A nonprofit startup is trying to stop the pervasive harassment of women in Egypt using a revolutionary tool – the Internet.
Protests in Tahrir Square have a specific downside for women. In a country where 99.3 percent of women claim to have experienced sexual harassment, according to the United Nations, sexual assaults have become epidemic at protests. Just before Mohamed Morsi was deposed, for example, 46 women reported that they were assaulted in one day.
Sometimes the motive for sexual assault is political – the threat of rape can be enough to make women stay away from protests. But men also are emboldened to attack women because laws don’t explicitly prohibit sexual crimes.
“There is a culture of impunity of the state level,” said Bel Trew, writing for Al Jazeera.
Tech startup HarassMap is taking a stand against harassment through one of the few places free speech remains relatively uncensored – the Internet. Since 2010, victims have been able to text, tweet, or email the company to report assaults when they happen. HarassMap responds with advice on how to get help and posts the reported details to its site on a Google Map. A small team of local investigators then tries to verify the report.
Pennsylvania-born Rebecca Chaio co-founded HarassMap after a man exposed his genitals to her while she was leaving work in Cairo. Chiao recounted the experience to her female co-workers and discovered that all of them had suffered similar experiences.
Since its inception, HarassMap has grown and is fielding reports from all over Egypt, allowing users to see where sexual harassment occurs most frequently in their cities.
HarrassMap isn’t alone in its battle against sexual assault. Using the company’s data and maps, volunteers now reach out to communities in hotspot areas, encouraging locals to speak up against harassment. These grass-roots efforts are so successful that eight in 10 conversations end positively, Chiao said.
With about 44 percent of Egyptians connected to the web, and mobile use skyrocketing, the Internet seems like a perfect place to speak out where the government and official news sources have been silent. However, despite the unchecked harassment of women, HarassMap has received only 1,198 reports so far – and mostly in English, according to the Guardian. This might mean foreigners are more likely to use the system, or simply that bilingual Egyptians think reporting in English will have a greater impact.
So is the data reliable? HarassMap claims to verify reports, but how this happens isn’t entirely clear. Most reports – about 61 percent – are unverified, according to the Guardian.
If the government does decide to take action, HarassMap’s data could prove valuable. For example, the Guardian found that in 75 percent of the reports, the victim was veiled, running counter to the common stereotype that alleges that provocative Western clothing encourage sexual harassment. The figures also report demographic data and whether attackers acted alone or in groups, information that could help shape policy.
Recently, Egypt’s Constituent Assembly struck an article from the constitution that would have blocked stronger punishments for crimes against women. The government also has created a unit of female police officers, although the 10 officers can hardly make a difference in a country of 84.5 million.
While negotiations continue, HarassMap is just one example of how online reporting and mapping can right social wrongs. Kenyan startup Ushahidi pioneered the idea in 2008 to report incidences of post-election violence in Nairobi, and Chiao told the Huffington Post that more than 11,000 initiatives use similar technology to cover a host of issues. Back in Cairo, startup Zabatak maps hotspots for criminal activity through crowdsourced reports of crime and corruption.
As more people go online and see how data can improve policy, and even change cultural attitudes, online data mapping is likely to grow.
More and more charities are looking to host a benefit walk or run to support their cause. Races2Run handles the logistics from start to finish – both literally and figuratively.
The Wilimington, Del., based company organizes running and walking events that benefit a wide range of causes, large and small. From marking courses to arranging for roads to be closed, from promoting events within the running community to providing online sign-ups for athletes, the company handles nearly every aspect of an event.
But Wayne Kursh, president and CEO of Races2Run, sees his company as doing more than just providing logistics: It helps nonprofit and community groups gather crucial funds for their causes.
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“It is pretty neat when we can make things work, and everybody is happy, and we raise funds through sporting events,” Mr. Kursh says.
Kursh started out by opening an athletic shoe store, which quickly expanded to three shops. But he soon shifted gears to directing and managing foot-racing events, and hasn’t looked back since.
After being managing races for 32 years, he estimates that he has put on more than 3,000 events that have raised millions of dollars for a wide variety of causes. While the events are largely in Delaware and Pennsylvania, others have been hosted in New Jersey, Maryland, and Washington, DC.
