - and encouraging. It asserts - on the basis of evidence from a US national social studies educators' conference and testimonies from schools in California - that increasing numbers of US teachers are including the study of 'genocide' on their curriculum. The aim is to cover not only the origins of genocide, but also strategies to prevent and solve genocidal practices - with case studies ranging from the holocaust to Armenia, Rwanda and Darfur. Not easy lessons. But perhaps just what schools should be teaching in the 21st century... namely, how to prevent (and when needed solve) some of the big challenges affecting people now, right across the planet. Wtih children equipped to debate these difficult issues today, we may see a global community better equipped to address them in future.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Day Fifty: sweet and spice

A touching tale from Wales today, about a boy with dyslexia who has set up a small business importing and selling herbs and spices at local markets. An avid foodie, Tom Sweet was driven to create his business, with help from his parents, after others warned him that his dyslexia might prevent him from getting a good job later in life. He has since received encouragement in his endeavours from top chefs Rick Stein and Phil Vickery. It's the kind of determination you have to admire - especially since he's only 12 years old! "The stall is helping me a lot," Tom says, "especially with my maths."

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Day Forty-Nine: measles on its way out?

It's not every day that you hear of a public health campaign as successful as this one. New data reported today indicate that Africa has managed to cut the number of measles deaths across the continent by a staggering 91% in recent years, from 396000 deaths in 2000 to 36000 in 2006, through a series of childhood vaccination programmes operated largely by determined volunteers. The programmes have proved successful even where local health systems have collapsed, as in Zimbabwe. Indeed, right across the world, the measles caseload is falling. To ensure this trend continues, the global Measles Initiative plans to emulate the African success elsewhere using the same model. If they can, then we may yet see the back of this dangerous childhood illness and an end to the terrible suffering it causes - and that would be good news indeed.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Day Forty-Eight: how to help the planet

On Monday, we had big business saying not enough was being done to mitigate the threat presented by climate change to the global economy (see post for Day Forty-Five). On Tuesday, the 2007 Human Development Report was released (by the UN Development Programme) spelling out the dangers of climate change to the world's poor. So it was with some relief that I found an article today, Wednesday, suggesting there are things we can all do to benefit the Earth's atmosphere.

The article, in Scientific American, is informative, detailed and lengthy - but worth the read and ultimately positive. The author reckons that if each of us take on just three or four of his recommendations the world will benefit. Who knows how 'scientific' this really is, and I don't feel wholly comfortable with all the solutions suggested - but on an issue where lack of certainty has for too long justified a lack of action, it's kind of refreshing to see such a strong focus on solutions rather than on further debating of the problem.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Day Forty-Seven: Uganda prepares for graduation

I found this story quite by accident in the business section of The Times (UK). And what a little 'diamond in the rough' it is. A fascinating tale, about a new information and communications technology hub being built - with Commonwealth support - outside Entebbe, Uganda. The zone is being designed to harness Uganda's well-educated and ambitious graduates, much in the same way as the (apparently now too expensive) Indian call centres have done. Despite the fact that the Indian experience suggests such development pathways can be both brutish and short, I feel that - if it comes off - the Ugandan project may be longer lasting. At some point, the 'flat world' rush to the bottom on salaries has to generate diminishing returns and, for now at least, Uganda seems to promise both affordable labour costs and high standards of education (a rare combination). This may be a winning ticket.

But I find this story hopeful on a range of other levels. For one, it suggests a meaningful contribution by the Commonwealth - bringing that most anachronistic of institutions into the 21st century. Uganda has secured international interest with the recent CHOGM meeting, and this project is financed by the Commonwealth Business Council. Second, it is the stated ambition of several low-income countries in Africa and elsewhere to achieve middle-income country status within the next decade or so. In a rapidly evolving global economy, with the right investments in the right places - and perhaps Entebbe is one - this might just be possible...

Monday, November 26, 2007

Day Forty-Six: enough is enough in Uttar Pradesh

Today a story from Banda in Uttar Pradesh (northern India). A tale that is sobering but ultimately hopeful, I feel. Several hundred women in Banda have formed a gang - noted for its uniform pink saris - aimed at exposing, shaming (and, if deemed necessary, punishing) corrupt officials and abusive men.

