Monday, October 27, 2008

Beginning of the end for West African slave trade

A landmark ruling on slavery was reported by the BBC today, which could hasten abolition of the practice across West Africa. Hadijatou Mani from Niger was sold into slavery at age 12 and then forced to work and to bear her master's children - all despite the fact that slavery is outlawed in Niger. With support from Anti-Slavery International, Hadijatou sought compensation from the government of Niger, which she says failed to protect her. She took her case to the ECOWAS (West African regional) Court of Justice... and won. Niger's government has been ordered to pay her $19,750, which she says she will use to feed, educate and house her young family - so they can avoid her fate. She may have helped many other victims of slavery too - the ECOWAS ruling will be binding on all West African states, and has also drawn much-needed attention to the extent that slavery persists across the region. Certainly it's an important step towards eradicating this evil trade, once and for all. (Photo from BBC online.)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Heroes sharing hope

As it did last year (see post Fifty-Eight on this blog), CNN is running a 'Heroes' special for 2008. Ten inspiring individuals, who spend their lives helping others, have been shortlisted by CNN - and now you can vote for those whose stories you find most compelling. I'm not sure whether it's deliberate, but this year more than half those shortlisted work with children - helping them learn, ensuring they eat, and in one case making it possible for them to stay in touch with their parents who are in prison... and all these heroes have an interesting story to tell about their work and how they got there. Well worth a read.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Environment not to be sacrificed during recession?

Somewhat surprisingly, WTOP news reported today that the 15 original European Union countries are on target to meet their Kyoto targets on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Three countries - Denmark, Italy and Spain - are making slightly slower progress than hoped, but this is offset by the rapid progress being made by the UK, Germany and Sweden. Elsewhere in the news today, European leaders committed themselves to sustaining their efforts to tackle climate change regardless of the economic downturn. For now, of course, we have only their word - but at least today's confirmation of progress suggests they're on the right trajectory.


I wanted to let you know about this year's Stand Up campaign from UNIFEM and others, which aims to mobilize people across the world to press for an end to poverty and inequality. Last year, 43.7 million people joined Stand Up, setting a new world record. This year, you too can join Stand Up between 17–19 October 2008, by clicking the link above and signing up to the campaign.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Fighting poverty by restoring women's dignity

Today is Blog Action Day 2008. The idea of Blog Action Day is that all participating bloggers post on a chosen theme - and this year's topic is 'poverty'. In recognition of that, I am sharing an article from the BBC, about a community in Uganda that has banned the degrading practice of female circumcision. Also known as female genital mutilation (FGM), the practice generally involves removing the clitoris and partially sealing the vagina of young girls. The Kapchorwa district council in Uganda banned it on the basis that it was 'outmoded' and 'not useful' for women, but it's also dangerous - circumcised women are more likely to suffer from sexually transmitted and other infections and they incur significant risks to themselves and their babies during childbirth. Further, there's a good deal of evidence to suggest that improving women's rights and position in society - and specifically supporting women to take control of their sexual and reproductive health - is one of the most effective ways to fight poverty. Where women are empowered, households are better off economically and children - especially girls - fare better in terms of their health, education and general well-being. Banning female circumcision is both a practical and symbolic step towards realizing women's rights in Kapchorwa. For the sake of the 3 million women and girls at risk of FGM annually across Africa, let's hope others follow their lead.


Thank you to RTBH reader Suzie for sending in this article, also from the BBC, about a new technology that may help people overcome paralysis. The 'brain-machine interface' works by interpreting brain signals and converting them into electrical impulses to stimulate muscles. US scientists have been testing this device on monkeys with positive results. Now they must test it in humans. So it's early days, but it's definitely promising research. Thanks again, Suzie!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A bitter pill, made sweeter

I was very glad to see this article, from Reuters, today. I have a bit of a 'thing' about how few infectious disease treatments in developing countries are formulated so children can - and might actually want to - take them. After all, we have the technology to flavor medicines, and to make them chewable, meltable, dispersable... and we use it in many over-the-counter children's medicines in the US and Europe. Now, the makers of one of the most effective anti-malarials on the market in Asia and Africa may follow suit. Researchers in Tanzania have been treating children with cherry-flavored chewable Coartem pills. These are more palatable than the original pills, which are very bitter and often crushed by hand so children can take them. The researchers think that if the pills are easier to take, kids are more likely to complete their treatment course - so they're more likely to get well and there is a lower chance of drug resistance emerging. Sounds good and tastes good...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

366: keeping yourself sane, even if others aren't!

