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There Were Many Bright Spots to Be Found Amid the Doom and Gloom of 2016

A collage of photos from Global Voices coverage in 2016. Created by L. Finch.

A collage of photos from Global Voices coverage in 2016. Created by L. Finch.

The idea that 2016 was a particularly terrible year is widespread, so much so that there are several popular Internet memes on the topic. Perhaps it's true. The year was indeed marred by war, violence, death, persecutionxenophobia, and censorship, and in our minds just as in the media, if it bleeds, it leads.

But dig a little deeper, and you'll see that 2016 also offered us plenty of moments of friendship, creativity, humor and strength.

Global Voices’ virtual, community-driven newsroom worked hard this year to build understanding across borders and language barriers through stories that challenge narratives of power and privilege. Our reporting often highlighted kindness in the face of cruelty, love in the face of hate, and resilience in the face of adversity.

So before we bid farewell to 2016, take heart in the following list of 41 stories. The year was pretty bad, but not all bad.

1. A hilarious meme leads to a serious campaign for children in Ghana

An Instagram photo of a young boy named Jake drawing intently at school in a Ghanaian village inspired dozens of memes. The man behind the snapshot, Solomon Adufah, then turned the attention into a crowdfunding campaign to support Jake and other children's education, raising more than $13,000.

2. A Kyrgyz woman singer remakes a poem traditionally sung by men

Kyrgyz artist Gulzada Ryskulova recorded a powerful take on the Manas epic, or manaschi, which are guardians of an oral folklore. They are also almost always men. Ryskulova's version carries a new twist, urging the preservation of the country's nature and nomadic heritage.

3. ‘Walls of kindness’ and ‘walls of empathy’ promote unity and love

“Walls of kindness” (Deewar-e-Meherbani) began as an outdoor charity drive for Iran's homeless. The walls featured clothing on hooks beside the phrase, “Take one if you need it. Give one if you don't.” The idea then spread to China and Pakistan. Meanwhile, in the US, collaborative walls of empathy in San Francisco's subway stations offered messages of love and unity after a particularly divisive election.

Photo by Somali Faces (Donia and Mohammed). Used with permission.

Photo by Somali Faces. Used with permission.

4. ‘Somali Faces’ challenges stereotypes with personal stories of hope

A new online project shares stories of ordinary Somalis to counter international perceptions of Somalis and encourage Somalis to rise above petty clannism. Readers can learn about people like “The Activist,” who describes how she overcame the loss of her legs as a child to become an advocate for disabled people. “If you have an ambition, there are many ways to achieve it,” she says.

5. Imams and priests square off in a friendly soccer match in Denmark

A group of priests and imams challenged each other on the soccer field in June to defy media narratives that divide Danes along cultural and religious lines. Co-founder of the initiative Nora Omari explained, “We need something that shows that we as human beings are able to live together.”

6. A massive virtual library opens its doors to Croatians for free

Croatia became a “Free Reading Zone” in December for all residents willing to install a mobile app that provided access to an e-book library 100,000 titles strong. The month was sponsored by portal No Shelf Required, and the initiative was the brainchild of Mirela Rončević, a Croatian immigrant to the US who believes access to knowledge is a basic human right.

7. Volunteer disaster relief cultivates Taiwanese-Japanese friendship

At Taiwan Presbyterian Church, Japanese volunteers outnumbered Taiwanese volunteers following the Tainan earthquake, which killed more than 100 people and leveled buildings around southern Taiwan. Japanese volunteers said they felt compelled to help, since Taiwan had donated the most money out of all countries following the March 11, 2011 quake that devastated Japan.

Fidencio Sanchez, 89, pushes his popsicle pushcart through Chicago's Little Village neighborhood. He recently attempted to retire but had to return to work to make ends meet after the death of his daughter. (Photo: Joel Cervantes Macias / GoFundMe)

Fidencio Sanchez. Photo: Joel Cervantes Macias / GoFundMe

8. The inspiring, viral story of Mexican immigrant Fidencio Sanchez

A crowdfunding campaign raised more than $380,000 for an 89-year-old Mexican man named Fidencio Sanchez, who works as a street seller of popsicles and ice cream in Chicago. Sanchez had recently lost his daughter, leaving her two children in his care. The money was meant to give the hard-working man a well-deserved retirement.

