It was the first time Ms. Heyman had met someone from Rwanda. After the talk, Mr. Merrin asked the speaker the biggest problem that Rwanda was facing. The speaker’s response, Heyman says, was the problem of caring for the orphans who had lost parents and other family members in the genocide and now found themselves on their own.
Heyman immediately thought of the similar problem encountered by Israel after World War II, when many children had lost parents in the Holocaust, and of the small enclaves built by that country for orphaned youths. The idea led her to create the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, a community in Rwanda where young adults who were affected by the genocide can attend school and, Heyman hopes, become emotionally well-developed individuals.
The village’s name is a combination of the Kinyarwanda and Hebrew languages, meaning “a place to dry one’s tears in peace.”
“They tend to be so meek, worried,” Heyman says of the students who arrive at the village. “A lot of our kids have a lot of emotional baggage, to say the least.”
Heyman and those who helped her create the village have based it on the Yemin-Orde Youth Village in Israel, a community founded in 1953 that functions as a school and home to children and young adults from all over the world who have had their lives disrupted. When initially going through the process of securing finances for the Rwandan village, Heyman did so under the umbrella of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, an organization that works to help those of the Jewish faith in need around the world.
Today the village is funded by a combination of donations from individuals, corporations, and foundations.
Agahozo-Shalom welcomed its first group of students, 125 in total, in December 2008 and currently has 375 students from ages 15 to 21. Its first class is graduating this year. Students come from each of the 30 districts of the country. Sixty percent of the student body is female.
Leaders in each of Rwanda's 30 districts gives Agahozo-Shalom a list of the young adults there who are most in need of attending the school. After cutting the list down to 200, the organization then visits the students to determine if the village would be a good fit.
When they enter the school, students go through an enrichment year in which they study a variety of basic subjects such as math, geography, and history. All classes are taught in English, per Rwandan law, and many of the students must learn English at the same time as they take the classes.
After their enrichment year, each student selects three subjects to study. Combinations include biology-chemistry-math, history-chemistry-geography, and math-economics-computers.
The students at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village live in cottages, which each house 16 young adults and are each named after a hero selected by the students who live there. Names chosen include Abraham Lincoln and Socrates.
One of the biggest challenges Heyman faces is helping students after graduation, she says. Part of the mission statement of the organization is to “provid[e] [students] with a safe and secure living environment, health care, education, and necessary life skills,” she says.
“There's nothing on there about them going to college or getting rich,” she says. “Do I want that for them? Yes.”
She is most happy about the success the village has had with helping young adults recover emotionally from the trauma they’ve faced. “I do know that these kids are so much better off when they arrived,” Heyman says.
Recently, Heyman and five students from the village traveled to the United States to speak with those who have supported the organization and meet students at American high schools. The group stayed in the US from May 13 to May 22.
On May 15, Heyman and three of the students – Liliane Umuhoza, Pascasie Nyirantwari, and Claude Irankunda – visited Woburn High School in Woburn, Mass., a Boston suburb, to talk with members of a sophomore honors US history class. The group also spoke at high schools in New York City, including one in Harlem, and performed at a fundraiser for the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village.
The Woburn class was selected through a recommendation from Brendan Doherty, their teacher, who is also the head of the history department. Cummings Properties, a Massachusetts-based real estate development, property management, and construction firm, one of the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village’s donors, contacted Mr. Doherty about having the Rwandan students come to the school.
To prepare for the visit, the American students watched the film “Hotel Rwanda,” which takes place during the genocide.
This was the first time in his memory students from another country have come to speak with Woburn students, Doherty says, adding that he considers it an extremely valuable experience for American students.
“One of the faults of American education is a lack of introduction to other cultures,” Doherty says. “That's as important as anything they learn in math and history.”
The Woburn students formed a circle with their desks in the classroom, and when Ms. Umuhoza, Ms. Nyirantwari and Mr. Irankunda arrived, they sat at desks inside the circle. Heyman accompanied them, but both Heyman and Doherty let the Rwandan and American students mostly lead the discussion,
The Rwandans began by speaking of their experiences at Agahozo-Shalom. “It's our home,” Umuhoza said of the village. “It is a wonderful home.”
Rwanda, a small landlocked country in central Africa, has been irrevocably changed by the 1994 genocide. “Always, our generation is affected by what happened because we lost our parents,” Umuhoza said. “But we say that God sent angels to help us like Anne Heyman, our lovely mother…. What they do for us when we first come is they heal our hearts.”
