Points of Progress: Preventing extremism, and more

This is more than feel-good news – it's where the world is making concrete progress. A roundup of positive stories to inspire you.

Kham/Reuters/File
A village in the northern Ha Giang province in Vietnam. The area is set to receive better infrastructure.

Vietnam

Rural Vietnam is becoming more accessible. Some of the country’s poorest and most rural areas in its northwestern provinces have had limited access to basic services such as education and health care and to job opportunities. Developing infrastructure to address these issues has become a priority, and the country has begun spending on improvements. Vietnam has received enough funding from the Asian Development Bank to work on road conditions in the northwest, giving residents better access to the expressway that connects with the country’s capital, Hanoi. This project will not only support the region economically by boosting commerce, but will also enable access to emergency disaster relief. (Retail News Asia)

Kenya

A group in Mobasa is working to prevent extremism from taking root. Faced with unemployment, poverty, and gang violence, the country's Muslim population is dealing with marginalization. With the promise of avenging mistreated communities, extremist groups target people who are feeling underserved. A mentorship program run by Royal United Services Institute, a London think tank, has taken a new approach to stopping extremism. Instead of trying to de-radicalize militants, the program’s focus is on preventing radicalization among the most vulnerable individuals. Since 2016, the mentorship program has worked with more than 200 people, encouraging individuals to see that revenge is not the answer to their problems. (The Guardian)

United States

The country is rethinking plastic. If trends continue, according to the United Nations Environment Program, by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Roughly 12 million barrels of oil were needed to make plastic bags used in just the state of New York for one year. New York has now joined California and Hawaii in a statewide ban of single-use plastic bags in an effort to reduce fossil fuel consumption as well as the number of bags that end up in waterways and landfills. 

Meanwhile, an engineering school in Indiana has figured out a way to convert polypropylene, which accounts for a quarter of all plastics, into fuel. A team from Purdue University that includes Linda Wang, a professor of chemical engineering, says it has come up with a chemical process to break down plastic and turn it back into an oil. The oil can be used to make gasoline or diesel fuel. Dr. Wang notes that simply disposing of plastic properly isn’t the end of the story, especially since much of it ends up in the ocean. (Mother Nature Network, Forbes)

Mike Segar/Reuters
New York put a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags like these in their 2020 budget.

Japan

Suicide rates are declining here. Japanese culture has historically promoted a reserved personal nature, discouraging people from sharing their feelings. This, coupled with a stigma about seeking help for mental health issues, contributed to suicide rates peaking in 2003, according to Reuters. Since then, suicide rates have seen a decline of almost 40%. Befrienders Worldwide Tokyo is one of many suicide hotlines that have helped. The group’s trained “listeners” are also situated in rural areas to connect with those who are more isolated. One listener interviewed by Reuters says, “Our work is to give them enough space in their hearts to think.” Although overall suicide rates have decreased, Japan’s youth suicide rate is at a 30-year high. (Reuters)

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