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32 Stories That Capture the Happiness, Heartache and Resilience of 2015

Collage of photos from Global Voices coverage in 2015. Created by L. Finch.

Collage of photos from Global Voices coverage in 2015. Created by L. Finch.

A Honduran teenager shoots to YouTube stardom teaching viewers how to make the most of their humble means.

Social media users in Kyrgyzstan convince parliament to abandon a dubious plan to spend tens of thousands of dollars on new chairs.

And young citizen journalists in Nairobi, Kenya, document the lives of the residents of Africa's largest urban slum on their Humans of Kibera blog.

The Global Voices’ virtual, community-driven newsroom worked hard this year to build understanding across borders and language barriers through stories like these and more. Throughout 2015, we published accounts of sorrow, struggle, love and levity from around the globe that were often missed or misrepresented by mainstream media.

Before the clock strikes midnight on the year gone by, let's take a look at 32 of these stories from 2015 that highlight the strength and creativity of the human spirit.

1. Protesting teddy bears in Bahrain

In Bahrain, anti-regime protesters armed with teddy bears and other stuffed animals faced off with riot police on Valentine's Day, the fourth anniversary of when authorities there launched a brutal crackdown against a popular movement.

A giant Godzilla-like ape appears to guard a makeshift barricade put up by protesters in Bahrain today. Barricades made out of debris, construction material, plants and rubbish are erected by protesters on roads leading to protest spots to stall the riot police from attacking the protesters in full force. Source: Unknown

A giant Godzilla-like ape appears to guard a makeshift barricade put up by protesters in Bahrain today. Barricades made out of debris, construction material, plants and rubbish are erected by protesters on roads leading to protest spots to stall the riot police from attacking the protesters in full force. Source: Unknown

2. The real consequences of Facebook's ‘real name’ policy

After Global Voices author Inji Pennu wrote about a feminist activist who briefly lost access to her Facebook account after facing misogynistic harassment, she experienced similar abuse, and her own Facebook account was suspended after a user falsely reported her for using a fake name. A campaign to convince Facebook to change its problematic “real name” policy followed. The social media site responded with a pledge to make a few small steps in the right direction, but more can be done.

3. The lingering trauma of war in Japan

In response to her country changing the constitution to include the legal possibility of going to war, an 81-year-old Japanese woman took to Twitter to recall her harrowing memories of the consequences of conflict.

4. Theater with a cause in Guatemala

Guatemalan theater group Las Poderosas (Powerful Women) promoted healing and raised awareness of violence against women through their work in a country where two women a day are killed on average, according to the UN.

5. Patriotic refrigerators in China

Internet users drew parallels between China's current drift toward fanatical patriotism and the Cultural Revolution, the violent political movement in the 1960s and 70s that purged undesirables from the communist party. To mock just how ridiculous the trend could become, Chinese netizens peppered a mundane conversation about refrigerators with lofty declarations of how much they love their country.

6. ‘We must first begin to show love ourselves’

Following a wave of racial stereotyping in Trinidad and Tobago, one woman found online support after she posted a photo of herself holding a sign that read, “I will not ‘Go back to China’. I am Trinidadian.” “To cultivate unity, harmony and love within our society,” she said in a later interview, “we must first begin to show love ourselves.”

7. A library on wheels in Afghanistan

Saber Hussaini, a 35-year-old author and storyteller, pedaled around Afghanistan on his mobile library, handing out children's books in villages where the government isn't satisfying the people's hunger for education.

8. Life in Ghana, as told by Twitter

Ghanaians launched two hashtags during the course of the year to give the world a peek into their lives. #BeingGhanaianHasTaughtMe offered a tongue-and-cheek perspective on life in Ghana (“#BeingGhanaianHasTaughtMe that if you are not a zebra, don't expect cars to stop for you at a zebra crossing,” one Twitter user wrote), while #233moments asked participants to tweet what they are doing at exactly 2:33 p.m. GMT, no matter how mundane.