“I am so blessed to be able to put on these events, and make a lot of people happy,” he says.
Races2Run is a for-profit company, but Kursh says that it is the organizations he works with that should make the money from the events. “I charge fees to do this stuff, but the beneficiaries make the money,” he says. “I just manage the events and make it all work.”
He keeps his fees low to help organizations use events to raise the most money possible – and raise awareness for their cause, too.
Kursh and his wife, Barb, are the only Races2Run employees. They partner with two sister companies: One provides timing systems and electronic chips for runners to record their precise finish times. Another hosts online registration for races.
In his more than 30 years of organizing events, Kursh says, a few stand out. The Dewey Goes Pink event, for example, drew some 1,700 runners and raised more than $30,000 through an event in Dewey Beach, Del., to support the fight against breast cancer.
And of course, there is Kursh’s pet project – the Delaware Marathon, which takes place in Wilmington, Del.
“We bring in people from all over the world,” he sayst. “That’s pretty cool when you can bring all these people into the city.” Some 42 states have been represented at the marathon, which he estimates brings more than $2 million in revenue each year to his home state and city.
Business has been good for Races2Run, which will conduct 33 events in October alone. And unlike some people, Kursh has no problem with working on weekends to make sure events go off without a hitch.
“We want to be busy,” he says. “I like working every weekend.”
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Beyond the financial help they provide to causes, community running and walking events foster a closeness among the athletes, Kursh says. “It is cool to see how these things bring people together,” he says. “We raise a lot of money for charities, and we really change peoples’ lives.”
He hopes Races2Run will keep on running for some time to come. “I hope I can continue on for a lot more years,” he says.
But just like the runners and walkers who participate in Races2Run events, Kursh's primary focus is on his next finish line.
“That’s how we take it,” he says, “one race at a time.”
• For more information about Races2Run and to learn about coming events, visit www.races2run.com.
Not even the recent furlough of federal workers was enough to snuff out the latest community outreach effort of Masjid al Islam mosque in Dallas.
On a weekend in early October, the mosque was participating in a national initiative known as the Day of Dignity, an annual event during which mosques feed, clothe, and equip people living in poverty. But federal workers who had been scheduled to attend to speak about the details of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) healthcare legislation had been forced to cancel because of a partial federal government shutdown.
It was a blow to the mosque's boosters, says Muhammad Abdul-Jami, treasurer of Masjid al Islam and coordinator of the Day of Dignity event. But it didn't deter them from pursuing the same purpose they have had for the last several years, he says: aiding homeless people who are living right under the eyes of mosque attendees.
Masjid al Islam is in, an area where the homeless are a ubiquitous sight. The Anti-Poverty Coalition of Greater Dallas point to statistics showing that 23 percent of people living in Dallas County have incomes under the federal poverty line – compared with 17 percent across the state of Texas and 14.3 percent nationally.
Because of the great need every weekend the mosque seeks to do what the Day of Dignity event, organized in conjunction with the national charity Islamic Relief USA, does on an annual basis. Through its Beacon of Light community center, Masjid al Islam feeds approximately 300 individuals in need on Saturdays and Sundays each week, Mr. Abdul-Jami estimates. That’s more than 15,000 meals per year, paid for with donations from individuals and other mosques and served by volunteers, he says.
“It was borne out of a need because our area is poverty stricken; there are homeless shelters in the area, there are people sleeping under bridges, and so on,” he says.
For some, local governments aren't doing enough to help the homeless. So, as in other cities and towns nationwide, religious institutions here step in to aid those who have fallen through society’s cracks.
Churches regularly feed the homeless on Sundays after services. Masjid al Islam mosque also sees helping in this way as its duty.
“I believe the onus is on the citizens and the community to decide whether we want our elected officials to do more,” Abdul-Jami says. “Left to their own devices, they are not going to make it a priority. We are trying to do that. This is something we can do on our own.”
That’s where the aim of the Day of Dignity event coincides with that of Masjid al Islam’s outreach program.
“We want to encourage volunteerism, to get people to be active and do something to help their fellow human beings,” Abdul-Jami says.
The mosque's outreach events also do no harm to the image of Islam, which often attracts more negative headlines than positive, he concedes.
