The power of steel, bamboo, and the game of chess

Along with two stories of individuals using their expertise to help others, we feature 19 Afro-Colombian communities in South America that pushed for environmental protections of their delta because their own populations are growing.

1. Colombia

A new marine protected area now preserves one of Colombia’s most undisturbed coastal ecosystems. Afro-Colombian communities from the region, represented by the Council of Naya River, worked with officials for over two decades to establish the Isla Ají marine protected area, which stretches across 23,289 acres of land and coast and 37,495 acres of the Pacific. The area is home to the beloved but endangered sea turtle as well as the humpback whale and serves as a feeding stopover for many species that migrate from as far away as Alaska and Chile.

Why We Wrote This

In this progress roundup, two problem-solvers – in Bangladesh and Nigeria – came to their solutions after a thorough understanding of the needs of the people they are trying to help.

The delta region has remained relatively safe from the threats of logging, mining, and farming over the years, but nearby communities recognized a more pressing risk: themselves. As the population has grown, so have pressures on the surrounding environment, such as tree felling, overhunting, and indiscriminate fishing practices. Colombia, alongside more than 100 countries around the world, has committed to protecting 30% of its land and ocean by 2030, and community leaders are hopeful that the new designation will lay the groundwork for a local ecotourism industry.

2. United States

Benoit Photo/AP
Express Train and jockey Victor Espinoza (left) overpower competitors at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California, on March 5, 2022.

California horse racing deaths have halved in two years following reforms. When 23 horses died in a span of less than three months at the iconic Santa Anita racetrack in Arcadia, out of 144 total deaths across the state during the 2018-19 season, it cast a dark shadow on the sport. “It woke everybody up, including the governor,” said Greg Ferraro of the state horse racing board. “We’ve concentrated on the health and safety of the horses above everything else.”

The board has since adopted over 40 new regulations to protect the animals, ranging from strict limitations on the use of whips to new requirements for veterinary equipment on-site, and individual racetracks have implemented their own protections. As a result, horse deaths in California fell to 72 last season, and early data suggest the downward trend is continuing. But animal advocates and those in the industry say there is still work to be done: “I think most people would agree that if even one horse is dying, it’s too many,” said Kathy Guillermo, a senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “So that number needs to go down further.”
Pasadena Star News

3. Nigeria

Chess lessons give children in poor, urban parts of Nigeria an educational launchpad. Tunde Onakoya, a professional chess player turned social entrepreneur, sees chess as much more than a game. In 2015, he began teaching a small group of children in the outskirts of Ikorodu in the state of Lagos. Three years and hundreds of lessons later, he founded the nonprofit Chess in Slums Africa, which now enrolls more than 1,000 children across three communities and has helped distribute $400,000 in academic scholarships.

Seun Sanni/Reuters/File
Michael Omoyele became a skilled chess player in Majidun, Nigeria, and also returned to school.

In Nigeria, around 61% of children between the ages of 6 and 11 regularly attend primary school, leaving some 10.5 million children out of the classroom. Of the students who have participated in the chess program, 86% have remained in formal schooling. “It’s not just about chess, it’s about what it teaches: patience, focus, high-level concentration, critical thinking,” said Mr. Onakoya. “We are giving them chess as a way for them to be educated in a different way ... not [to] teach them what exactly to think but how to think for themselves, to come up with solutions for problems.”

4. Bangladesh

A Bangladeshi architect designed a modular bamboo stilt home for those hit hardest by climate change. Dwellers of the Ganges Delta region have faced increasingly frequent extreme weather events in recent years, in some cases forcing out entire communities. A popular flat-pack home that can be relocated when floodwaters rise costs $2,000 and takes two weeks to build with the help of carpenters – keeping it out of reach of many.

During the pandemic, architect Marina Tabassum began testing solutions. She and her team came up with the Khudi Bari (Tiny House), a lightweight, “space frame” home made from local bamboo and steel joints that costs only $400 and is easily assembled by residents. Four Bangladeshi families are currently living in these homes, and 100 additional houses will be provided with support from the Swiss Embassy in Bangladesh. “As architects we have a responsibility to these people,” said Ms. Tabassum, the first person from the global south to win the prestigious Soane Medal for architecture. “The construction industry contributes half of all global emissions, but the people being affected by sea-level rise in the coastal areas have zero carbon footprint.”
The Guardian


Tiger populations have risen since the last lunar Year of the Tiger, according to a report by the World Wildlife Fund. The number of wild tigers worldwide hit an all-time low in 2010 at 3,200 – that’s around 3% of the population a century ago. Since the launch of the Global Tiger Initiative in 2010, the “centuries-long trend of wild tiger decline has finally been reversed,” said the WWF report, which heralds the success as “one of the greatest degrees of political will ever mustered for the protection of a single species.”

The organization admits the gains are fragile and have been inconsistent across regions. India has added 14 tiger reserves since 2014, and China created the largest tiger protection area in the world in 2017. Meanwhile, tiger populations declined in Malaysia and are likely extinct in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Conservation efforts have helped combat poaching, expand tigers’ geographic range, and improve responses to human-tiger conflicts, while working closely with the 57 million people living in tiger landscapes. As Ginette Hemley of WWF put it: “The communities living alongside tiger habitats are instrumental stewards of the nature around them and their partnership is vital.”
EcoWatch, World Wildlife Fund

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