Nyirantwari spoke of how she and her siblings were left with no one to care for them after the genocide. “When we came to Agahozo-Shalom, we got many people that can help us like [a] mom, sisters,” she said.
Irankunda said the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village gives its students a semblance of normalcy in their lives. “Agahozo-Shalom is a nice home for us,” he said. “We get the chance to be in the family like other kids.”
All three spoke positively of the period designated “family time” before bed in which the inhabitants of each cottage in the village sit and spend time with each other.
“We talk about how was our day,” Umuhoza said. “Before, we had no idea how sweet it was to sit as a family ... we joke, we sing, we do whatever we want.”
At the end of the session, the three Rwandan students sang and danced for the Americans, and the group took several photos together.
Woburn sophomore Christopher Power enjoyed the visit. “It was really cool,” he said. “It was fun to see how they lived.”
One of the Woburn students, Irene Kamikazi, moved to the US from Rwanda three years ago. “It was really great because there aren't a lot of Rwandan kids here,” she said.
Heyman would love to make a similar trip in the future with other Agahoza-Shalom students, she says.
“I think it's so important for the [Rwandans] to meet the [American high school students] and the kids to meet them,” she says. “For them to go really see [the world], experience it, touch it, and bring it home to their brothers and sisters, is an invaluable experience.”
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Samaritan's Purse is a faith-based organization that has been working since 1970 to support communities impacted by natural disaster, war, disease, and famine. Through food-security programs, Samaritan's Purse works to bring nutritious food to impoverished communities while helping them develop economically sustainable agricultural practices.
In Bolivia, where 23 percent of the population is undernourished, the school-feeding program delivers food to 72 rural schools while helping farmers who struggle to grow crops. Many children, up to 30 percent in the Chucananqu region, do not have access to milk, eggs, or meat. Through the school-feeding program, which purchases food from local businesses, 28,000 children under the age of 14 receive food that is high in protein, fiber, and essential vitamins.
Two of the businesses that supply food for the program were set up by Samaritan's Purse. The Andean Grains Processing Center processes local crops that are brought in by local families and then purchased for the feeding program. Samaritan's Purse also built a meat-processing center that helps local herders sell their food. The Samaritan's Purse also trains parents to prepare healthy meals for their children. Through this initiative they created a cookbook with recipes using local food. Samaritan's Purse also helps parents track their children’s nutritional health by training more than 580 local volunteers to record the children’s height and weight every month.
Farmers in North Korea, like those in Bolivia, have also worked with Samaritan's Purse to reduce the impact of food shortages. In May, Samaritan's Purse was one of five aid organizations allowed in the country for the purposes of evaluating North Korea’s food shortage.
“About 6 million people are going to be affected with this food shortage,” explained Franklin Graham, a delegate from Samaritan's Purse. “They had a terrible winter. The food stocks have dwindled to where they don’t even have enough to get to the next growing season. There is going to be starvation, malnutrition, there will be death,” according to Graham.
To help farmers in North Korea, Samaritan's Purse supplied emergency aid, including more than 2,000 rolls of the agricultural plastic sheeting used for seedbeds.
Similarly, Samaritan's Purse helped communities in Niger alleviate hunger during last year’s drought that left millions without food. There, they helped implement a food-for-work program to help families who had run out of food as a result of low crop yields. The program provided food to men who dug holes that helped collect rainwater, stop topsoil erosion, and promote plant growth. Women also received food for planting grass seeds for pastureland that is used by herders.
In addition to its agricultural work, Samaritan's Purse works to increase access to clean water through its “turn on the tap” program. The program helps to bring clean water to some of the world’s poorest regions in efforts to fight diseases including dysentery, cholera, typhoid, and meningitis.
In the Congo, for example, Samaritan's Purse helps build wells to provide clean water to 20,000 people living in villages in the northeast. Each well it digs is estimated to provide clean water for at least 250 people. Similar efforts are under way in Sudan, China, Bolivia, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Iraq.
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All too many of us are ever-eager to upgrade to the latest and greatest whatever. Whether they be computers, washing machines, or clothes, if something goes wrong or next next arrives, we're on to the next purchase.