“There are millions of Muslims in this country who are very regular people, people who [other] Americans might consider much like them,” Abdul-Jami says. “They have jobs, families, and similar concerns, hopes, and experiences.
“These events help us showcase that we are concerned about the rest of humanity, not just wanting to help Muslims.
"In fact, we mostly help non-Muslims," he says. "And we work with other agencies, nonreligious and nonprofits, to reach out because we all have a similar concern: We want to see relief for those who have the strongest need.”
My wife and I brought home Rhodes, our first child, four months ago. Here's what I remember most about those first weeks: the smell of his skin and breath as he slept on my chest in our bed—small, warm, and fragile, like an egg. I breathed in the scent of the newest life I’d ever encountered as he slept.
He wasn’t undersized, but still I marveled at how tiny these newest of humans come. We, the most dominating creatures on Earth, start out so helpless and red and beautiful. I knew, as he lay curled against my heart, that I would do anything to protect him, love him, and bring him up right in the world.
Last month, four men in India were sentenced to death for a rape and murder of such brutality it can scarcely be believed. The week prior, four Vanderbilt University football players were charged with raping an unconscious woman (much like last year's events in Steubenville, Ohio). And during the previous spring, just before Rhodes was born, Ariel Castro was arrested in Cleveland for imprisoning three women—kidnapped as young girls—in his house for 10 years.
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These and similar stories constantly fill our network news, cable opinion shows, newspapers, social media, blogs.... It's nearly impossible to avoid stories of violence, rape, and domination. Living rightly is hard enough on your own, and now I must raise a son to do so in a world that is, in part, characterized by men's violence against women.
Louis CK sums it up best: "There is no greater threat to women than men. We are the No. 1 threat to women. Globally and historically, we’re the No. 1 cause of injury and mayhem to women." And I worry that he’s right.
Now that I am a father, this question constantly sits before me: How do I raise a son of compassion and dignity? A man who respects women?
Early on during our pregnancy, my wife and I discussed whether we preferred to raise a boy or a girl. It was completely beyond our control, but the conversation stuck with me: boy or girl? We've created a world of great beauty as well as great terror. Would I rather send a young man into it, or a young woman?
As I awaited our child, my awareness of news about sexual violence reached new heights, and influenced how I thought about raising a boy or a girl.
A girl, my early thinking followed, could be protected. I worried about her safety, but I thought I could shelter her from the particular threats made against young women.
But a boy, that really scared me. Boys are the particular threat to young women. If we had a boy, we would have to raise a man. And what kind of man would he be?
I have difficulty imagining my infant son as anything other than the innocent person he is today. My assumption is this: I’ll be a good dad, and he’ll be a good boy. But I cannot see the future. I love him and want him to love others, to be kind, to be aware of his actions, and to treat people with respect. I want him to learn from the men who have chosen these things instead of power and abuse.
"It is the social air that youth are breathing as they’re growing up," he told me. "The media, the athletic environment, the jeans, the adults who market the jeans, the parents, the teachers that we have in school, the religious leaders—all create an environment that normalizes the domination and the control of women." He chose the right word: endemic. "It’s been that way for some time and will remain that way until something in the social environment changes."
Men as Peacemakers was founded in Duluth, Minn., after the community was rocked by a series of murders committed by men in the 1990s. When citizens gathered to discuss addressing violence in their city, most of them were women.
This concerned some of the men in the community, who convened a retreat with 55 men from the area to discuss their roles and responsibilities when it came to alleviating violence. One of the initiatives born of the meeting was Men as Peacemakers, whose mission is to teach men and boys that there are alternatives to violence, and that violence is unacceptable.
I had called Heisler with an honest question: How do I raise my son to be a man who will do his part, too, to change the social environment that subjugates women?
Men as Peacemakers attempts to counter this environment by embedding its role models and mentors throughout the community.
For example, The Best Party Model, a program in coordination with with College of St. Scholastica, attempts to reshape the party culture in America to one that is safe and equitable for women. They do this by placing mentors in schools, colleges, youth organizations, and other places where young people can have honest conversations about sexuality and partying. And it turns out that language and conversation have a lot to do with shaping young men's attitudes toward women.
I mentioned an anecdote from this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo. During Microsoft’s demo for the new Xbox One, the male player and emcee gave a virtual gaming beatdown to a female player before a live audience, telling her, "Just let it happen. It’ll be over soon."