This article, from the UK's Times newspaper, seemed a very appropriate way to end the RTBH 'year of good news' in these uncertain economic times. It is an excellent assessment of the ways in which fear and panic can be contagious - the old 'madness of crowds' at work, basically. But it also gives some helpful hints on how to build your own resilience and resist the wave of mass anxiety. Not surprisingly, the tips include employing techniques such as deep breathing, yoga and meditation, and drawing on communities you're involved in, including religious groups. Other tips are more interesting. The article's author urges us to stay curious and not to lay too low - in other words, don't avoid doing new things, even though you may feel particularly risk-averse right now. Another tip is to keep a 'gratitude journal' - some kind of record of things that bring you joy in your life, or just things that help you keep going. I suppose that's what I've been doing all year, in fact. And, no, I'm not going to stop just because the 366 days (it's a leap year) are up. RTBH will keep going - I'm going to try and post regularly, particularly if readers keep sending in the helpful tales they find. Because there are always reasons to be hopeful - even if sometimes you have to hunt around a bit to find them...


I'd like to thank all those readers who have sent articles to me over the course of the last year, as well as those who have sent messages of thanks, encouragement and support. I can't tell you how much that has meant to me. It's been a great source of inspiration, truly. Some of my favourite messages include those from the young man who wrote to say that RTBH had helped him keep going through tough times in his life, the woman who let me know that she sometimes saves stories from RTBH and reads them out in church, and several people (from places as diverse as Japan, South Africa and the US) who wrote to urge me to keep going... I am so grateful for your kind words, and am so glad that RTBH has brought you some solace and some smiles. :-)

Friday, October 10, 2008

365: multi-party democracy in South Africa?

I chose this editorial from Gulf News today, as it struck a cord with me. South Africa is a country I know pretty well, and one of the things that's troubled me about that great nation of late is its 'benevolent dictatorship'. Since 1994, when democracy came to South Africa and the ANC came to power, it's essentially functioned as a one-party state. That has probably served the country well in some respects - it's aided economic and political stability for example - but for democracy to mature the electorate needs choice. And, as today's linked article points out, it may be about to get it. The ANC appears to be on the cusp of splitting in two, as Mbeki's supporters play out their differences with Jacob Zuma and his followers. There is little doubt that this will be an ugly situation for some time to come, but in the long run it may be just what's needed - if, as the article suggests, the differences between the resulting political parties are based on policies, not just personalities.


NEARLY THERE! It's the penultimate day of my year-long experiment today. And with the amount of bad news about at the moment, particularly on the economic front, I've been reflecting on what it's been like hunting for good news for the last year. It hasn't always been straightforward - some nights (though not the majority!) it's taken me several hours to find a story positive enough to post! But generally there is good news around. Some sources are better bets than others, and there are topics that reflect more hope than others (science, health and environment sections of newspapers are always good places to look). I have noticed that a greater number of publications now include sections with inspirational stories etc. But where the newswires dominate - which is in many places (this, I've discovered, is one of the media's great cons - you see the same stories, from the same agency reporter, and just different vehicles for transmission, with plenty of ads thrown in...) - the news tends towards crises or trivia, with the odd hopeful tale popping up every now and again. I'm sure there's more good stuff going on out there. If we want to read about it, we need to ask newspapers and broadcasters to report it - and then read it when they do...