Part of it, too, is that we don't actually know how to repair our stuff. And our world is set up so it's dramatically easier to cut and run than sit and fix. And so our landfills overflow with slightly damaged goods ... a less-than-convenient truth that threatens our economic and environmental health.
This may be changing. In The Netherlands, mom and former journalist Martine Postma stumbled onto an idea that tacks the word "repair" onto the familiar green mantra, "reduce, re-use, recycle." The result is community-based Repair Cafes where folks come together to fix their broken items. What started as a few neighbors in Amsterdam helping each other out has, two years later, become a much bigger deal, with 30 groups springing up around the country.
To support the regular gatherings, the Repair Cafe Foundation was established and has raised around $525,000 from the Dutch government, foundations, and individual donors. That sum covers the foundation's staffing, marketing, and a mobile Repair Cafe. As Ms. Postma surmised, “Sustainability discussions are often about ideals, about what could be. After a certain number of workshops on how to grow your own mushrooms, people get tired. This is very hands on, very concrete. It’s about doing something together, in the here and now.”
Cradle-to-cradle architect William McDonough, whose work also inspired Postma, observed, “What happened with planned obsolescence is that it became mindless – just throw it away and don’t think about it. The value of the Repair Cafe is that people are going back into a relationship with the material things around them.”
That very tangible satisfaction of repairing a broken item is only one part of what the Repair Cafes offer, though. Of course, there's the environmental benefits accumulated by keeping goods in circulation. But there's also a notable community-building component to the cafes.
The DOEN Foundation contributed more than $260,000 to the Repair Cafe project as part of its social cohesion program. Director Nina Tellegen explained why: “What’s interesting for us is that it creates new places for people to meet, not just live next to each other like strangers. That it’s linked to sustainability makes it even more interesting.”
Singling out the benefits to elders, Tellegen noted, “They have skills that have been lost. We used to have a lot of people who worked with their hands, but our whole society has developed into something service-based.”
Similar endeavors have begun to crop up in the United States, as well. Sidling up alongside tool-lending libraries in a nice way, groups like the West Seattle Fixers Collective and the Missoula Urban Demonstration Project host do-it-yourself fix-it events and classes to help community members make needed repairs on broken items.
Back at the Repair Cafe Foundation, Postma has received information requests from folks in France, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, South Africa, and Australia on how they, too, can join the fixer movement.
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“The cyclone was [the most] powerful, dreadful, and cataclysmic event I had ever witnessed in my life,” recalls the 37-year-old rice paddy farmer.
But Tuyen and other residents of rural Thanh Hoa province feel more confident about withstanding future storms, thanks to a project that takes advantage of the coastal protection offered by mangrove forests.
In the hours before Typhoon Damrey hit in September 2005, with winds of 100 km per hour (60 m.p.h.), nearly 300,000 people were evacuated from the coastal areas of Thanh Hoa and Nam Dinh provinces.
“We had no choice but to flee for our lives to higher ground, leaving behind everything, including our cattle,” recalled Pham, who lives in the remote coastal community of Da Loc, in eastern Thanh Hoa province, about 175 km (110 miles) south of Hanoi, the capital.
A storm surge ripped apart 3.7 km (2.3 miles) of dykes in front of her village and inundated most of the district’s coastal communities, including agricultural fields, fruit orchards, and cattle farms.
But in Da Loc community, one protective dyke, 1.7 km (1 mile) in length, survived the cyclone because it was buffered by thick mangrove forest.
“This was when we realized how stubbornly the mangroves can withstand tropical cyclones like Damrey,” said Vu Xuan Ngoc, a 33-year old fish farmer. “This was a key lesson nature taught us.”
Following Typhoon Damrey, and an increasing number of cyclones that have affected Vietnam in the last five years, a number of international non-governmental organizations have begun working in disaster-prone coastal areas of Vietnam, building on evidence that mangroves can play a crucial role in reducing the destruction from cyclones.
A wave’s energy can be reduced by 75 percent if it passes through 200 meters (650 feet) of mangrove forest, according to the United Nations Environmental Programme.
CARE International, a non-governmental organization working in Vietnam, has launched a project to help Da Loc and other adjoining communes re-establish mangrove forests as “living storm barriers”, said Nguyen Viet Nghi, a senior official at the organization’s Vietnam project office.
Quoting from a project report, Nguyen said that in Hau Loc district, where Da Loc is situated, the area of coastal land that has mangrove coverage has increased from 15 hectares (37 acres) to more than 250 hectares (620 acres).
