Superheroes: Male, White, Straight and Privileged – But Not This One

Milumbe Haimbe_Header
Milumbe Haimbe is a digital illustrator with a background in fine art and architecture. She explores genres such as comics, animation and graphic novels. Milumbe has exhibited her work in shows including the Biennale for Contemporary African Art in Dakar, 2014.

Superheroes have always had a special place in my heart.

I grew up in Zambia in the 1980s, an era that marked the beginning of the country’s worst economic crisis. My childhood memories are of a prolonged state of emergency that was characterized by acute food shortages and an economic decline where the basic needs of the average Zambian family were barely met.

My siblings and I — and our gang of friends from around the farmlands — spent countless hours sitting on a deserted piggery wall, perfecting our extra-terrestrial code language.

Our goal was to send an SOS out to the superheroes in the galaxies, and had our code language been refined enough to reach across the chasm of space, perhaps a spaceship would come down to Earth to save us from our dreary lives and carry us away into outer space.

Searching for Superheroes

Rewind to just a few years earlier — in the mid to late 1970s and before the economic decline — when superheroes like Superman, Spiderman, Batman and the Incredible Hulk were huge deals for anyone growing up.

In our childhood eyes, these were powerful, all-embodying beings, and their brands were merchandised on T-shirts, caps, lunchboxes, toys, and just about everything. They influenced many aspects of the childhood experience to such an extent that I spent a lot of my formative years aspiring to become a superhero when I grew up.

But then disillusionment set in. It dawned on me that I would never be a superhero seeing as most of them were male — and all of them white. The frantic search for an alternative and relatable superhero that followed only resulted in more disillusionment.

So many years later, in the year 2015, it is somewhat bewildering to experience today the same disillusionment when I see so little representation of cultural minorities in popular media.

This is a big deal to me.

I am of that school of thought that believes that radio, television, film and other media of popular culture provide the symbols, myths and resources through which we constitute a common culture.
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Meet Ananiya

The danger of excluding cultural minorities from popular media is that this limited view starts to paint a constrained picture of what a person should look like, how they should behave and live to the negation of alternative experiences of being human. These deliberations are the basis for my graphic novel, “The Revolutionist.”

A work in progress, “The Revolutionist” is set in the near future, on a satellite colony that is located a little off the orbit of mainland Earth, and administrated by a corporation.

Social conformity in the interest of the collective is subliminally reinforced through symbolism and iconology, while the economy is purely corporate-driven. Exploitation of human by human, and robot by human gives rise to the resistance.

Ananiya was only 13 years old when she joined the resistance. Now at 17, she has recently been appointed as an agent in the Covert Operations Division. In the ensuing standoff where the Corporation increasingly maintains control with an ironclad fist it is not long before the resistance galvanizes into a full-blown revolution.

As the masses are thrust into a state of emergency, Ananiya’s world is characterized by curfews, police raids, censorship and propaganda. Will the revolution overcome?
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With this literary and visual offering, I describe a world that is both like — and at the same time very much unlike — our own. As a young, black female, my protagonist, Ananiya, is the most unlikely hero for the revolution.

It would, indeed, be accurate to read her as the antithesis of the typical hero who more often than not is male, white, straight and privileged.

Hey, maybe someday the nine-year old version of me can grow up to become a superhero after all.

(Courtesy of Milumbe Haimbe: http://edition.cnn.com/2015/03/18/opinions/where-are-black-superheroes-milumbe-haimbe/index.html)

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If These Two Teenagers Ran The World, We’d All Jump For Joy

Memory from Malawi, left, and Achie from Ethiopia became best friends in a New York minute.
Memory from Malawi, left, and Achie from Ethiopia became best friends in a New York minute.

At first glance, it’s a typical scene: Two teenage girls lean their heads together engrossed in conversation as they munch on tuna salad on a bagel and fries.

But listen to Memory Banda, 18, from Malawi and 16-year old Achie (whose last name is not provided because of her age) from Ethiopia, and you’ll hear an earful about a lot of things you wouldn’t expect. They’re talking about how tough it is to be young and female in Africa. They’re discussing how child marriage and female genital mutilation are just two of the obstacles to girls getting an education. They’re commiserating about the challenge of getting health care and of finding jobs that will let them lead a better life.