The 'gulabi gang' (pink gang) is led by Sampat Pal Devi, a seemingly articulate and formidable woman who found herself married at the age of 9 and a mother at 13, having received little education, and is motivated by such experiences to defend the rights of the poor, especially poor women. "We are a gang for justice," she says - and whilst exposing corruption and advocating for rights appears to dominate the gang's work, gang members have been known to use 'lathis' (a type of baton) to mete out justice too. Are such tactics justified? Are these women putting themselves at risk? (Similar questions ran through my mind when reading the 'Taxi Sisters' story - see Day Forty-Three of this blog.)

It's hard to judge as an outsider, but it is clear that these women - and men, for men are joining the pink gang too - feel their situation is desperate and requires an equally extreme response. Whether the 'grudging respect' now apparently shown to them by local officials will grow into something more significant, only time will tell. But the first step towards social justice must be to amplify the voices of the marginalised. And the 'gulabi gang' seem to be doing that - loud and clear.

(Picture courtesy BBC online.)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Day Forty-Five: business leading the way?

A group of UK businesses will issue their response to the UK Government's 'Stern Review' on climate change on Monday, and they look set to call for greater effort from the private sector, consumers and the government to shift the UK to a greener way of life. This call has been made by others many times, of course. What is encouraging here is that the companies concerned are big enough to effect real change, if they follow through on their own recommendations. So we should expect to see some new 'greener' products on the market, and greater investment in the research and development of new technology - amongst other things. There are many good reasons for such moves, with the need to address and adapt to climate change just one. In any case, it's great to see such leadership from UK businesses - let's hope it manifests itself in other areas too, such as human rights, community investment and ethical supply chain management...

[I am also enjoying the symmetry of the story I posted from the UK 'Times' newspaper yesterday, about New York, and this story today from the 'New York Times' newspaper about the UK... Hope this tickles you, too!]

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Day Forty-Four: a safer city

Going a bit closer to home today (well, my home, anyway). New data released this week show that New York City's murder rate fell again this year. True, gangs still engage in significant levels of violent crime (indeed, the vast majority of murderers in the city are known by their victim) - but it's a far cry from the violence witnessed by the city at the height of the crack cocaine epidemic back in the 1990s. This is certainly good news for those of us living in NYC. But it also demonstrates more broadly that urban violence can be stemmed and reversed - if properly analysed, New York's story could hold lessons for other cities, in the US and beyond. Let's hope this happens.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Day Forty-Three: the taxi sisters

I love this story - a great example of simple, effective photo-journalism. It tells of 10 women in Dakar, Senegal who recently set up their own taxi company, 'Taxi Sisters'. They are the first female taxi drivers in the city and have chosen to distinguish themselves further by using brand new vehicles (most taxis in Dakar are, they say, frequently both dirty and dangerous). They seem to be enjoying real success and are already making expansion plans. The Taxi Sisters are aiming for a much larger fleet - and it should be said that they have nothing against male taxi drivers, and are in fact planning to establish another company, 'Taxi Blue', using a similar business model but with only male drivers!

It's a great example of women breaking through in a traditionally very male dominated society. The Taxi Sisters have taken loans to purchase their new cars, which they are paying back so as to ensure ownership in 5 years' time, and they aim to put their profits in building society accounts. (Financial services are pretty inaccessible in most developing countries, so examples like this are massively encouraging.) I, for one, have my fingers crossed for them - and if I ever travel to Dakar, I know how I'll get around.

(Photo: BBC World Service online)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Day Forty-Two: trust your judgement

I do like it when I find a juicy popular science piece to post, and Newsweek is often a good source. I found this today, summarising research that shows people often make the best decisions based on limited information. In other words, they trust their gut. In fact, what they are doing is instinctively honing in on the important bits of information, and screening out the rest. So much so, that researchers have found little additional benefit in using complex computerised statistical analysis to process information and make choices.

These days we are overloaded with information. No doubt many will find it reassuring to learn that following one's instinct is still a good bet.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Day Forty-One: dare to dream in Monrovia

I am feeling as sick as a parrot today (I'm never quite sure about the origins of that phrase, but will find out...) - however, I found this amazing tale that lifted my spirits. James Kiawon, a 13-year-old boy in Liberia, has performed so well at school and skipped academic years so many times as a consequence, that he will enter university next year aged 14. Most importantly, he has a tremendous passion for learning, all the more remarkable given the scarce educational resources available to him. And, as the article points out, until quite recently most boys his age were forcibly engaged in bloody conflict. James' story gives a glimpse of just what might be possible in a peaceful Liberia, where hope has been given new license.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Day Forty: stem cell breakthrough