The mangrove strip is now nearly 3 km (2 miles) long and 700 meters (0.4 miles) wide, with more than 2,000 plants per hectare. More than 6,000 people in the six project areas of Thanh Hoa province, along with a further 2,300 people in adjoining project areas, are now better protected against the effects of flooding as a result of the mangroves.
Da Loc is one of six coastal communities of Thanh Hoa province considered highly vulnerable to frequent storm surges, sea-level rise, intrusion of salt water, and drought, all of which are expected to become more serious threats as a result of changes in the climate and an increase in extreme weather events.
According to the Southern Institute for Water Resources Research in Vietnam, Vietnam has witnessed a 0.5 to 0.7 degrees Celsius (0.9 to 1.3 F.) rise in temperature over the past 50 years.
The institute says that rainfall has become more erratic and has increased by 10 percent in the northern part of the country, and that the sea level has risen by 20 cm (8 inches) over the same 50-year period, with an anticipated increase of a further 100 cm (39 inches) by 2100.
According to Nguyen, the rapid establishment of the mangrove plantations is due to the active participation of local communities. Members of the six communes in Hau Loc district collectively run mangrove nurseries, selecting and sourcing seeds recommended for the area’s varied local conditions, which can include muddy soils or sandy seabed.
Community members also prepare and plant the mangroves in the new areas. For example, where CARE has provided training, the community has taken responsibility for sustaining the mangrove plantations.
“Experiences in Vietnam’s coastal communes show the value and advantages of [communities] sharing control over key decisions and resources,” said Rolf Herno, CARE International’s coordinator for adaptation learning projects in Africa.
“This enables communities to be powerful actors in the fight against poverty and adaptation to climate change,” he added.
Farming is the major source of income for coastal communities such as Da Loc. Nevertheless, the mangrove forests are offering communities an opportunity to diversify their livelihoods and increase the number of ways they are able to earn an income.
The project has incorporated plans to help residents diversify their income sources, in recognition of the fact that people in coastal areas need different livelihood options to help them build up long-term resilience to the impacts of climate change.
Giving local people additional possibilities for income generation was also important to help reduce their reliance on the mangroves as a source of wood for fuel or sale, Nguyen said.
Bui Thi Din, chairwoman of Yen Loc village women’s union in Da Loc, said that due to the increasing mangrove coverage, coastal communities’ living standards had improved significantly, as they were now able to earn additional income by catching and selling crabs and shrimp that live among the mangrove roots.
Pham Thi Tuyen said that the project has helped her appreciate the different ways in which mangroves can protect and support her. Previously, “I just knew it was simply a [mangrove] forest and had no idea what was in the forest,” she said.
“But now I know better how to find clam shells, small crabs, mussels, oysters, and shrimps to generate additional income for my family from these forests,” she said.
Chief executive of the Climate and Development Knowledge Network, Sam Bickersteth, said lessons learned from community-based adaptation interventions in Vietnam can be replicated in other parts of the world.
“There is a strong need to carry forward these proven experiences to other coastal areas of Asia-Pacific countries, Africa, and other parts of the world where denudation of mangrove forests has exposed the countries of these regions to tropical cyclones and other climate change-induced risks,” he said.
How many times have you gone to a restaurant and not been able to finish your whole meal? Or worse, taken home the leftovers only to throw them out after several days of them sitting untouched in the refrigerator?
Thankfully, there is a new social initiative offering a choice to restaurant-goers that provides two benefits: healthier meal portions, while simultaneously reducing food waste to support the fight against hunger.
While the United States is plagued with both obesity and hunger, Halfsies will now provide a new option of ordering half of a normal portion with the remaining value of the dish being put to better use.
About 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is thrown away. And the national food-waste habit is growing: As a nation, we waste 50 percent more food today that we did in 1974. At the same time, portion sizes have grown considerably. In the 1970s, about 47 percent of Americans were overweight or obese; now 66 percent are considered overweight. At the same time, more than 50 million Americans are hungry.
With a tag line of “Eat Less, Give More,” Halfsies aims to not only fight world hunger, but also educate consumers on portion sizes, a problem that contributes to America’s growing obesity epidemic. The vision of this nonprofit is to educate right where people live, eat, and work. By offering a half-portion option in participating restaurants, customers are empowered to make a real difference, both in their own lives and in the lives of people in need.
