More than memories: Digital archives are preserving refugee cultures

Other technologies spotlighted this week include an online calculator that may help curb illegal gold mining and a means for investigating child abuse.

1. United States

The first fully flushable, biodegradable pregnancy test has reached online shelves. Americans buy an estimated 20 million at-home pregnancy tests every year. Those tests have been accumulating in landfills since they entered the market in the 1970s, and today’s tests are mostly unchanged since the late 1980s. Developed over six years by a women-led team, Lia is part of a broader push to re-imagine and destigmatize menstrual and pregnancy products.

Why We Wrote This

In our progress roundup, new applications of technology are both protecting and uplifting vulnerable populations, including children who’ve been abused and refugees who’ve lost their homelands.

The thin, hourglass-shaped pregnancy test is FDA approved and works very much like other urine-based tests, showing a single line for negative results or two lines for positive. The manufacturer claims Lia is 99% accurate – on par with other over-the-counter tests. But instead of plastic, glass, electronics, or nitrocellulose-treated paper – all common components in other tests – Lia is made with the same materials as toilet paper. The startup also promises greater privacy, as the product is shipped directly to users’ homes and there’s no reason for completed tests to sit in the trash.
Green Queen, Philadelphia Magazine, Harvard University, The New York Times

2. Brazil

The Federal Public Ministry and the Conservation Strategy Fund (CSF-Brazil) have launched a gold mining impacts calculator to combat illegal mining in the Brazilian Amazon. Brazil has exported $11 billion of gold since 2019, with an estimated 35% coming from illicit sources. Until recently, assessing the impact of illegal mining involved long investigations, and restitution values were based on the market prices of gold. Now, a new tool uses deforestation and degradation data to calculate the damage caused by mining activities.

Bruno Kelly/Reuters/File
A Yanomami man in Roraima state, Brazil, and environmental agency workers examine a gold mine on Indigenous land during an anti-mining operation in April 2016.

During a June demonstration launch, a CSF-Brazil economist used the calculator to determine that illegal mining caused $429 million worth of damage to the Yanomami Indigenous Reserve in 2020. Police estimate 20,000 miners in the past two years have entered and illegally worked in the community of fewer than 27,000, increasingly using intimidation and violence against local people. Officials expect the calculator will make it easier to prosecute illegal mining, and stress the importance of examining the supply chain and holding those in power accountable.

3. United Kingdom

By pioneering the use of hand anatomy analysis in U.K. courts, forensic anthropologist Sue Black has established an effective tool for investigating child sexual abuse. Last year, law enforcement struggled to keep up with online child abuse as technology companies around the world reported a record-breaking amount of images and videos to watchdog groups. In many instances, perpetrators’ hands are in the frame, offering Ms. Black and experts like her a critical piece of evidence. She and her research partners have worked on hundreds of cases, assessing these hands’ unique anatomical structure – vein patterns, scars, knuckle creases, etc. – and comparing that profile to a suspect. She sometimes works for the defense, helping suspects prove their innocence by detecting differences in the hand anatomy, but says about 82% of cases that she takes on as a prosecution expert result in a change of plea.

David Moir/Reuters/File
Sue Black participates in a 2013 search for a missing person in Coatbridge, Scotland.

While similar methods are used at the FBI and in other countries, Ms. Black is one of two people offering these services in the U.K. Now a project called H-unique is looking to automate the process. With nearly $3 million in European Union funding, researchers are developing two algorithms – one that will use machine learning to sift through millions of data points, searching police databases for potential matches, and another, simpler algorithm based directly on Ms. Black’s approach.
The Times, The New York Times

4. Zimbabwe

The African Union Sports Council and Zimbabwe government recently implemented a mentorship program to boost women’s leadership in sports. The AUSC Region 5 helps its 10 member countries develop a strong sports industry, and all the economic, political, and social opportunities that come with it. The Women Leadership Program (WLP) has been years in the making, with the first workshop held in Johannesburg in March 2019. Facilitated by AUSC Region 5 with support from the Association for International Sport for All, the 10-year training program aims to raise the participation of marginalized groups in sport and recreation throughout the member countries to 40% by 2028.

Zimbabwe’s WLP aims to produce at least 200 female leaders by that deadline. “It gives me immense delight to finally see the Women Leadership Program come alive,” said Kazembe Kazembe, the acting minister for youth, sport, arts, and recreation. “The WLP provides avenues for confidence building and ... unpacks the invaluable latent potential that for years has been dormant, and in some instances, ignored.” Other Region 5 countries, including Lesotho and Malawi, have implemented versions of WLP.
The Herald, AUSC, New Era

5. Australia

Australia Fashion Week had its first runway show featuring entirely Indigenous talent, as groups work to increase representation and combat appropriation in the fashion industry. The nonprofit First Nations Fashion and Design (FNFD) launched in 2020 with the goal of nurturing the Indigenous fashion sector. Run entirely by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander designers, models, and backstage staff, the June show split from fashion week norms, featuring musical performances, dancing, and homages to Australia’s Indigenous history.

In previous years, observers say authentic representation of Indigenous talent and culture was rare. But between two runway shows and a student showcase, at least a dozen Indigenous designers presented their work at the 2021 event. Demand for Indigenous models was also up, and the week opened with a Welcome to Country ceremony, a 65,000-year-old tradition honoring the traditional owners of the land. “In regards to the Australian Fashion narrative, First Nations people and our country have been a great source of inspiration,” said Grace Lillian Lee, FNFD’s creative director. “It’s time for us to take ownership of that.”
The Guardian, ABC


A growing number of digital archives are  helping preserve the cultural heritage of refugees. Wars, natural disasters, and other crises have displaced 80 million people around the world, according to the United Nations. Refugees, historians, and scholars have developed digital platforms for communities to document their stories and traditions on their own terms. Such efforts allow refugees to be known for their knowledge and creativity, “not just their marginalization,” says David Palazón, curator of the Rohingya Cultural Memory Centre, a project based in the world’s largest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

Similar initiatives include the Noolaham Digital Library – a multimedia archive comprising obituaries for Sri Lankan Tamils killed in the country’s civil war, newspaper clippings, and other Tamil-language documents – and the Refugee Archives, a scholar-led project inviting individuals from any refugee community to upload poetry, music, film, and more. Such databases are not only an important outlet for current refugees, says Rohingya poet Shahida Win, but are also vital tools for future generations: “It is very important for a community to maintain its cultural heritage, but ours is becoming endangered. It needs to be preserved for new generations of Rohingya.”
Thomson Reuters Foundation, Scroll.In

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