Some really promising scientific news today. Scientists in both Japan and the US have announced their success in generating stem cells using human skin rather than embryos. Given that concern around the use of embryos is one of the key barriers to greater investment in stem cell research, this is a major breakthrough, which offers the potential for a sea-change in political and public support. Why does this matter? Well, existing research suggests that stem cell science could generate cures for cancer, strokes, Alzheimer's and a huge range of other serious (and less serious) medical conditions - as well as offering regenerative potential in those with injuries or recovering post-surgery. Their potential has already seized the public's imagination in many countries, and unfortunately this has led to some 'dodgy' research and product sales, too - another reason why a more active and open research field would be welcome. So, all in all, a very good reason to be hopeful.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Day Thirty-Nine: momentum in Khmer Rouge trial

Only days after my last post on this topic, another senior figure from the Khmer Rouge has been arrested and brought before the ECCC in Cambodia. Khieu Samphan, the former head of state under the Khmer Rouge, was arrested in hospital in Phnom Penh early this morning. He has always denied any responsibility for the brutality of his former regime, claiming his role was only ceremonial. Regardless of the truth or otherwise of this assertion, he was apparently very close to Pol Pot (who died in 1998) and as such he may be able to offer real insights into Pol Pot's character and actions.

The Cambodian Information Centre interviewed Khieu Samphan last week, prior to his arrest. You can read a transcript (translated from Khmer) here: (you may need to cut and paste into your browser). The CIC site is worth a browse anyway, if you are interested in finding out more about Cambodia.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Day Thirty-Eight: Tutu takes a stand

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has long been recognised for his timely questioning of powerful institutions where they appear to do harm. In a recent BBC radio interview, to be broadcast on Tuesday, he turned his attention to the Anglican Church, saying the institution was "extraordinarily homophobic" and "almost obsessed" with human sexuality. Tutu called for a more welcoming approach from the church's leadership.

In a world where it seems we often let subtle (or even extreme) discrimination pass without comment, it is critical that influential figures such as Tutu feel able to question societal indifference - and to scrutinise institutional practices that perpetuate bigotry. Thus Tutu's stance should arguably give hope not just to gay rights campaigners, but to anyone who values free speech and the spirit of democratic enquiry.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Day Thirty-Seven: children released by DRC rebels

News emerged today that 232 children have been released by Mayi Mayi rebels in North Kivu, DRC. Their release was apparently secured by UNICEF, working with UN peacekeepers and Save the Children. The children are being cared for in camps prior to reunification with their families. Whilst such reunifications are far from straightforward, the children's release is undoubtedly welcome news. It also gives cause for hope that the many other children seized by rebel forces to serve in armed conflict - in the DRC and elsewhere - may yet win their freedom.

Certainly, there appears to be an increased public and media interest in the plight of child soldiers. This is evident in the North American and European media, and perhaps in the African media too. Does this mean international agencies are intensifying their efforts to address the problem? Is increased publicity contributing to increased resistance within affected populations? Perhaps even a change of heart within some of the rebel forces? Now that would be a reason to be hopeful...

Friday, November 16, 2007

Day Thirty-Six: can women lead the world to a secure future?

This is an interesting little story. A meeting of senior women (several current and ex-presidents and other leaders) is being convened in New York as I type, to explore the ways in which female leaders can help promote peace and security. Their collective hypothesis seems to be that women lead differently to men and that engaging female leaders in global security efforts may bring greater chances of success, for example in conflict resolution. I think this is an interesting idea - and certainly worth exploring.

At the very least, a world in which power were more evenly spread (across spectrums of gender, race, religion) would be more balanced - and perhaps therefore more harmonious...? Discuss!

NB - I also think the site on which this article is to be found (link from post title above) is interesting. 'The Raw Story' aims to communicate 'under-reported' news. Another attempt to create balance, then, this time in news coverage - and, as you know, that's what we're all about here at Reasons to be Hopeful!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Day Thirty-Five: closer Koreas

The gradual coming together of North and South Korea was given significant impetus today, as the respective governments announced plans for a new inter-Korean rail link to begin in December. Though limited to freight transport initially, it will be the first rail service to link the two countries in over half a century. The deal forms part of a broader programme of co-operation between North and South Korea, including in specific industrial sectors – this may in turn contribute to at least partial amelioration of the grinding poverty in which so many North Koreans find themselves. Such outcomes may be slow in coming. But the train has left the station.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Day Thirty-Four: Brazil winning the battle