9. Meet Fatoumata Diaby, a symbol of Mali's resilience

Fatoumata Diaby challenges gender roles in Mali and helps the conflict-raddled country rebuild its economy at the same time. The 35-year-old–who is also a nurse, a restaurant owner, a wife and a mother of three–drives a motorbike taxi, an activity traditionally reserved for men:

[…] the time to consider oneself superior or inferior regarding a job is over. It is okay just to love what you do and fight for it because success comes as a result of effort.

10. Neighborly love shines through the darkness of Puerto Rico's blackout

A massive power failure in September caused the almost complete collapse of basic services throughout the archipelago for three days. However, no looting or violence related to the blackout was reported. People who had access to power shared with friends, neighbors and even complete strangers.

11. An online doodling community inspires Eastern and Central Europe

Every Monday, drawing aficionados across the former Yugoslavia visit Twitter profile @crtkamo, which means “We doodle” in the closely related languages of Serbian, Bosnian and Croatian. On that day, the account posts a doodle prompt, with topics ranging from dream house to Professor Snape from the Harry Potter series. “This is not a contest” is the main rule of the game.

12. Young, deaf entrepreneurs brew coffee with a purpose in Jamaica

The coffee catering enterprise Deaf Can! Coffee, based in the capital city Kingston, is staffed by students of the Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf. “We are always told, ‘You can't,’” one of the students, Fabian Jackson, told Global Voices. “But we don't want others to see us negatively. We want to challenge the world and tell them: ‘We can do anything!’”

Honoré Kahi, a professor at Alassane Ouattara University in Bouaké, has become a social media celebrity after strapping the baby of one of his students to his back so that the mother could continue to focus on the class. Source: Site De Rencontre Des Etudiants De L'afrique

Honoré Kahi, a professor at Alassane Ouattara University in Bouaké. Source: Site De Rencontre Des Etudiants De L'afrique

13. An Ivorian professor warms hearts by carrying a student's baby

Honoré Kahi found social media fame in Cote d'Ivoire after a photo of him with a student's baby strapped to his back surfaced on Facebook. The baby wouldn't stop crying, so he offered the young woman help because “it was a very important class for her future…and she needed to give her full attention.”

14. Australians welcome Syrian refugees with open arms and butterflies

Residents of a Melbourne suburb decorated their town with homemade butterflies to welcome a group of 120 Syrian refugees who were to be housed in a disused part of an aged care facility. The action was meant to counter anti-immigration hate and serve as “a reminder that even the smallest action can have a far-reaching effect.”

15. A Mannequin Challenge in Bahrain tackles the country's stereotypes

Omar Farooq, a Bahraini filmmaker and activist, exposed common stereotypes with his creative twist on the Mannequin Challenge. In his version, the cast of characters make judgments of each other based on appearance, religion, age and more.

16. A love of salsa dancing connects Latin America and Egypt

Salsa fever has gripped Cairo for several years now. Those learning to sway to a Latin beat have had to overcome certain challenges. Dancing is considered taboo in strict religious circles. Women who choose to wear the veil and dance salsa say observers expect them to be conservative–and therefore label them as indecent. And men must overcome the perception that dancing is sissy.

Renuka Shrestha never stops dreaming. Photo by Arjun Shah. Used with permission.

Renuka Shrestha never stops dreaming. Photo by Arjun Shah. Used with permission.

17. A Nepalese photographer changes perceptions of burn survivors

Arjun Shah, an advertising and fashion photographer, put together a calendar featuring portraits of several women, all burn survivors. “For me all of them are inspiring. They are not victims. They are survivors. Fighters. Literally, they are happy. You can’t image the fun they have,” he said.

18. Startups, NGOs and individuals help refugees in Europe get online

Smartphones are a lifeline for refugees during their long journey for the relative safety of Europe, but battery life and the availability of network coverage and wifi hotspots can throw up roadblocks to their use. Individuals and organizations like Ireland-based Disaster Tech Lab have tried to offer solutions, such as deploying wifi networks in refugee camps.

19. An Iranian-American designer's fashion promotes global dialogue

Architect-turned-designer Azin Valy incorporates the landscape of cities around the world into her fashion and accessory designs for the label Cityzen by Azin. “It's about global citizenship and not just nationalism or regionalism,” she says.