9. Hope for a brighter future in Iran 

In Iran, people spilled out into the streets to celebrate the news of a nuclear deal that could lift the crippling sanctions against the country. Some observers hoped the agreement will open the door to more respect for human rights such as freedom of expression there. Global Voices, for example, remained partially blocked in Iran as of April.

10. Netflix and Cuba

Cuba and the US normalized their relations after decades of diplomatic bad blood, paving the way for American companies like Netflix to announce they would establish a presence on the island (despite the fact that in Netflix's case, even those Cubans who have Internet access do not have a strong enough connection to watch videos online).

11. Dancing for joy in Sierra Leone

Medical workers in Sierra Leone broke out into dance to celebrate the release of the country's last known Ebola patient from the hospital. Forty-two days later, the World Health Organization officially declared the West African country, where nearly 4,000 people died from the disease, was officially declared Ebola-free.

12. Myanmar's ‘time to change’

Myanmar made history by holding what was widely considered its first free and fair election. Popular sentiment deemed it was “time to change,” and the people overwhelmingly voted opposition National League for Democracy into power.

Citizens earnestly wait and watch the live ballot counting in front of the office of the opposition party. Photo by Irrawaddy shared on Facebook.

Citizens earnestly wait and watch the live ballot counting in front of the office of the opposition party. Photo by Irrawaddy shared on Facebook.

13. Where was the world's sympathy for Kenya?

Following tragedy, people around the world questioned mainstream media narratives and popular priorities. After Al-Shabaab militants attacked Garissa University College in Kenya, killing at least 147 people, Kenyans wondered why that violence didn't inspire the same level of international solidarity as the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris, France.

14. The underreported Baga massacre in Nigeria

A combination of factors meant the Baga massacre in Nigeria — in which an estimated 150 to 2,000 people were slaughtered by Boko Haram militants — didn't make as many headlines as the Charlie Hebdo attacks, either.

15. ‘Some bodies are global, but most bodies remain local, regional, “ethnic”’

Global Voices contributor Joey Ayoub observed with a heavy heart after the respective media coverage that followed deadly attacks in Beirut and Paris in November:

It…seems clear to me that to the world, my people’s deaths in Beirut do not matter as much as my other people’s deaths in Paris.

16. French flags, but no Nigerian flags on Facebook

Meanwhile, Africans questioned why Facebook users didn't change their profile photo to that of a Nigerian flag after Boko Haram killed 200 people in July.

17. #ParisUnderAttack, #SilvanUnderAttack

Pro-Kurdish Internet users in Turkey fought to keep the world's limited attention on the city of Silvan, which was under siege as government forces clashed with militants from the independence-seeking Kurdistan Workers Party.

The image was accompanied by a tweet quoting a Syrian refugee in Belgrade: "#Syrians are full of praise for #Serbian police. 'They're fair. They're the first who didn't treat us like animals'." Photo by Manveen Rana, used with permission.

The image was accompanied by a tweet quoting a Syrian refugee in Belgrade: “#Syrians are full of praise for #Serbian police. ‘They're fair. They're the first who didn't treat us like animals’.” Photo by Manveen Rana, used with permission.

18. ‘I try to sort the pieces of me back into place’

Marcell Shehwaro's award-winning series for Global Voices about life in Aleppo, the heart of Syria's armed conflict, painted a nuanced portrait of the challenges that Syrians home and away must grapple with since their country was besieged by violence. “I try to sort the pieces of me back into place, hoping that in doing so I'll remember where my fingers were, so I can write again,” she confessed.

19. #RefugeesWelcome

Everyday citizens stepped up in countries such as Austria, Denmark, Germany and Greece to help Syrians and others fleeing war and insecurity for the perceived safety of Europe, their actions often in contrast to the less-than-welcoming rhetoric from political leaders.

20. ‘The first who didn't treat us like animals’

tender moment between a Serbian police officer and the Syrian toddler in his arms offered a brief respite from the disheartening reports of police brutality and unfair treatment of refugees in Europe.