Brazil's HIV/AIDS policy has been much-lauded for some time. Now a new research report from Harvard confirms the 'remarkable' progress that has been made. Through a combination of free, accessible treatment, and tenacious campaigning on 'safe sex', Brazil has kept its HIV infection rates low. And the Brazilian government hasn't broken the bank to do it. In fact, the report highlights the savings (around $1 billion) that have been achieved through the use of generic medicines, where appropriate and feasible. If all these efforts can be sustained, Brazil will no doubt continue to serve as a beacon to others seeking similar results - not just in relation to HIV/AIDS, but on health and development more broadly.


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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Day Thirty-Three: Cambodia's race to justice

Cambodia's UN-backed human rights tribunal - the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) - has taken seven years to get established. Following Pol Pot's death in 1998, and that of his former military chief in custody last year, many have expressed concern that those implicated could die before they face trial. However, the prospects for justice were enhanced yesterday, as the ECCC detained two high-profile figures. Perhaps the most important was Ieng Sary - the former Khmer Rouge foreign minister. (The other was his wife, a former minister for social affairs.) These arrests follow two others, earlier this year. As such, they offer some hope that 'the truth will out' for the Cambodian people - at last.

In addition to the factual summary linked above, you can read an interesting comment in the Guardian at:

Monday, November 12, 2007

Day Thirty-Two: a sliver of light?

For weeks now, I have been casting around for some sign of positive change in Burma. There were some hints of promise perhaps – as talks began between the government, the NLD and the UN – but nothing really convincing. However, it seems that the UN human rights envoy, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, has now returned to Burma (Myanmar) for the first time since 2003. Could this be the first move towards greater openness?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Day Thirty-One: a city moves again

New Orleans' St. Charles streetcar line had operated since 1835 - until Hurricane Katrina stopped the cars dead in their tracks. This weekend, however, a little over 2 years since Katrina, the line opened up once again. The return of the cars brings a much needed morale boost to the city - as well as offering local residents improved options for getting around - and gives any tourists (hopefully growing in number) another thing to photograph!

(Above photo courtesty AP.)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Day Thirty: living the future

How will we live in the future? In houses that think for themselves? Well, maybe! This fascinating article from the Vancouver Sun describes a new house called EcoTerra, in Quebec, which uses a series of automated systems to adjust its own energy use - taking advantage of the outside environment and maximising energy efficiency (and lowering costs). Very clever. The article also outlines a number of other environmentally-sound construction projects in Canada, but what really attracts me to the EcoTerra demonstration house is that the public can tour it, to get ideas about how to conserve resources in their home NOW. It's another great example of innovation stimulating the public's imagination when it comes to the environment - and with very little government encouragement... (have we heard that before?).

Friday, November 9, 2007

Day Twenty-Nine: it's the little things...

It's Friday, so a more light-hearted tale seems appropriate - to me at least.

This article outlines a growing men's movement in Japan, focused on encouraging men to be more open, considerate and loving with their wives. The movement, which loosely translates as 'the Chauvinistic Husbands Association' (!), emphasizes saying "thank you", " I love you", and "I'm sorry" when appropriate - and requires its members to apologise in public for transgressions such as leaving the toilet seat up. The latter may seem a little extreme. But in the face of soaring rates of marital break-down (and limited gender equality) in Japan, the Association clearly felt extreme measures were necessary. And many Japanese women may well feel this is cause for hope...

Is it more broadly relevant? Well, maybe - after all, how many of us say "I love you", "thank you" and "I'm sorry" when we should? Plus, as far as I'm concerned, anything that addresses the 'toilet seat problem' is to be welcomed.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Day Twenty-Eight: migration's winners?

Once again, I find myself contrasting today's hopeful story with yesterday's. Instead of Somali refugees in the US, we find Polish migrants in London - except they're not all staying for long. This article suggests that many Polish migrants remain several years in the UK, working hard, gaining skills and knowledge, and then return to Poland - better off financially and empowered socially and psychologically. It's an interesting and fairly positive slant on a topic that has so much 'bad press'. Stories like this may help to open up a more intelligent and considered debate on migration in the mainstream media - which would be particularly welcome in the US, given the emotion likely to be invested in the topic in the coming election year!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Day Twenty-Seven: from one extreme to another

It was another tough day today for any hope-seeking blogger. But I did unearth this tale of promise in Newsweek. It briefly documents the life of a Somali refugee, Abass Hassan Mohamed, who having survived tremendous hardship as a child, now finds himself - through natural talent, hard work and a bit of help from family and friends - a student at Princeton University in the US. It's a tale of two extremes, and of one man's ability to bridge them. There aren't many that manage this journey perhaps, but it shows it can be done.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Day Twenty-Six: somewhere out there...