In a culture where dominance and abusive rhetoric are socially permitted (video gaming), this is dominating language—and the language we use matters. Language can both empower and objectify. (Just compare the results of "college women" to that of "college girls" in a Google Image search, and you get the point).
The Champions Initiative, another Men as Peacemakers initiative, pairs college athletes with youths and works directly with athletic associations and coaches to ensure that the prevention of violence against women is part of these associations' missions.
Since the Steubenville rape trial has focused an eye on sports culture and sexual violence, Heisler believes this outreach is critical. He uses the Steubenville case in a guided imagery exercise that asks boys to "think about that young man from Steubenville as a little boy" and to consider what his environment looks and sounds like: "Somehow that kid learned what his sense of humor was or that women were objects for men’s pleasure—things that don’t matter, you can pee on them, use them, do whatever you want with them, and it doesn’t matter. That was not the way he was born."
So perhaps men are the worst thing that ever happens to women, but we are not born that way. We learn it. Even well-intentioned, responsible young men are capable of making terrible decisions if they are not taught, prepared, and encouraged to do otherwise.
So I asked Heisler directly: You’re talking to a new dad. What’s the most important, fundamental advice you can give to make sure that the children we’re raising are not going to add to this human rights problem?
His answer? Create a wholly new environment for young men. "New dads have an opportunity and responsibility to very proactively think about how to shape and provide an environment for that young person, [one] that is going to role model and display and set expectations for equality and dignity and respect between men and women."
This means not just being a model in how we treat mothers, partners, and strangers in public, but also in how we think about our homes and the spaces we inhabit.
"We’re trying to create a world where dads—men—are taking it a step further and really thinking about how they creatively shape an environment that promotes gender equity and respect for women," Heisler told me. "We have a tide pushing in the opposite direction. It takes every effort to create an environment that will stick with our young people."
A few days later, I had a beer with Todd Bratulich and Luke Freeman. After all the research on violence and domination, I wanted to unwind. Todd is a youth pastor at First Covenant, an urban Minneapolis community church; Luke, a high school teacher. More importantly, both, like me, have young sons.
We talked about how to be good men who love our partners and families and friends, and who want to make a warm and welcoming environment for our sons to grow into. We all felt good about our commitment to these issues, thinking we were doing our part—we weren't party to the culture of violence against women.
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Then, sensing our self-satisfaction, Luke said: "We pat ourselves on the back because we find exceptions in ourselves, only to go on and enjoy our privilege."
And I realized, I hadn’t really done my part after all. Not yet. Treating my wife with love and kindness is vital, of course. But it also is only the minimum.
We must be active, creative, and purposeful in extending this behavior to every moment of our lives if we are to become peacemakers, to push against the tide and create the space needed to raise sons with empathy and compassion.
We three dads raised our glasses to the challenge, and went home to our sons.
• Christopher Zumski Finke wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Christopher blogs about pop culture and is editor of The Stake. Follow him on Twitter at @christopherzf
In the days following the impact of Hurricane Sandy along the New Jersey coast there was a plethora of panic, an abundance of rumor, and even some disbelief as to the extent of the devastation caused by the 2012 storm.
For many, including those without power or access to traditional news outlets, social media became the hub of conversation.
And in the midst of the evolving conversations about the storm, there was Justin Auciello.
But the New Jersey resident, a city planner and land use consultant, is far from an ordinary Facebook user.
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Mr. Auciello is the man behind Jersey Shore Hurricane News, a platform on Facebook dedicated to fostering conversations in the form of a “two-way news outlet,” which combines the crowdsourcing powers of social media with the journalistic screening of an editor.
“It is really not just a news platform,” he says. “It is really a place where the community can come together.”
Auciello founded the site in August 2011, in the days before Hurricane Irene struck the mid-Atlantic. He had become involved in Twitter in the years prior and developed an interest in social media as a mechanism for embracing the power of individual citizens to share knowledge and information.
“I have always had an interest in what is going on around me,” he says, recalling times as a youngster when he would hop on his bicycle and chase fire engines in Seaside Park when he heard the siren go off.
