Another year, another deluge of retrospectives declaring that our latest trip around the Sun was a particularly bad one. And how could it be otherwise, when disparity, discord, and destruction abound?
Earth’s state of affairs can indeed seem bleak. Nevertheless, the human spirit remains alive, kicking, and as beautiful as ever.
Need proof? Global Voices offered plenty in 2017. Our community of volunteers and partner organizations reported hundreds of stories from around the globe of ordinary people defending their rights and fostering cross-cultural understanding in the face of injustice, indifference, or even hate.
So as the clock tick-tocks toward 2018, take comfort in the following list of 40 stories. There’s lots of good in this world — and may there be even more in the year to come.
1. Artists use Legos to restore buildings — and hope — in Beirut
An art collective named Dispatch Beirut has left a colorful mark on the Lebanese capital by “rebuilding” broken structures using Legos, calling the toys “little blocks of hope.” The artists aspire to call attention to what they say is the government’s prioritizing of profit over preservation of heritage in post-civil war reconstruction efforts.Manaus in the2. An indigenous singer breaks barriers at Brazil’s Amazonas Theatre
Djuena Tikuna became the first indigenous singer to perform at the famous Amazonas Theatre in with the launch of her album Tchautchiüãne, or “my village” in the Tikuna language. The work speaks about the Amazonian rubber boom and its massive exploitation of the region’s rubber trees — and the region’s people — beginning at the turn of the 20th century.
3. Parents fight for proper education for children with disabilities in Bosnia
A group of parents in Sarajevo campaigned for adequate preschool education for children with cognitive disabilities, who are faced with a public system poorly equipped to teach them skills needed to lead an independent life. If the #GdjeJeMojaSkola? (“Where is my school?”) effort succeeds, it will be the first of its kind in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
4. A dictionary offers hope for a disappearing indigenous Nepali language
Field studies show that the Kusunda language, one of several endangered languages in Nepal, has only two fluent speakers within the Kusunda community of 150 people. A recently launched book-cum-dictionary intends to preserve the language, whose origins bear no obvious relation to any other spoken language in the world.
5. Viral hashtags send love and solidarity across borders
After US President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iran, hateful rhetoric between the two governments increased. To counter the distressing turn of events, Iranians began showcasing words and images of cross-border solidarity under the hashtag #LoveBeyondFlags.
And in Mexico, an anonymous group of teenagers created a gastronomic-themed hashtag to show their support for Venezuelans fighting for democracy amidst a deepening social, economic and political crisis: #ArepaElTacoEstáContigo (Arepa, The Taco Is With You). The arepa is from Venezuela, and the taco from Mexico.
6. ‘Resistance songs’ provide the soundtrack for an Ethiopian protest movement
Amid ongoing protests fueled by a growing opposition movement, Ethiopia’s government has made many efforts to censor “resistance songs” that speak out against oppression in the country. Although several popular musicians have been arrested and jailed, the popularity of the resistance songs has not waned. On YouTube, channels carrying montages of protest images linked to the resistance songs regularly attract hundreds of thousands of views.
7. ‘Open source’ seed producers stand to shake up global food production
From India to the US, a movement is taking root around the world to promote “open source” seeds. Supporters say corporations’ patents on plant material is compromising the food industry because the gene pool is continually shrinking — at a time when genetic diversity is more necessary than ever thanks to climate change.
8. ‘Smellwalkers’ map the scents of Kyiv
A small group of people, led by artist and designer Kate McLean, traversed Kyiv on foot documenting the wintertime smells of the city. Scents recorded included “the islands of summer,” “wood smoke,” “wet animal fur,” and “rusty metal.” McLean has been “mapping smells” throughout the past five years in places all over the world.
9. Donated New Year’s clothes pour in for Kurdish families in need
Jili Kurdi is the traditional clothing worn by Kurds to celebrate Newroz, or the New Year, but the colorful textiles have become unaffordable for many Kurdish families in war-torn Iraq. To help the situation, activists launched the #KurdishClothesForAll campaign asking people across the region to donate the special garb. In the end, the effort provided over 450 families with new Kurdish clothes to wear for the holiday.
10. An arts festival helps a tsunami-scarred Japanese city find joy
Physical reconstruction in the city of Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture, where a massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011 caused major damage, might be considered complete, but the area has yet to recover its former energy. The Reborn Art Festival aims to help residents appreciate the beautiful, the abstract, and the intangible, instead of focusing on material losses.
11. East African ‘kanga’ textiles send a message of equal love
A Kenyan visual artist captured the struggles for equal love in 35 different countries in a Nairobi exhibition of specially designed “kanga”, an East African textile that traditionally features Swahili proverbs. Instead, Kawira Mwirichia populated the cloths with motivational messages from queer leaders throughout Africa and beyond.
12. Construction workers in Peru take a stand against street harassment
In Peru, where gender-related violence is a matter of grave concern in Peru, one construction site defied the stereotype of the industry’s workers when it posted a sign that read, “At this construction site, we don’t whistle at women and we are against sexual street harassment.”