Having focused on the future of planet Earth yesterday, I thought this story provided a nice contrast and complement. Though it is a bit 'out there'! Apparently, a new planet has been discovered in the constellation Cancer. Why is this significant? Well, this the first quintuple planetary system to be detected in outer space, and it appears that the planet in question - or others in its orbit - may yet demonstrate the conditions that could sustain liquid water... and therefore life as we know it.

I find such stories humbling, with respect to our own role in the universe. But yet, on the other hand, the fact that scientists are able to discover such things is pretty amazing - and underscores the potential of humankind. What will we discover next, I wonder...?

(Picture courtesy of Scientific American.)

Monday, November 5, 2007

Day Twenty-Five: the not-so-selfish gene?

Well, well, well. This outcome is somewhat surprising, even for 'glass half full' folk like me! 22,182 people across 21 countries were recently surveyed for the BBC, to assess the degree to which people are prepared to change their lifestyle for the benefit of the planet - and specifically to address climate change. 80% of respondents said they were. Many supported higher taxes on energy use, particularly if the resulting revenues were to be invested in energy efficiency or clean fuel initiatives. "This poll clearly shows that people are much more ready to endure their share of the burden than most politicians grant," said Doug Miller, director of Globescan, the polling company working on behalf of the BBC. The question is: will politicians move decisively into this political space? Perhaps the 2008 US Presidential election will tell us the answer...

(The link in the title above takes you to the BBC online report. From there you can link to the survey results in full, using Adobe Reader.)

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Day Twenty-Four: Wonder Woman

I had to post this today! My admiration of Paula Radcliffe, winner of today's New York Marathon, is absolute. I am not sure how I feel about the fact that she trained through her pregnancy (I don't know enough about what that entailed exactly, though apparently she and her doctor came up with a 'plan') but her determination, commitment and sheer hard work got her past that finishing line first today - having had a baby in January - and, as a mother of two children myself, I have no idea how she managed it. Here's to girl power!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Day Twenty-Three: the good things humans do

I found this article fascinating, not least since - coincidentally - it's a conversation I've been having with several family members and friends of late. The question? What have been humankind's greatest inventions? The ones that really changed the course of human history... Well, in this Independent newspaper feature, you'll get 101 answers to that question. Perhaps they will correspond with your own choices, perhaps they won't, but it sure makes for an interesting read. And it's definitely refreshing to have someone document some of the positive contributions we humans have made to the planet ...

Friday, November 2, 2007

Day Twenty-Two: New York does have some history after all!

I've gone a bit parochial today. I thought this local titbit was interesting. A beautiful old bit of New York Subway tiling has recently been discovered beneath a false wall at Columbus Circle station. In a society where renewal is constant and ultra-modern is the mode, this kind of discovery is fairly unusual. Here is a bit of history that seems to have survived the rush towards the future. It will now be transported to a museum - I actually think it would be nicer left where it is!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Day Twenty-One: cautious optimism in Uganda

It seems that the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA ) and the Ugandan government are edging closer towards peace. It can't come soon enough for those in Northern Uganda, who have suffered the consequences of ruthless conflict for more than 2 decades. As LRA negotiators arrived in Kampala today, they released a dove, as a symbol of hope and of their commitment to the peace process. And so we must be hopeful too...

(This story presents an interesting contrast with that on the DRC rebels being tried by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which I posted a few days ago. The peace process in Uganda has been stalling, apparently, because LRA leaders are aware that the ICC wants to try them and they want a solution to the crisis that avoids this outcome... Hmm...)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Day Twenty: bridging the digital divide

OK. I admit it. I am developing an obsession with positive stories about Africa! This is one of several recent articles documenting the leapfrogging of 'wired' telecommunications in developing countries. The prospect of 'wireless Africa' - and more importantly, of a more equitable distribution of the benefits of internet access - is looking more realisable every day, with the expansion of mobile telephone networks, development of cheaper, more rugged laptops, and now signs of competition between the different firms looking to install wireless broadband. (Several African governments and development agencies are also working to ensure these benefits can be accessed by poor and marginalised populations.) Maybe we can bridge the digital divide after all?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Day Nineteen: little girl pulled from plane wreckage