“Twitter changed a lot – it showed the power of citizens in reporting breaking news,” he says. “People have smartphones, they are on the ground, and they post it to Twitter and it gets re-tweeted.”
Auciello began writing about this convergence, and as news reports about Hurricane Irene picked up, he saw the chance to try something new.
“I saw the opportunity to create something, a platform where people can be active participants in the news-gathering process,” he says.
In a more immediate sense, Auciello was frustrated about the false rumors that were circulating related to the storm, emergency services, and ultimately, response and recovery. He saw Jersey Shore Hurricane News as a means for knocking down such rumors while harvesting reports from average citizens that he would edit and verify.
“I wanted to have people leverage the power of something so accessible, and something everyone is on anyway,” he says.
In the months following Hurricane Irene, Auciello worked to expand the types of stories his Facebook platform encompassed, to include more local news and developments. His largest trial, by far, came in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy riddled the region with damage that far exceeded expectations.
“My role throughout that time … I was the editor,” he says, explaining that when folks would report things to him, he would confirm the facts before disseminating the information and giving credit to the contributors. He also encouraged those with unconfirmed reports or rumors to message him privately, in an effort to prevent further panic.
And he saw a unique function of his platform emerge in the days following Hurricane Sandy: People in the community began to have a dialogue with him about a number of things, including where to find help, how to support those affected by the storm, and where to find things like gasoline or a hot meal.
He also served as an intermediary, sharing with his many thousands of followers when a resident would locate items that might have been lost from damaged homes, such as, in one instance, a photo album.
Thanks to Jersey Shore Hurricane News, some shore residents were reunited with items they had lost.
“This is what makes it unique,” he says. “It is really a mechanism that keeps people together.”
The platform seems to occupy a gap where traditional news media do not operate, and goes far beyond what traditional outlets do in terms of engaging with audiences, he says.
“I really think it is filling a need in the New Jersey news ecosystem,” he says. The site currently has more than 200,000 followers.
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While Jersey Shore Hurricane News is solely based on Facebook, Auciello has received a grant that will provide for a website and a stronger platform for the news service.
Auciello continues to serve as editor-in-chief of Jersey Shore Hurricane News. And while he is not paid for his work, it has become a daily project. His around-the-clock efforts to keep the site running do not bother him one bit.
“I do it because I know people rely on it,” he says. “This is how I serve my community.”
• To visit Jersey Shore Hurricane News, go to https://www.facebook.com/JerseyShoreHurricaneNews.
“Pusht-e har taareekee, roshanee ast. After every darkness is light.”
To US Navy Capt. Edward Zellem, proverbs, specifically Dari proverbs, are one of those lights.
“If Afghanistan is going to have any future it has to improve its literacy and education,” says Captain Zellem, author of the book “Zarbul Masalha: 151 Dari Proverbs.”
After more than 30 years of war more than 70 percent of the Afghan population can’t read. Zellem’s new book of proverbs is one step toward greater literacy for many Afghans.
Deployed to Afghanistan from May 2010 to October 2011, Zellem is still assigned to Central Command. What started as Zellem’s personal hobby – collecting proverbs – grew into a partnership with art students at a high school in Kabul, Afghanistan. The students illustrated the slim volume, which is now available in 35 countries and seven languages, including French, Polish, and Portuguese. Net proceeds from the book support Afghan literacy charities.
“People focus on the technology of war; it’s easy to forget it’s about the people,” Zellem says. “The Taliban burned books. These books are a documentation of Afghan’s cultural history. They show the world there is more to Afghanistan than war.”
Zellem, who attended the University of Virginia on a football scholarship, majored in foreign affairs. He joined the US Navy in 1987, after working in New Zealand and Thailand.
“I originally wanted to do four years [in the Navy], but I got hooked on the travel and adrenaline,” he says. He also discovered a knack for languages.
Zellem took the Defense Language Aptitude Battery in 2008 while deployed on the USS Abraham Lincoln in the Indian Ocean. His scores got him noticed. In 2009 he joined the Defense Department’s new program AFPak Hands.
Former Chair of Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Admiral Michael Mullen created the program to cultivate military and senior civilian experts specializing in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s languages, cultures, processes, and challenges.
“It’s kind of like an armed Peace Corps,” Zellem says.