21. The bravery of a beard in Tajikistan

Men in Tajikistan dared to walk out their doors with a beard at a time when reports are widespread of authorities forcibly shaving men with a face full of hair, allegedly to combat the growing influence of Islam there.

22. ‘Our never dying spirit hasn’t subsided’

Nepalese began to rebuild after their country was rocked by three earthquakes that left more than 9,000 people dead and displaced millions. “Can an earthquake be so ruthless?” wrote Global Voices contributor Sanjib Chaudhary about his experience in the first terrifying tremor. “I still can’t imagine it was an earthquake: it was an Armageddon. But our never dying spirit hasn’t subsided. We will soon bounce back.”

23. How do you say cockatoo in Warumungu and Muisca?

A radio program and audio podcast that stars a fictional white cockatoo taught children in Australia's Northern Territory about the indigenous Warumungu language and culture, while in Colombia, a group of linguistics and anthropology students are using digital tools to resurrect the extinct indigenous Muisca language.

24. Soapy ingenuity in Burkina Faso

Two students at the International Institute for Water and Environmental Engineering in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, invented a soap made from locally sourced herbs and natural ingredients that repels mosquitoes carrying deadly diseases such as malaria.

25. #FreeZone9Bloggers

After 18 months in prison on baseless charges of terrorism, the Zone9 bloggers in Ethiopia, some of whom are Global Voices members, were acquitted. The case was a distressing example of the country's treatment of freedom of expression, but the response it inspired from the Global Voices community and beyond was a heartening antidote.

All members of Zone9 in Addis Ababa, 2012. Photo courtesy of Endalk Chala.

All members of Zone9 in Addis Ababa, 2012. Photo courtesy of Endalk Chala.

26. #Justice4Morocco

Similar efforts are now needed in Morocco, where seven civil society advocates, including longtime Global Voices contributor Hisham Almiraat, face trial for their advocacy.

27. Azerbaijan's deteriorating human rights record 

Azerbaijan, where nearly one hundred human rights activists, journalists, bloggers and civil society representatives languishing in jails, deserves the world's attention, too. The crackdown on dissent was such that pro-government groups of people showed up at important hearings of those on trial, apparently to take away seats from other potential spectators.

28. Injustice swept under the rug in the Philippines

Social justice, or the lack thereof, was thrust into the spotlight in the Philippines when Pope Francis made an official tour of the country. Authorities interfered with protesters and hid away street children and the urban poor to save face.

Human rights groups were blocked by the police from getting near the pope motorcade. Image from Facebook page of Kathy Yamzon

Human rights groups were blocked by the police from getting near the pope motorcade. Image from Facebook page of Kathy Yamzon

29. Fact-checking bombshell claims in Ukraine

Russia and its supporters continued to push their influence over the Internet and media, while bloggers worked to expose their efforts. In the self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine, for example, Russian and Ukranian social media users quickly pointed out discrepancies in authorities’ reveal that they had discovered a cache of American-made weapons at the local airport. Turns out the image of the weapon came from video game “Battlefield 3.”

30. A flood of Colombian goodwill in Chile 

Colombian migrants in Chile, who often face discrimination, organized effective relief efforts when flooding hit the northern part of the country. “For those who think ALL immigrants are delinquents, the images of Colombians in #Copiapó are incredible silencers,” one Twitter user wrote.

31. A helping hand for hospitals in Pakistan

When a deadly heatwave rolled through Pakistan during the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, citizens of Karachi mobilized to collect resources for run-down government hospitals treating victims.

32. ‘Hate is not what humans should do’

And ISIS militants executed freelance Japanese journalist Kenji Goto in Syria — one of the heinous group's many, many victims in 2015. Throughout his career reporting on conflict in the Middle East and Africa, Goto recorded his observations on his social media accounts, and they remain as poignant as ever:

Close your eyes. Bear it. If we become angry and yell, we are doomed. This is like prayer. Hate is not what humans should do. Judgment lies with God. That is what I learned from my Arab brothers.

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