This is an amazing 'local' story, of a 3-year-old Canadian girl pulled from the wreckage of her grandfather's Cessna aircraft after it crashed in the Rockies. Unfortunately, the girl's grandfather (the pilot) and a fellow passenger were killed in the crash. But the girl was strapped securely into her car seat, which must have been a key factor in her survival. Rescuers found her hanging upside down, just before darkness fell. Her first request upon being rescued? Her teddy bear.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Day Eighteen: voice of landless heard in India?

This is a really interesting, significant and ultimately encouraging story. For several weeks, people from India's rural communities have been marching to the capital, Delhi, to protest threats to land ownership. Some have never had secure tenure; others are under pressure to give it up to business interests. All are worried about their prospects of longer term survival without land. The best brief summary of the issues I've seen is in the Hindu newspaper: (the photo here is also from the Hindu, courtesy AP). The title above links to a more recent BBC story, reporting that the Indian government has today set up a panel to resolve this and other land issues. This is a big undertaking. But it may prove critical, if India's development is to offer gains for all its (one billion) citizens.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Day Seventeen: Africa looking up

Perhaps this will become a recurrent theme in this blog? Let's see. For here is another interesting article about African success. This time, the focus is on Nigeria and its space programme - and the associated rapid growth in wireless technology across the continent. Satellite technology also has tremendous potential for areas such as natural resource management and disaster preparedness. I recall the Indian space programme making similar big strides just over a decade ago. Not long afterwards, there were tales of Indian farmers using cell phones to check stockmarket trends before taking their goods to auction, so they could get the best prices... It seems as if Nigeria, at least, is catching up - fast.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Day Sixteen: bright green hope

OK, so it's not a story - more a series of stories, or an anthology. This week, Time magazine opted to run a double issue on 'green heroes' - those who have really made a difference in 2007 in environmental terms. There is so much worth reading here. There is also an amazing photo montage just beneath the first page of the main article - I am including one photo here for you to enjoy.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Day Fifteen: a very good reason to be hopeful

It's good for your health to be optimistic. Nuff said. But you know that - that's why you are reading this, right?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Day Fourteen: hope for Africa?

If there is one thing that really 'grinds my gears' (as Peter in Family Guy would say) it's the continually negative media portrayal of Africa as a continent. The only news from African nations that reaches us in Europe or North America seems to be about conflict, poverty or disease. So today I'm posting a relatively hopeful reflection on African successes - written by the President of Malawi no less. Plenty of incentive to talk things up, perhaps, but I find the optimism somewhat refreshing - and at least some kind of contrast with the norm... What do you think?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Day Thirteen: twin books

A simple story about that tried-and-tested method of connecting people from different countries and cultures: town twinning. In this case, Timbuktu (or Tombouctou in French) in Mali has been twinned with Hay-on-Wye in Wales. Visitors from Timbuktu to Hay-on-Wye are being greeted by local schoolchildren singing both Malian and Welsh national anthems. How sweet! It's not clear whether any of the schoolchildren will be on the return visit to Timbuktu scheduled for early 2008. Interestingly, both towns have a literary profile - Hay is knows as 'the town of books' with over 30 bookshops and an annual literature festival, whilst by the 14th Century Timbuktu had become a major centre for the writing and distribution of books across Africa. Wow. What a great thing to have in common.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Day Twelve: good news in my house at least!

This is a really fascinating article. One of the best I've read since I started this 12 days ago (and I have read A LOT of news articles, believe me). It's about all the bacteria that have a positive influence on our existence - on our appetite, our immune system and even, it seems, on our happiness! There is some bad news - as many have suspected for some time, modern cleaning agents, hand sanitizers and society's 'germ free' obsession may be doing us a disservice. But it seems we are getting closer to understanding the power of microbes and to learning how to foster the 'good bacteria' whilst controlling 'the bad bacteria'. (I am starting to sound like an advert for yogurt...) My answer: clean infrequently, with fruit-based eco-friendly products, and all will probably stay in balance!!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Day Eleven: hope for Congo and for human rights