Soon Zellem found himself immersed in Dari, the type of Persian spoken in Afghanistan, eight hours a day. He spent three hours a night on homework. Sticky notes covered objects all over his house. The Dari translation was penned on each square.
After five months months of language class Zellem and 29 of his classmates deployed. He was embedded in the ANA 205 Corps, which was responsible for Kandahar Province and part of Helmand Province.
As an AFPak Hand, Zellem had more freedom of movement than most. While out he noticed how frequently people used proverbs, professionally and personally. He started memorizing them. In the evenings, when he returned to quarters, he’d type them out in English and Dari. American and Afghan colleagues began asking for his list.
Zellem decided to publish his list. He met Aziz Royesh, the founder of Kabul’s co-ed Marefat High School. Zellem decided to team with the art students and have them illustrate the proverbs.
“The students were highly excited as they were working on something new and innovative,” Mr. Royesh says. “It shows how cultural connections can easily impact the hearts and minds of people around the world. Afghanistan is part of the world and can touch the feelings of many in different corners of the world.”
However, the school was also a bit nervous about the project, Zellem says. In 2009 radicals attacked Marefat. Teachers, parents, and the Afghan National Police defended the school for three days.
“This book is everything the Taliban is against. It’s art, it’s images of living things, it’s literacy, it’s literacy for girls,” Zellem says.
The US State Department awarded the school a $66,000 grant. Karwan Press, a local Kabul printing house, published the book.
Today the books are distributed to rural communities and provincial high schools through two programs designed to promote and protect Afghan’s culture.
“The books are a wondrous novelty in many cases. They [the programs and book] help encourage a reading habit, to spread the word that reading need not be just for information but can be fun as well,” says Nancy Hatch Dupree, director of the Afghanistan Center at Kabul University.
Gen. David Petraeus, now chairman of the New York City-based KKR Global Institute, learned of the book just before leaving Afghanistan in July 2011.
“I started using it when I would prepare for speeches and key meetings, finding an appropriate proverb for use in the upcoming event,” General Petraeus says.
“Zarbul Masalha” recently won the 2013 Military Writers Society of America Gold Medal for Reference. Hebrew, Greek, and Hindi editions are in the works.
“Ed’s Afghan Proverb books are a personal project, and some people say that they help ‘win hearts and minds,’ ” Petraeus says. “I have always thought that ‘winning hearts and minds’ is an inaccurate way to say it, because ‘winning’ implies that somebody also loses.
"Nobody loses here. I think Ed’s Afghan proverbs books connect hearts and minds, which is a truly critical task, needless to say.”
Scientists with the Water Protection Division of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Atlanta may be out of a paycheck for now, but they're not giving up on service.
On Oct. 8, 15 staffers from the agency's Atlanta office headed down to a trash-filled urban stream that a local business owner had complained about, and cleaned it up.
"As we planned the cleanup, we had to exchange cell phone numbers because we usually use our work email and phones to communicate in the office—and, well, all of that was going to be shut down, too," said Lisa Gordon, biologist.
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Because of the shutdown, 94 percent of the 16,204 total EPA employees have been placed on indefinite furlough, according to the agency's contingency plan. Agency investigations of toxic air emissions, water contamination, and waste-dumping have been suspended.
The Water Protection Division staff began planning the cleanup as soon as the furlough was announced, according to Gordon. One of the office workers who had experience organizing cleanups pitched the idea to those who owned kayaks, which the team anticipated needing to access the river.
By the next day, several employees were posting the plan on Facebook.
"The response was quick and unanimous," Gordon said.
The group had planned to go to the Chattahoochee, one of the larger rivers in the area, to remove trash from the water and shoreline. That plan was hindered by another result of the government shutdown: The boat ramps maintained by the National Park Service were not in service.
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The volunteers gave up on the Chattahoochee and decided to clean up a stream that "needed some love," as Gordon put it. The small, unnamed tributary to the South Fork Peachtree Creek leads right into a nearby nature preserve.
The EPA staffers also proposed that other furloughed workers join them in declaring Oct. 8 "Federal Furlough for Public Service Day." The employees donated their time in what they're referring to as a meaningful, positive service project. Furloughed staff members at the nearby Centers for Disease Control and Prevention joined in the effort.