When a consumer chooses to "go halfsies" at a participating restaurant, he or she receives a half-portion of their meal while still paying full price. What restaurants don’t put on the table will be donated to both local (60 percent) and international nonprofits (30 percent) to tackle hunger. Halfsies will take 5 to 10 percent of the donations to cover overhead costs, and any remaining funds will be used for special projects that align with Halfsies’ mission and values, such as emergency disaster relief, sustainable agriculture, and women’s rights.
Halfsies turns the simple act of going out to eat into a charitable-giving opportunity. Started by four friends from Austin, Texas, Halfsies plans to kick off pilot programs in its hometown this spring and move into NYC later this year. It is planning for a national launch in 2013. Halfsies is still working through the details with the restaurants, such as the software to be used for easy ordering and tracking, and how different meals will be treated.
Through local and global initiatives, Halfies aims to see food waste in American cut in half, local poverty levels drop, and a significant impact made in the lives of people living with hunger and poverty, both in the United States and around the world. By creating a simple process, Halfsies gives restaurant-goers the opportunity to make an easy choice that benefits themselves, their community, and their world.
For more details visit www.gohalfsies.com
• This article originally appeared at Nourishing the Planet. Holly Tassi is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project, a blog published by the Worldwatch Institute. To purchase "State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet," please click HERE. And to watch the one-minute book trailer, click HERE.
The next great agricultural innovation might come from years of scientific research in agricultural yields. Or it could be something as simple as a $2 bag to protect cowpeas from weevils.
Worldwide, 1.3 billion tons, or one-third of all food produced for human consumption, is lost or wasted post-harvest every year. But researchers spend almost nothing on solving this. A 2009 study by the University of California-Davis found that 95 percent of all agricultural research dollars are spent on production, leaving only 5 percent for the post-production phase.
Fortunately, some solutions to curb post-harvest losses are surprisingly simple. Bags designed by Purdue University to seal off cowpeas from the weevil parasite sell for $2 and are expected to reach sales of over 1.7 million across western Africa this year. Before the bags, cowpea farmers lost up to 50 percent of their annual harvest to the infestations. Now, uninfested cowpeas are selling for 20 percent more and increasing annual incomes by $150.
The Purdue cowpea bag is a great innovation for a specific problem. But pests such as weevils are not the only problem. Some farmers prematurely harvest their crops due to an immediate need for food or cash.
A lack of infrastructure hurts developing areas, too. Without refrigeration (both in storage and in transport) or other preservation techniques, many farmers sell the majority of their crops immediately after harvest. For farmers, this means unstable income; for food buyers, it means price hikes of 20 to 30 percent in non-harvest months.
Investment in technology that reduces post-harvest losses might be cheaper and better for the planet than more production research. The World Bank claims "it is likely that promoting food security through post-harvest losses reduction can be more cost effective and environmentally sustainable than a corresponding increase in production, especially in the current era of high food prices. Assuming only a 1 percent reduction in post-harvest losses, annual gains of $40 million are possible, with producers as the key beneficiary."
These problems are not exclusive to the developing world. When one-third of the food is produced and not eaten, one-third of the the water, carbon emissions, fertilizer, labor, and production and transportation costs are all used in vain. Decreasing post-harvest losses will vastly increase the effectiveness and sustainability of global agriculture.
Kenyan architects are designing buildings with green roofs covered in vegetation to cool their interiors, conserve energy and water, and help curb greenhouse-gas emissions.
The capital, Nairobi, is experiencing growth in green-roofed construction, according to architects who specialize in the climate-friendly technology.
Some of these gardens in the sky – which require a flat roof and replace the vegetation destroyed when ground is cleared for construction – boast trees, as well as grass and other plants.
With urban trees and nearby forests being cut down for firewood and new development, green roofs are increasingly seen as a means of restoring city environments, while their plants suck up planet-warming carbon dioxide.
The East African Coca Cola Company, headquarters on the outskirts of downtown Nairobi, has led the way. Completed in 2008, and located in a smart suburb hosting several embassies, it is one of the most expensive buildings in Africa.
Its green roof garden serves as a recreation area for employees and ensures there is minimal heat gain through the roof, according to Triad Architects, which worked on the project.
"The green roof garden keeps the building cool,” said Bob Okello, communications manager at Coca Cola in Nairobi.