20. Women lean on each other with the ‘More Love Between Us’ project

A grassroots effort called Mais Amor Entre Nós (More Love Between Us) began in the city of Salvador, as a community of Afro-Brazilian women helping each other through one-hour donations of their time. It has since expanded to other parts of Brazil and several other countries.

A sample of some of the photos found on Twitter under the hashtag #thisisthoughtful.

Some of the photos found on Twitter under the hashtag #thisisthoughtful.

21. Welcome notes pop up around the UK and beyond

This is Thoughtful, a community of creatives whose work seeks to have positive social impact, launched the initiative as a way to reclaim public spaces from any unwelcoming conversations. What began in the UK eventually spread to the US, Canada, Germany, Greece and Spain.

22. Balaknama, a newspaper written and published by Delhi's street kids

For over a decade, Balaknama, meaning ‘Voice of Children’ in Hindi, has provided street children with a platform to share their experiences and fight for their rights. Many of the children cannot read or write themselves, so friends and colleagues transcribe their stories on their behalf. Around 100,000 street children live in Delhi.

23. Theatre helps heal wounds after Ecuador's devastating earthquake

Hundreds of people were killed and thousands injured when a strong earthquake rattled Ecuador in April. In the small city of Loja, on the opposite side of the country from the affected area, a group of 10 theatre companies put on a show not only to fundraise for the victims, but also make the public laugh and forget about reality for a couple of hours.

24. Pakistani women push back against gender taboos

A social media movement called “Girls at Dhabas” tries to reclaim public spaces by curating photos of women visiting roadside food and tea stalls called dhabas, a traditionally male domain. Lawyer and activist Zainab Chughtai combats body shaming by holding sessions with students and sharing stories of young women who are fighting back. And students at a private university plastered campus walls with sanitary pads to counter the shame women are made to feel for having periods.

An unusual football field in Bangkok. Source: YouTube

An unusual football field in Bangkok. Source: YouTube

25. Thais and Filipinos get creative in the name of sport

A Thai property developer created a non-rectangular football field as a solution to the lack of sports facilities in a densely populated community in Thailand's capital Bangkok. And in the Philippines, Richard Daniels has been documenting the ingenious ways Filipinos in rural areas have built basketball hoops in such spaces as abandoned properties and streets.

26. Mexican indigenous groups get their own telecoms

Mexican authorities for the first time granted two licenses to operate a telecommunications network for social indigenous use. That means members of the Mixe, Mixteco, and Zapoteco people will be able to access affordable mobile phone services and the Internet through their own network. Some communities previously had to rely on high-cost landline phone booths because the country's large telecoms repeatedly refused to provide them with service.

27. Women around the world break their silence on sexual violence

In Ukrainian Facebook, the stories were under the hashtag ‪#‎ЯНеБоюсьСказати‬ (#IAmNotAfraidToSayIt). Across Latin America, it was #MiPrimerAcoso (#MyFirstAssault). And in the Caribbean, #lifeinleggings. Each viral hashtag kickstarted a much-needed public conversation about sexual harassment, sexual violence, and domestic violence.

Belarusian Internet users stripped in their workplaces to respond to the President's call to put more effort into their work. Image from Instagram.

Belarusian Internet users stripped in their workplaces to respond to the President's call to put more effort into their work. Image from Instagram.

28. Belarusians get naked and get to work on the president's orders

Long-time President Alyaksandr Lukashenka declared in a speech to citizens seeking a better life, “We must get undressed and get to work.” Social media-savvy Belarusians followed the strongman's orders, uploading tongue-in-cheek photos of themselves stark naked in their places of work, but covering themselves with strategically placed objects.

29. Syria’s volunteer ‘White Helmets’ nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize

The Syrian Civil Defence Units, also known as the White Helmets, risk their lives to pull victims from the rubble of bombardment. The volunteer force is credited with saving tens of thousands of lives. Their incredible efforts were honored with a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, although they lost out in the end to Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos.

30. A dictionary works to preserve Japan's endangered Ainu language

Of Japan's eight languages that are critically endangered, the Ainu language is in the worst shape. It's estimated that just 25,000 Ainu people remain in Japan, with fewer than 10 native speakers of the Ainu language. Ainu Talking Dictionary has been attempting to preserve and pass on the language since 2009.