"It may sound sappy," Gordon said, "but all of us really believe that our life's work is to protect and restore rivers and streams for people and animals that rely on them—paid or not."
• Cynthia Daniel wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Cynthia is an education intern at YES!
• This article originally appeared in YES! Magazine.
The Department of Defense (DOD), with a half-trillion-dollar budget, has turned to a nonprofit with $48.5 million in revenue to help it pay $100,000 in death benefits to families of military employees who have died since the federal government shutdown.
But the Fisher House Foundation was not alone in its concern for helping the Pentagon. Once the deal was announced on Wednesday, 1,200 people called the Rockville, Md.-based nonprofit and pledged a total of $160,000 on Wednesday to help the organization support those military families.
“It’s humbling,” said David Coker, president of the Fisher House Foundation. “America is a grateful nation. Sometimes the bureaucracy gets in the way.”
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The organization, which builds comfort homes for veterans to use at military medical facilities, has established a $4 million emergency fund that will pay the death benefits to the families of 29 fallen military employees, Mr. Coker said.
This is not entirely new for the foundation. Its founder, Zachary Fisher, used to send $10,000 to $20,000 to families in the 1980s to hold them over until the federal government paid the benefits, which normally can take several days.
On Tuesday, when Mr. Coker and the foundation’s chief executive, Kenneth Fisher, heard that the death benefits were not going to be covered because of the shutdown, they knew they had to do something.
Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, called and gave them that chance by linking them with the Pentagon.
“It’s simply the right thing to do,” Mr. Coker said.
The deal with the Pentagon came a day after Houston philanthropists Laura and John Arnold provided $10-million to keep 13 Head Start programs from closing. The first seven programs, serving nearly 7,000 children, had been closed Oct. 1 but are reopening thanks to the Arnolds’ interest-free loan to the National Head Start Association.
The group will repay the money once the federal government supports the programs again after the shutdown. Another six programs are slated to be closed Oct. 11 and are working with the national association to get the money they need to stay open, said Sally Aman, a spokeswoman for the national association.
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The Pentagon has also told the Fisher House Foundation that it will repay the nonprofit once the government reopens.
But Mr. Coker said the nonprofit’s main concern is the families.
“They have paid a tremendous price, and we should not be adding a financial burden to that,” he said. “It would be great if the DOD could find a way to reimburse us. But at this point our focus is on the families.”
Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai, shot in the head by the Taliban for campaigning for education for girls, won the European Union's annual human rights award Oct. 10, beating fugitive U. intelligence analyst Edward Snowden.
The 16-year-old was attacked last year while on a school bus in northwestern Pakistan, but recovered after medical treatment in Britain. She is also a favorite among experts and betting agencies to be named the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize Oct. 11.
"She is an icon of courage for all teenagers who dare to pursue their aspirations and, like a candle, she lights a path out of darkness," said Joseph Daul, chairman of the centre-right European People's Party in the European Parliament.
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Ms. Yousafzai started her campaigning by writing blogs in 2009, in which she described how the militant Islamist Taliban prevented girls like her from going to school.
She quickly rose to international fame when more and more foreign media outlets conducted interviews with her. Her growing profile attracted the Taliban's attention and led to frequent death threats.
"I was not worried about myself that much. I was worried about my father. We could not believe they would be so cruel as to kill a child, as I was 14 at the time," Yousafzai said in a US television interview with "The Daily Show" Oct. 8.
Her book "I Am Malala" is currently the second-best selling book on Amazon.com.
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The Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought has been awarded by the European Parliament each year since 1988 to commemorate Soviet scientist and dissident Andrei Sakharov. Its past winners include Nelson Mandela and Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Yousafzai was chosen by a vote among the heads of all the political groups in the 750-member parliament.
Mr. Snowden had been nominated by the Green group in the parliament for what it said was his enormous service to human rights and European citizens when he disclosed secret US telephone and Internet surveillance programs.
Carpenter Maria Klemperer-Johnson is used to being the only woman on the construction site—but, thanks in part to her own work, that is beginning to change.
She's leading a class of eight women in the construction of a tiny house in upstate New York, and hopes that the growing number of similar classes around the country will lead to greater gender equality in the construction sector.