13. Theater for good, from Azerbaijan to El Salvador
In Azerbaijan, ƏSA (“walking stick” in Azerbaijani) is a first-of-its-kind theater, created to fight the characterization of people with disabilities as dependent, incompetent and unhappy. “This is not a social project, it’s not a hobby, we are working professionally,” the founder says.
In Argentina, Teatro x Identitad (Theater for Identity) explores the themes of identity and truth, all in support of efforts to locate children who were disappeared during the dictatorship of the 1970s and return them to their legitimate families.
And in El Salvador, where gang activity and police abuse claim an alarming number of victims, two new theater productions place the disappeared and their families at the center of the story.
14. A Kyrgyz female scientist becomes a symbol of resistance to sexism
and the British University of Bath bagged the Biotechnology Award category at the IChemE Global Awards, just days after a prominent business in her native Kyrgyzstan publicly called female leadership “nonsense” and equated feminism with “terrorism.” Sartbaeva spearheads a project that “uses silica to protect vaccines from spoiling, and reduces the need for cold-storage equipment.”
15. Mozambique’s only LGBT organization wins an important court ruling
After more than a decade of struggle to officially register as an association, Lambda, Mozambique’s only organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights, celebrated when the Constitutional Council ruled that its status does not violate the country’s constitution. Lambda’s executive director, Danilo da Silva, said the decision opens the door to legal recognition for the organization, calling it “not only a victory for LGBT people, but for all who are different and have different ideas.”
16. A woman-run restaurant blazes a trail in Pakistan’s Quetta
A new restaurant in the western Pakistani city of Quetta is run and staffed exclusively by women, representing an important act of resistance to the deeply patriarchal region. The force behind the restaurant is Hamida Ali Hazara, who comes from the Hazara marginalized minority. Despite the challenges faced, the restaurant has proved popular so far.
17. Indigenous Comic Con in the US does battle with Native stereotypes
The second Indigenous Comic Con, held in the southwestern US state of New Mexico, featured vendors, artists, guests and cosplay celebrating Native pop culture, so often misrepresented or under-represented in mainstream media. “You have so many stereotypes out there because there is not enough to counteract that, and to show what’s positive, productive and acceptable,” organizer Dr. Lee Francis IV says.
18. After 113 days in jail, #Istanbul10 rights defenders are released pending trial
Ten human rights defenders in Istanbul were released pending trial on accusations of membership in a terrorist organization, a rare moment of relief in a case that observers say is meant to intimidate rights advocates. The #Istanbul10 had spent four months in prison after being arrested while at an information management and wellbeing workshop.
19. A Thai pop band satirizes the censor-happy junta in a music video
In a music video for their latest release, famous pop band Tattoo Colour subtly parodied the Thai junta that grabbed power in 2014 and continues to govern the country despite its pledge to restore civilian rule. Fans praised the music group for its courage, given that the junta actively censors its critics.
20. DIY telecommunications bring a rural South Africa village online
In South Africa, where many rural areas lack internet infrastructure, the village of Mankosi now has access to more affordable telephone and internet access thanks to a community-owned, solar-powered mesh network. The project, which is a part of the Association for Progressive Communications network, seeks to create a model for the sustainable implementation of bottom-up telecommunications.
21. Trinidad & Tobago musicians say there’s #NoGreaterTime to advocate change
Like many other places in the world, Trinidad and Tobago struggles with violence and societal divisions. One collaborative song featuring 35 artists, called “No Greater Time,” aims to challenge citizens “to collectively create a more peaceful, prosperous and unified Trinbagonian society.” “It isn’t so much that we lost our way as much as we need to have more people taking action,” producer Keron “Sheriff” Thompson says. “Not just talking about change, but being change or being a part of that change.
22. Colombians welcome ex-fighters back into society with love letters
Latin America’s longest-running armed conflict came to an end when the Colombian government reached a peace agreement with the FARC, but the challenge of reintegrating former members of the militia remains. So one campaign had young people write love letters to the ex-guerrilla fighters to welcome them. Many ex-combatants have replied.
23. A young engineer from Niger invents a device to clean up air pollution
A 22-year-old from Niger has big plans for his invention, which he says rids the air of industrial fumes. He says he hopes it will one day help his country, where air quality and climate change are urgent concerns. Abdou Barmini built his prototype anti-pollution device using local materials that he recycled, adapted and re-assembled.
24. A community in Spain rallies around a goldfish named Pesesín
In the hallway of a block of flats in Spain’s Gijón, residents stumbled upon a goldfish bowl, a tin of fish food, a feeding chart, and a note asking for help caring for the creature while its owner was away. The neighbors took up the challenge with gusto, and the details of the situation soon went viral on Twitter. “There’s still hope in the world,” one user declared in response to the story.
25. Serbian websites go black to resist media intimidation by tax authorities
More than one hundred media outlets and NGO websites staged a website blackout after an independent weekly magazine was forced to close. Vranje Newspaper said the publication had suffered administrative harassment and other forms of pressure from Serbia’s Tax Authority, a tactic authorities have used in the past to punish “disobedient” media.