Green roofs have a modest cooling effect on building interiors, which cuts energy consumption by air conditioning, experts say.
They can also recycle water used inside the building, if mini water-treatment plants are installed on the roofs, according to architectural consultant Francis Gichuhi.
“Water from showers, sinks, and baths is treated and re-used within the building. Green roofs can save on water bills by up to 30 percent,” he said.
The roofs also absorb up to 95 percent of rain that falls on them, which provides instant irrigation and reduces storm water runoff. And they create an unusual but welcome habitat for animals and birds, Gichuhi added.
At the Coca Cola building, waste water is recycled and distributed to various parts of the building from tanks on the roof and below ground, including the gym and the toilets, Okello said.
“The green roof has helped the company reduce on costs associated with water as well as electricity, because we do not need constant air-conditioning in hot weather," he said.
A well-designed green roof costs between $15 and $20 per square foot (0.093 square meters), but investing in one can increase a building’s value by up to 25 percent, Gichuhi said.
Green roofs also tend to last longer, because they protect roof membranes from ultraviolet radiation and temperature extremes, according to researchers at Michigan State University.
Germany is widely regarded as the world leader in green roof research, technology, and usage, with the sector growing 10 to 15 percent per year in the European nation, the university’s website says.
In North America, the green roof industry grew by 28.5 percent in 2010, up from 16 percent in 2009, according to an annual survey.
The global market is expected to continue expanding, thanks to consumer interest in adopting green practices and pressure to minimize energy consumption by buildings in an effort to curb carbon emissions.
Hopes are also high for the green construction technique in some developing markets like Kenya, where government officials are trying to push it up the political agenda.
A draft law on green roofing has been forwarded to Kenya’s parliament by the environment ministry, and is set to be debated in the current session, which ends in May or June. It proposes that all large new urban buildings, such as apartment blocks, should have green roofs.
There are several other major construction projects in the pipeline that also feature green roofing. They include Tattoo City, a housing and commercial building scheme that will create a whole new Nairobi suburb, offering housing, hospitals, hotels, and restaurants – many of them sporting rooftop vegetation.
Another new urban settlement due to be built in the coming years is Konza City, which will be located near Machakos, a small town around 45 minutes drive from Nairobi.
Land has already been allocated for the construction of green-roofed residential, office, and commercial buildings, in what is designed to become a “silicon savanna” once completed in 2020.
Wealthy individuals are following the trend too. John Mutisya, a Nairobi businessman, is halfway through building his own green-roofed house.
“I love the beauty but also the comfort that comes with such a house,” he said. “And I know one spends less on electricity and air-conditioning to keep it cool during humid months.”
• Gitonga Njeru is a science journalist based in Nairobi. This article originally appeared at AlertNet, the Thomson Reuters Foundation humanitarian news service.
The upcoming Rio+20 conference on sustainable development will try to identify solutions to worsening resource scarcity and climate change, but Habiba Rage may already be holding one in the palm of her hand.
The 38-year-old from Alago Alba in Kenya’s North Eastern Region has overcome her village’s lack of connection to the electricity grid with a cell phone that uses solar energy to recharge.
“Our village does not have electricity,” says the mother of four. “It is very difficult to own a mobile phone because of the energy it needs to keep working.”
Habiba needs a phone for her livelihood as a trader including to keep track of stock arriving from Isiolo, the nearest urban center. Attacks by bandits along the 110 km (70 mile) route are not uncommon.
Like many others in this marginalized region, she has long found it hard to stay charged up and in touch.
But communications are now getting faster and more reliable, thanks to Rage’s phone, which takes advantage of the scorching sun.
It is fitted with a charger that absorbs and stores energy directly from the sun. Users do not need a mains connection to charge their phones, nor do they have to travel long distances to the nearest shopping center to pay for the same service.
The gadget is not only relatively affordable but environmentally friendly since it is manufactured from recycled electronic waste, officials say.
“It is a brilliant innovation,” said Michael Odera, director of the climate change office in Kenya’s Ministry of Environment and Mineral Resources. “It meets environmental goals and also deals with problems linked to increasing power outages in the country.”
According to Odera, the phone is particularly useful among rural communities where there is no mains electricity, but it also serves the needs of the urban poor who are faced with electricity rationing. The phone’s price tag of 1,500 Kenyan shillings ($18) is about half the cost of the cheapest conventional cell phones.