According to the US Department of Labor, carpentry jobs are expected to grow 20 percent between 2010 and 2020 (significantly more than the average job growth rate of 14 percent), with a median wage of $19 an hour.
But the sector is extraordinarily male-dominated. As of 2011, women held 1.4 percent of carpentry positions in the United States—a number that the US Bureau of Labor Statistics says has largely remained consistent over the last 35 years. Unless something changes, women will miss out on the almost 200,000 new carpentry jobs the bureau expects to see created in the next decade.
Women in construction often face harassment and discrimination, as well as limited networking opportunities that stunt career advancement.
"You're up against this assumption that you don't know anything," Klemperer-Johnson explains. "Many women are never taught those skill sets when they're young, and so they don't feel comfortable walking onto a construction site to ask for a job, the way many men do getting started."
Klemperer-Johnson, a master carpenter and contractor, got her start as an apprentice cabinet builder at Red Barn Cabinet Shop in Brooktondale, N.Y. There she learned joinery and traditional cabinet building before moving on to work in home construction. She took advanced classes in timber framing at the Heartwood School in Washington, Mass., where she says she was almost always the only female student.
In 2005 she and her partner, Scott, began construction of their highly sustainable timber frame and strawbale home in Hector, N.Y. The straw insulation came from a local farmer, and the timbers were cut and milled from trees on their land.
"It took us about two years to build," explained Klemperer-Johnson in an email, "but I was pregnant for the first nine months of that, and then went back to work full time while Scott finished the house." At the same time, she founded her contracting company, DoubleDog Timberworks, which is also the venue for her classes.
Klemperer-Johnson's classes in carpentry for women debuted in the spring of 2013. In the first one, eight women are collaboratively building the walls and infrastructure of a tiny house, repurposing a 1987 camper trailer for the base. The house will be about 165 square feet in size and should be complete by January 2014.
"We started with basic tool skills and measuring to build the floor and cut and measure the plywood walls," explained Elizabeth Coakley, a student in the class who also funded the construction of the house.
The women who enroll in Klemperer-Johnson's classes come from all different backgrounds and levels of experience, she says, and many have told her that the all-women environment made them feel more comfortable.
"Some women come with very little experience with this kind of physical work," she says, "and watching their bodily comfort increase is gratifying to see."
Klemperer-Johnson believes having an all-women's space for teaching carpentry skills is a step toward addressing the gender imbalance in this sector—and she's not the only one. All over the country, there are small signs of support for women in carpentry and other "nontraditional" occupations.
The Heartwood School, where Klemperer-Johnson studied, currently offers a class in carpentry for women, as does Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Warren, Vt., and the Workshop for Women in Denver.
In New York City, ReNEW, a branch of NEW Nontraditional Employment for Women is offering free, six-week intensive pre-apprenticeship programs for women who want to go into carpentry, solar panel installation, and other "green collar" jobs.
Support for women carpenters extends to the federal level. In 2012, the US Department of Labor announced its allocation of $1.8 million in grants for women in "nontraditional" occupations. The grant money is going to six different organizations aimed at better supporting women seeking long-term careers in manufacturing, transportation, and construction.
These federal grants "will better connect women with apprenticeships, helping them to gain skills in fields that offer long-term career opportunities," Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis wrote in a press release in June of 2012.
Despite these signs, there is still a long way to go. On Aug. 18, The New York Daily News reported that of the hundreds of hopefuls lined up outside the New York City District Council of Carpenters to land a spot in its carpenter's apprenticeship program, only one women, Gina Giuliano, applied.
Klemperer-Johnson hopes her carpentry classes will be an entrance point for women to become paid apprentices at DoubleDog Timberworks. It's her dream to build an organization supporting women learning carpentry skills by building tiny houses.
"Tiny houses are great for teaching," she says. "You can build them inside all year round, they use fewer resources, and teach a wide range of skills."
Encouraged by positive feedback from students, Klemperer-Johnson is excited to continue developing the series. It's just a matter of how.
"I'm currently pursuing funding options to expand the physical plant as well as our online presence," Klemperer-Johnson says. "The demand for these classes is there, and now it's a matter of developing the infrastructure to make them sustainable."
• Erika Lundahl wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Erika is an editorial intern at YES!
• This article originally appeared at YES! Magazine.