26. A displaced indigenous community in Paraguay reclaims its land
Years ago, the Ava Guarani people in Paraguay were forced to leave behind their land and the river that runs through it because of the construction of the Itaipú hydroelectric dam. In 2015, the community returned to reclaim the territory. Ever since, members have faced violent evictions by the authorities, but remain steadfast in their resolve to demand justice.
27. ‘The Blind Captain’ aims to kayak solo across the Bosphorus
Ahmet Ustunel, who lost his sight to eye cancer at 3 years old, plans to return to his native Turkey and kayak solo across the Bosphorus Strait. With the help of a grant, he will buy the kayak and the necessary equipment needed to navigate the waterway. “People should be able to see blind people using boats,” he says.
28. A Catholic Church worker documents drug killings in the Philippines
By night, a missionary at Manila’s Baclaran Church photographs the lethal anti-drug operations of the Philippine police and profiles the victims to be used in future human rights abuse investigations. “Letting the world know about this legalized barbarism is a humanitarian work, before it being news,” Ciriaco Santiago says.
29. A community journalism project takes shape in Jamaica
A project in Jamaica is empowering ordinary citizens to hold authorities accountable — an important aim, given the lack of investigative journalism in the country. The training was the result of a collaboration between the USAID-funded COMET II community development programme, the anti-corruption lobby group National Integrity Action, and the independent Global Reporters for the Caribbean.
30. Russia’s blind footballers defy odds to take European championship
The Russian national blind football team came out on top in the 2017 European Champions after beating Spain in an intense final. The victory is no small feat for a country where Paralympic sports receive little funding and athletes across the board have faced extra scrutiny and blanket bans in the wake of a doping scandal.
31. A Mexican activist maps femicides to keep victims’ memories alive
A woman who goes by pseudonym “Princesa” (“Princess”) maintains the most comprehensive and up-to-date map of femicides in Mexico. So far, she has recorded 2,355 cases. The reason she documents the gender-related killings? To name every single one of the women so that they are not forgotten.
32. A local Macedonian referendum proves citizen participation isn’t dead
Residents of the town of Gevgelija overwhelmingly voted to block the opening of gold mines in the area that they fear will harm the environment, in the first successful referendum since Macedonia became independent in 1991. The vote was an important assertion of the will of the people at a time when the country’s outgoing ruling party has been implicated in election fraud.
33. Indian women dare to say their husbands’ names for the first time
In the small village of Walhe, nine women broke with tradition and spoke their husbands’ names instead of using the customary pronoun or “father of my child.” They did so as members of a club, one of 56 run the organization Video Volunteers, meant to foster discussion and debate about the nuances of patriarchy.
34. A mobile van offers WiFi to asylum seekers and migrants in France
An initiative called InfoBus is providing asylum seekers and migrants living in deplorable conditions in the French city of Calais with WiFi access out of a van. Many of the beneficiaries fled conflict, repression or economic insecurity in their countries, and now face surveillance, harassment, language barriers, and often lack basic services like electricity. The Internet connectivity provided by InfoBus allow them to communicate with family and friends.
35. Vietnamese continue to demand justice for toxic waste spill
Thousands of Vietnamese risked the government’s wrath to protest on beaches and in boats against a Taiwanese-owned steel plant, one year after a toxic spill from its operations caused a massive fish kill and lingering damage. Fishermen argue that the compensation they have received is inadequate and has not helped the people most affected.
36. Dominica’s post-hurricane recovery gives reason for hope
A travel and tourism-based Facebook group called Embrace Dominica has been documenting recovery throughout the Caribbean country following the destruction of Hurricane Maria, including how one company pledged to rebuild seven primary schools and hundreds of homes. As media coverage of natural disasters usually falls off after the initial spike around the time of the event, highlighting such efforts are important for drawing attention to the challenges of recovery.
37. Syrians learn to cultivate mushrooms to survive siege
Years of siege by government forces have made traditional staples like meat unavailable to ordinary Syrians, so one group of humanitarians and academics are educating families in the area of Eastern Ghouta to grow their own mushrooms “as a lifesaving source of food.” They are using the crowdfunding platform CanDo, in coordination with the NGO Ghiras Al-Nahda, to raise funds for their initiative.
38. Despite pressure from China, Taiwan finds space on the world stage
China can frustrate Taiwanese participation in many international events. But “where there’s a will, there’s a way,” and Taiwanese find a way, making contributions to the Olympic Games, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, and the World Trade Organization, among others. Hopes are high that the list will only grow in the future.
39. A train forges friendships between Bangladeshis and Indians
The Maitree (“Friendship”) Express is slowly bringing together more and more travelers on either side of the Bangladesh-India border. Launched nine years ago, the route unites Bengal, a large geopolitical area in the Indian sub-continent that shares a language and culture, but is divided by religion and borders.
40. ‘RESIST’ tattoos support good causes in the US
To encourage people to be more proactive in their hopes for change, a tattoo artist in the United States offered free “RESIST” themed tattoos in exchange for proof of a $100 donation or more to charities or organizations “fighting for a better world.” On Facebook, Nate Kaschak explains:
“A great deal of change is heading our way and it’s our collective responsibility to make sure they’re positive and progressive steps towards a brighter future for E V E R Y O N E.”