It is an innovation that may help to make poor Kenyans like Habiba less marginalized, according to a recent report by Christian Aid.
The international agency estimates that only 5 percent of Kenya’s rural areas and 51 percent of the urban population have access to electricity.
The Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen) estimates that current capacity is 1,300 MW, greater than the total demand of 1,100 MW. But industrial growth means that demand threatens to outstrip supply, according to the Kenya Association of Manufacturers.
The Kenyan government is paying increasing attention to the potential of solar power as a renewable energy resource as it seeks to meet its population’s energy needs in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way.
“Kenya can satisfy this need [for more power] through investment in renewable energy,” said the newly appointed Minister for Environment and Natural Resources, Chirau Mwakwere, during a press in briefing in Nairobi.
The government also is trying to boost generation of hydroelectric power. But this will increase pressure on already strained water resources, and 80 percent of Kenya consists of arid and semi-arid land. This problem makes solar power an increasingly attractive proposition.
The African Energy Policy Research Network, a local non-governmental organization, says Kenya receives an estimated four-to-six kilowatt hours of solar radiation per square meter, the energy equivalent of about 300 million tons of oil per day.
• David Njagi is an environmental writer based in Nairobi.
Journalist Kevin Fagan spent months immersed in the homeless community in San Francisco for his “Shame of the City” series, which ran in the San Francisco Chronicle in 2003. The series not only documents the daily lives and personal struggles of homeless people and families, it also examines various existing and emerging solutions from a critical perspective, looking at what works and what doesn’t.
Reflecting back on his extensive reportage on homelessness, Fagan explains how solution journalism can become an instrument for social change and directly influence policy. In the case of his series on homelessness, his reportage caught the attention of the city’s mayor at the time, and prompted the creation of new social programs to deal with issues raised by the series.
Below is Fagan’s conversation with Dowser on reporting on solutions to homelessness, and the particular obstacles involved in that kind of journalism.
Dowser: Why did you become a journalist? What did you think you could achieve?
Fagan: I became a journalist after working on the school paper in high school. It was the only job I really wanted. My mother had been a Navy journalist and told me it was a wonderful thing to do. I felt like I could contribute to society. I could make change. I could make society smarter. I could inform them on serious issues to help people make informed decisions on how to make life better in our world. It’s the old journalism adage of "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted." You want to give a full, unbiased view of what’s going on, and hopefully people will make better decisions because of it. The other reason is that I like adventure; journalism is like being in an action movie all the time.
Looking back, have you been able to achieve the goals you hoped to as a journalist?
Yes, I have. "Shame of the City" is one example. Robert Rosenthal, the managing editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, proposed the series. It was successful in encouraging positive approaches [to the problem of homelessness]. I got a ton of reactions to the series, and homelessness went down in the city during the time I was reporting. I had a full-time partner on that project, Brant Ward, a photographer. He cared about the issue as much as I do. We pushed supportive housing as the best answer out there to chronic homelessness. President [George W.] Bush read the series and he used it as a brochure for pushing the idea of supportive housing. We reprinted the series as a package and put out around 40,000 copies. Bush handed these out to the leading homeless organization directors around the United States, saying to them, “This is what we need to do,” and he had me come talk to their gatherings.
What’s a specific example of a local reform in response to your reportage?
There was a program called Homeward Bound created in response to my reporting on [a homeless person I profiled named] Rita. Her family saw my stories and they flew out from Florida, and got Rita and took her home, and fixed her. She had HIV, was on crack, heroin, and she got stabilized, and now she’s this vibrant, wonderful woman who I talk to every month or so. And I wrote about this, and about a dentist who fixed up her teeth for free. Mayor Newsom of San Francisco saw these stories and said hey, if you can reunite people and it’s successful, I want to encourage that. So the Homeward Bound program he created sends people out into the streets and they find homeless people and if the people want to go home, they help them call home and help them get reunited with them. To date, the program has reunited thousands of people and it’s still going on.
[My co-reporter and photographer] Brant [Ward] and I are skeptical, of course – so we hung out in the program to see how it was working, and it seemed to be working pretty well.
And you also investigated already-existing solutions for your series.