Thursday, October 9, 2008

364: breathe in the benefits of red wine

This story may surprise you. Today's linked article from Scientific American suggests that drinking red wine may actually reduce your chances of developing lung cancer. Not quite the association you'd expect, perhaps, but the results of a recent study cited in the article were pretty conclusive. Specifically, even people who had smoked at some point in their lives were 60% less likely to suffer lung cancer if they drank at least one glass of red wine a day. And apparently - and this is a statistic I find really hard to believe – men who were heavy smokers saw their risk of lung cancer drop by 4% for each glass of red wine they drank per month. Drinking white wine, or other types of alcohol, had no effect. So it's yet another testament to the power of red wine (and specifically compounds such as flavonoids and resveratrol). Cheers, everyone!


THREE DAYS TO GO until the end of my year-long experiment. A time to reflect, I think... Today, I'm reflecting on the challenges of daily blogging. As I'm sure you've all realized, posting every day isn't easy! It takes time - in this case to find an appropriate article and then draft a post - and there are some days when you really don't feel like it. It takes ingenuity - there have been times when it really wasn't evident exactly how I was going to post, and I had to go in search of wi-fi signals, or access the internet through my cell phone and painstakingly note down and then type in URLs of articles to link! Crazy stuff... On the plus side, though, there's nothing like having made a commitment to keep you going. If I hadn't said I'd do this every day, I might not have done it at all. And that would have been a great shame. This is, after all, a pretty amazing hobby - bringing people some positivity, something to brighten their day. It's been worth the daily effort.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

363: community collaboration feeds on itself

This is a great story! I found it in the New York Times today. It's about a small community in Vermont - a town called Hardwick - which has recreated itself as a kind of food-lover's paradise. Hardwick fell on hard times after its granite companies shut down, it seems. But in recent years, local entrepreneurs have banded together to revitalize the local economy - by making great cheese, growing wonderful vegetables, processing soy, creating lovely soups and more besides. Most interestingly, though, all these local entrepreneurs work collectively - they loan each other money, support each other with training, market each other's products, and of course they use each other's ingredients in their recipes! And they are keeping the local industry as natural and sustainable as possible - most produce is organic. As word of their success gets round, many more people are looking to join the team. Apparently, other agricultural entrepreneurs are actually asking if they can move into the area! It's a great testament to the benefits of collaboration - and I should think it's a pretty nice place to live too. (Photo from NYT.)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

362: clean energy that's worth a punt (or barge)

Thanks very much to RTBH reader Paul for sending in today's linked article from the BBC. (I must say I have been very fortunate in this, my final week of the original RTBH experiment - I've had some great articles from readers! Thank you!) The article showcases just the type of innovation we need - small-scale but appropriate, and meeting the demands of tough economic and environmental times. Apparently, British Waterways (a public body) is planning to install about 50 wind turbines and additional small hydro-electric turbines along Britain's canals, which will power around 45,000 homes. That's not all though. It is thought the scheme could generate more than £1m a year to protect and maintain Britain's waterways. It sounds like a genuine win-win: historical bridges, locks and canals are conserved, while clean, affordable energy is generated. More of that, please! (Photo from BBC online.)

Monday, October 6, 2008

361: breast cancer prevention hope

Thank you to RTBH reader Tasha for sending in today's linked article, from the UK's Guardian newspaper. It suggests a vaccine to prevent breast cancer could be a real possibility - that is, if all avenues of research are pursued. We know much more about this disease now, thanks to the results of a huge study - The Million Women's Study - into the causes of breast cancer. The study confirms that the women at greatest risk are those who do not experience the hormonal changes associated with childbirth and breastfeeding. Meanwhile, genetic factors appear far less important. The study co-ordinator, Professor Valerie Beral, is calling for more research into which hormones are most critical and how their effects might be mimicked to produce an effective vaccine. Such research will require significant investment. The wealth of information yielded by Beral's study can't be ignored - let's hope her message on vaccine research isn't ignored either. (Photo from the Guardian.)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