Radio MENQ in action. Photo provided by Igor Mkrtumyan, used with permission.

Radio MENQ in action. Photo provided by Igor Mkrtumyan, used with permission.

31. A radio station made by and for visually impaired people in Armenia

Radio MENQ (“we” in Armenian) is a new Internet radio station in Armenia made by blind and visually impaired people that broadcasts mainly for listeners in their own and other disabled communities. Their content includes discussions of Paralympic sport, the lives of Stevie Wonder and Louis Braille, and strategies for using public transport or dealing with stress and depression as a disabled person.

32. Macedonian Twitter users strip down for HIV/AIDs prevention

The charity nude calendar featured volunteer models–eight women and two men–who posed for the two photographers, Zvonko Plavevski and Dimitar Petrovski. Its publication marked the calendar's return after a one-year hiatus. Earlier editions promoted breast cancer awareness and sex education.

33. A 5-year-old Afghan boy finally meets his football idol Messi

An image of Murtaza Ahmadi playing soccer and wearing a plastic bag bearing Lionel Messi's name and number went viral in early 2016. Murtaza's family was unable to buy him with a genuine Messi shirt, so he and his older brother made the makeshift jersey. Ahmadi and his family were eventually forced to flee Afghanistan after receiving threats of kidnap. In December, Murtaza finally met the football star.

34. South Africa's youngest novelist wants to inspire others

Michelle Nkamankeng became a literary phenomenon after she published her first novel, about overcoming her fear of ocean waves, at only 7 years old. She hopes she can “inspire young children to follow their dreams.”

35. For one Bangladeshi man, giving children affordable meals is personal

An organization named Bidyanondo distributes food to the underprivileged children of Dhaka and other areas for just one Bangladeshi taka (0.013 US dollars). Behind the effort is Kishor Kumar Das. “There was a time when I used to wait in the long lines in front of the temple for a little food,” he recalled.

Hiphopper “El Aka” and another participant practicing Agro-Art. Photo by Louise Møller, previously published at Rapolitics.org and AgroArte. Used with permission.

Agro-Art. Photo by Louise Møller, previously published at Rapolitics.org and AgroArte. Used with permission.

36. A Colombian city revives community with gardening and hip hop

Seeds of the Future brings together 60 young people from Medellín's Comuna 13 who learn to cultivate gardens as a way to take ownership of physical spaces marked by violence. At the same time, they write and sing their own musical hip-hop creations, documenting events and feelings in their own lives.

37. A grassroots movement in Myanmar combats online hate speech

The “No-Hate Speech Project” identifies social media posts that contain hate speech elements and then discredits the hateful statements with facts and alternative viewpoints. Myanmar has seen a disturbing rise in hate speech, particularly directed at the country's Muslim minority.

38. Chinese defy web censors to ‘worship’ toads

In August, Chinese social media was flooded with memes about toads to celebrate the 90th birthday of former Chinese Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin, who many think resembles the amphibian. The country's web censors deleted these “toad worship” memes, but users still took the risk, whether to have a bit of fun or to reminisce about an an era when political control was not as tight.

39. A project captures the unreported beauty of Russia's Caucasus

Political scandals usually dominate news headlines about the Caucasus, meaning the region's natural and cultural wealth is often ignored. One of Russia's top photographers, Anton Lange, is trying to change that with his “The Range. The Caucasus from Sea to Sea” project, which includes photography exhibitions, film and web content.

Photo: Chavela Frías Facebook group.

Photo: Chavela Frías Facebook group.

40. Hugo Chávez's fictional trans sister breaks down walls in Venezuela

Chavela Frías is a popular social media character fashioned out of an action figure of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frías. The anonymous artist behind her accounts posts photos of Chavela in different outfits and situations, challenging the idolization of Chávez as well as negative attitudes toward the LGBT community.

41. Donors in India rescue a man in Bangladesh with a rare blood group

A 25-year-old Dhaka man named Kamruzzaman needed a blood transfusion for an urgent surgery following an accident. After a frantic search in Bangladesh, the Think Foundation managed to collect blood from four donors in Mumbai, saving his life. Reacting to the news, one Internet user commented:

It has been proven again that humans are for humans. No matter if you try to divide them with barbed wire at the border or alienate with protocols, humans are above all.

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