I did reporting on something called Homeless Connect. The problem was that homeless people don’t make appointments, like to go to the welfare office. They just don’t make them. So instead they said, let’s do a once-a-month gathering where homeless people can get all the services they need in one place. Brant and I had been in conversation with homeless outreach workers and we were telling them, you have to meet people where they are. It’s not like they recruited us to help, but during reporting we would emphasize that idea. You have to recognize that they’re still addicted and on the streets. So we wrote stories showcasing Homeless Connect as something that was having an effect and really helping people. With each story the thing grew; putting attention on it helped.
Was your reportage publicly recognized for its achievements?
We got nominated for a Pulitzer Prize each of the four years we were doing the beat. But we heard people saying, isn’t homelessness a problem of the '80s? And back East, especially, because there were some effective programs [out there], people don’t know how bad the situation is in San Francisco.
Brant and I won the national James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism, along with several other national prizes, including Brant getting the Robert Kennedy Award for his photos and me getting the national Excellence in Urban Journalism Award.
Do you believe that writing about solutions is a legitimate form of journalism?
It’s absolutely legitimate. We get complaints that it isn’t. Journalism has time constraints and pressure to produce material every day, and that means you look at the shiny object, which is the things that are broken. It’s easier to write about what’s screwed up rather than what’s working. And it’s important to write about problems but it’s not the only thing to write about.
What is the biggest problem journalists run into when they cover solutions?
There’s an institutional or industrial attitude that writing happy stories is sappy. But that doesn’t mean there’s a prohibition against writing about things that work well. They are seen as "puff pieces."
Do you think some, or most, editors are hesitant to accept story pitches that explore potential solutions? Why?
Most would be leery of it. They want useful stories. The trick is you have to be sophisticated enough to let the editor know that you are writing about something that’s useful and informative rather than puffy and dippy. That takes sophistication on the part of the reporter, and on the editor’s part as well. I had to write thousands of stories before I figured out what’s a good story.
• This interview has been edited and condensed.
A World Bank partner devoted to developing the private sector and The MasterCard Foundation will spend millions of dollars so more impoverished Africans can get loans and other financial services, officials said.
At a Johannesburg, South Africa, news conference May 7, officials from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), which is part of the World Bank group, and The MasterCard Foundation said they would spend $37.4 million over five years to support banks and other institutions across Africa that provide small loans, a strategy known as microfinancing. People around the world have used such loans to lift themselves out of poverty by starting or expanding small businesses, sending children to school, or buying fertilizer for subsistence farms.
The MasterCard Foundation was established with funds from MasterCard Worldwide in 2006 and operates independently of the company.
The IFC-MasterCard Foundation project, the IFC's largest with a private foundation, also targets banks and communications companies that help mobile phone users send and receive money and get access to other banking services. Mobile phones have meant people in remote rural areas and urban slums, where banks have been reluctant to build branches, can still get banking services.
The IFC, which started investing in microfinance programs in Africa in 1997, estimates only between 5 percent and 25 percent of African households have bank accounts or other relationships with financial institutions.
Reeta Roy, president and chief executive of The MasterCard Foundation, said she and the IFC were seeking to radically expand access to banking for Africans at a time when their continent's middle class is expanding and political stability is growing.
The initiative, she said, is "part of a much, much larger story. It's the story of the political, economic, and social transformation that's happening across this continent."
Thierry Tanoh, the IFC's vice president for sub-Saharan Africa, also was optimistic about Africa's prospects. He added the IFC sees microfinancing and mobile banking as priorities in the campaign to ensure more Africans have access to banking services.
Perhaps the world's best-known microfinance institution, Grameen Bank, was founded in the 1970s in Bangladesh by economist Muhammad Yunus. His pioneering concept – giving the poor, women in particularly, small loans to help them build their families and businesses – earned Mr. Yunus the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize.
Steve Wardle, Grameen Foundation's Africa director, said Africa's low population density and high proportion of poor people living in rural areas make the work of microfinance institutions on the continent different from work in Asia or Latin America. Grameen was particularly excited about mobile phone technology making it easier to get information, as well as banking services, to the poor, Mr. Wardle said in a telephone interview from Kenya.
Grameen Foundation, which was not involved with the project announced May 7, like the corporation and The MasterCard Foundation, places hope in improvements in Africa's political and economic outlook. Investors who once shunned the continent will now have the confidence to make much-needed capital available, he said.
"It's an exciting time in Africa," said Wardle, who has worked in Asia and Africa.
He welcomed competition in the field, saying that would increase knowledge and help drive down prices and ensure services were tailored to the population.