360: justice for Pitcairners

Today's linked article from the UK's Independent newspaper suggests justice may be imminent for many women abused as children in the Pitcairn Islands. The tiny, isolated group of islands - only one of which is inhabited, currently by about 50 people - was settled by the famous Bounty mutineers. It later became a British colony, though apparently it was neglected by its foreign administrators in recent years. When it became evident that many young girls had been abused on the island, Britain eventually agreed to take the accused to trial, and in 2004 six men were convicted and later imprisoned on Pitcairn. Three more have been convicted subsequently. Many believe the men's sentences were too lenient, and Britain has been urged to compensate the victims. Now it seems they may do just that - an announcement is expected this week. It would be unusual for the UK's compensation arrangements for victims of crime to be extended to an overseas territory - but there's nothing 'usual' about Pitcairn. And though the compensation will not undo the past, it would bring some kind of justice for the women affected, whose childhood the British government arguably failed to protect. (Photo from the Independent.)


A quick reminder to PLEASE support the fundraising campaign at, which supports America's public schools. You can donate by clicking on the button to the right of this page. THANKS!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

359: communities reunite in Baghdad

One of those lovely BBC photo-journalism pieces again today. This time, the subject is peace and unity in Iraq. Apparently, today saw the dismantling of a wall that had divided - physically and symbolically - two districts in Baghdad: one Shia, one Sunni. The reunification of these communities has been made possible by the Sunni and Shia 'Awakening' movements, which have worked to overcome the sectarian violence they say was instigated by foreign militants. As the wall came down today, people rallied. Reportedly, one leader of the Sunni Awakening cried out: "Iraq is one family... We are united now, Sunni, Shia, Christian, Turkmen and Kurd. One Iraq." And the crowd cheered. (Photo from BBC slideshow.)

Friday, October 3, 2008

358: climate change prioritized in UK government shake-up

Good news for all those concerned with climate change and energy security today, particularly if they happen to live in the UK. According to today's linked article from the BBC, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has just created a new government department to focus on climate and energy, headed by a Cabinet-level minister. Given the importance of the two agendas, both in the UK and globally, this kind of attention is certainly merited - long overdue, some have said. It's definitely a bold move, since it raises expectations that the UK will deliver on climate change - and soon. It would be rude to disappoint...


Thanks very much to RTBH reader, Steve, for sending in this article from local newspaper Asbury Park Press about World Orphan Week 2008. The week exists to raise awareness about the 133 million orphans (children that have lost one or both parents) across the world. According to the article, one organization celebrating World Orphan Week is Sylvia's Children, a New Jersey charity that supports orphans in Uganda and helps them go to school - sharing hope community to community, you could say...

Thursday, October 2, 2008

357: time to 'get it right' on HIV/AIDS

Anyone watching the South African political situation currently will know that former President Mbeki's deeply unpopular health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, was replaced in that role by veteran anti-apartheid campaigner Barbara Hogan last week. Hogan's appointment was met with acclaim by AIDS activists - and it seems their faith was well-placed. As an article (linked above) from South African news site The Citizen reports, Hogan today stated her firm commitment to expanding AIDS treatment and to urgently addressing gaps in healthcare provision across the country. She is, she said, "passionate about getting things right". And there's a lot to put right, given that her predecessor denied the seriousness of the AIDS epidemic and suggested that sufferers eat beetroot, lemon and garlic rather than take ARVs... Hogan has an incredibly difficult job to do, but I suspect that if anyone can get it right, she can.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

356: resourcing the future

Thanks to for sending in today's linked article from Fortune magazine. It's about... er...! The article documents the highlights from last year's bloggers' fundraising challenge on, a website that allows teachers across the US to showcase their potential classroom projects and then request modest donations to make them happen. According to the article, last year's challenge was very competitive - but most importantly it raised $420,000 for classrooms across the country. It's a great idea - all year round, not just during the bloggers' challenge - and a chance for all of us to help teachers and kids add something special to their educational experience. It's an investment in the future, really...


This year, asked RTBH to participate in the Blogger Challenge - so I've set up a challenge page, I've selected three projects from three of the most underprivileged US communities, and they've attracted two donations already! The challenge started today and will run for the month of October. If you would like to help, please give a small donation (or a large one!), by clicking on the link opposite. THANK YOU SO MUCH in advance! Hope shared is hope squared... (My hapless attempt at a vaguely educational allusion there...)