A few websites carried stories today about the first appearance of the suspected Congolese war criminal, Germain Katanga, before the International Criminal Court (ICC). I like the article linked above (as always, click the title), which gives detailed background on the context and the charges against Katanga. The ICC trial is clearly good news for the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) - and the ICC have said that further such cases are likely to be brought in future. But it's also good news for human rights in general, and for the role of the ICC in upholding them. For too long, leaders of armed militias have been beyond the law, looting, raping, enslaving and killing with impunity. The ICC may yet prove central to bringing at least some of them to justice.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Day Ten: greening the cement industry

It was hard to find good news today (I think this may be an issue with weekend journalism, actually) but I thought this article was interesting. It seems that cement manufacturers are taking steps to improve the environmental impact of their trade. This is particularly encouraging given there is relatively little regulatory or other pressure on the industry to clean up its act, at least at the moment - this seems to be a case of an industrial sector demonstrating leadership without being pushed. Always good to see.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Day Nine: A sweet tail about a dolphin...

No, really. The dolphin in this news story has been fitted with a prosthetic tail to replace the one she lost when caught in fishing gear as a baby. The link takes you to a short video documenting her physiotherapy. (The only drawback - you have to wait until CNN's sneakily installed advert has finished before you can watch it...)

Friday, October 19, 2007

Day Eight: Growing investment in Africa

I thought I'd look at Africa specifically today, to see if I could find some really good news across the continent. I found some pretty rapidly! A new UNCTAD report says that Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Africa doubled between 2004 and 2006. This is good news for growth and potentially for openness in society. Whether the benefits will be shared equitably within societies remains to be seen, of course. As for global equity? Well, Africa's share of global FDI was less than 3% in 2006 - there's a way to go...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Day Seven: Costa Rica's debt-for-nature swap

Having just had the most amazing family holiday in the beautiful and peaceful country of Costa Rica, I was delighted to see this story. Apparently, the US has relieved Costa Rica of about $26m of its debt - good news in itself as I understand there is plenty more where that came from (debt, I mean) - which the Costa Rican government has agreed to invest in protecting the country's national parks and the stunning wildlife within them. Such efforts take on even more poignance following this year's IUCN Red Book, which stated that 16,306 species across the world are now threatened with extinction... Costa Rica sets an example other countries would do well to follow.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Day Six: one step closer to a malaria vaccine?

I had to post this today. It's news that I and many others have been waiting for, for such a long time... some positive signs from malaria vaccine clinical trials. Let's all hope this is a story that just keeps on getting better.

(By the way, finding something really upbeat in the news each day is hard work. I have, however, recently discovered one outfit that specialises in 'positive journalism' and has reporters all over the world submitting good vibes, plus a few really wacky tales. It's called '' and the link is now listed opposite. Just in case you need MORE than one positive story a day!)

Day Five: hope for the sub-millionnaire!

An encouraging synopsis of the non-linear relationship between wealth and well-being, or at least, between money (and consumption) and happiness. Encouraging, at least, unless you are one of the 'already comfortable' busting a gut to earn an even bigger paycheck or bonus. If that sounds like you, stop. Now. It's officially not worth it!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Day Four: the resilience of nature

Only the other day, I was reading a book about extinct and endangered animals with my son - and the South China tiger was definitely in it. But it seems that one has recently been spotted in the wild, for the first time since 1964! Wow!
(I think this photo, from the BBC website, is actually of one in captivity not in the wild, but it's still very sweet.)

As an aside, here is a link to an interesting article in the Guardian today, about how the US is in a 'funk'. It's called 'The land of optimism is in the dumps, but refuses to admit how it got there'. It's an informative read. Enjoy:,,2191182,00.html

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Day Three: Good news - if you're a cat

Well, finding anything positive in the news today has been a struggle. But this story certainly caught the eye. It's about a North Carolinan priest who offered to bless the local congregation's pets at 2pm yesterday...

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Day Two: moving beyond sectarianism

This story jumped out at me today. A tale of refugee Iraqis who, having fled their home country, now find it easier to put sectarian differences to one side - dining together, socialising together, celebrating together. It's about more than this, however. The story documents human resilience. It reflects the amazing ability humans have to recover from conflict, to build bridges across communities and to imagine a new future - and perhaps to find hope where before there was none. A cause for cautious optimism, at least...

Friday, October 12, 2007

Day One: A vote for peace - and science

Today's good news story has to be the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and Al Gore, in recognition of their work on climate change. Finally, this critical issue is getting the attention it deserves. And there's a reason to be hopeful, if ever I heard one!