But they’re not just griping. Memory and Achie each push for change in their communities.

The teens came to New York last week to speak on some panels at the United Nations 59th Commission on the Status of Women. They were brought to the conference by Let Girls Lead, a nonprofit group based at the Public Health Institute.

Here is an edited and condensed version of their interview with NPR.

The two of you are so comfortable with each other, it’s as if you have known each other forever. But you just met last week?

Achie: Yes, we just met last week, and we’re best friends on Facebook now! We are about the same age, we’re both petite and we share the same goals to help women.

Memory: Also, both of us also like to write in our spare time — she writes essays; I write poetry. I write in both English and in Chichewa, which is my native language at home [which is Chiradzulu in the Southern Region of Malawi]. She won a prize for one of her essays!

What was the prize-winning essay about?

Achie: The topic was what would you see if you envisioned yourself as a satellite, what you saw and what you would like to change in the world. I wrote about how Africans need to stand up together and voice a desire for change and a vision for the future. I write mostly in English. Amharic is the language we speak at home.

What made you want to work for women’s rights?

Memory: In my community in southern part of Malawi the tradition is that once a girl reaches puberty, you go to an initiation camp where we are taught how to be a woman — how to satisfy a man. As part of that you go through a sexual initiation with a man.

And did you?

Memory: I did not. This was a hard decision. My family and friends were calling me a stubborn little girl because it felt to them like I was embarrassing the family. But for me it was a life decision. I knew that some girls come back pregnant, they get married, they cannot go to school, and if the men run away from their responsibility the girls are left on their own with the children. That was not for me.

But when my younger sister reached puberty, she went to the camp. She ended up getting pregnant and had to marry to the person who impregnated her. She was 11. This is what I saw and what I wanted to change.

What are you doing to help make change happen?

Memory: I had the idea to put up posters in my neighborhood offering free lessons to the adolescent mothers. And 20 girls joined the class. That led to my working with Let Girls Lead to help create networks for girls and advocating to help stop child marriage. … So if you ask me what is it like to be a teenager here, it was a struggle. You get anxious as adolescence approaches because you know what you’re going to go through.

Achie, tell us about your life in Addis Ababa.

Achie: I live in a nice neighborhood, and go to a good school, but this is not the life that many young girls in Ethiopia have.

Early marriage is also a problem in my country. There are traditional views about women, and they are not expected to go to school. There is also female genital mutilation. In my family there is nothing like that, but I would volunteer in organizations [to tutor] and I would talk to girls and hear their stories. Listening, you just have a feeling of how heavy a burden they are carrying and you cannot be quiet about it. When they share with you what they have experienced, you feel part of it and you want to act on it.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Memory: I have the dream of becoming a lawyer, and also a journalist.

Achie: I plan on being an engineer, though haven’t decided yet what type. And if I/when I get the opportunity to study in the U.S., I would love it. And I’m also planning on doing more work for empowering girls.

(Courtesy of Diane Cole: http://www.npr.org/blogs/goatsandsoda/2015/03/17/393344560/if-these-two-teenagers-ran-the-world-wed-all-jump-for-joy)

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New Initiative Aims to Boost Africa’s Crop Yields with New Seeds

Edward Mabaya_header
In Africa, seed production has long been dominated by big government monopolies, leaving few options for small-scale farmers and putting more obstacles in the way of food production. But a new initiative hopes to change all that by enhancing African farmers’ access to improved seeds.

Edward Mabaya grew up in Zimbabwe, one of 10 children in the family. His father was a construction worker and his mother farmed their land. But Mabaya’s story is not the one of typical rural poverty many people think of, and he says his family owes their success to seeds.

“This was at a time when new varieties were just coming into Zimbabwe, and you saw this huge uptake of adoption by smallholder farmers that resulted in very high yields. And with that money my parents were able to send us to school,” he says. In fact, all 10 children made it as far as university. Now Mabaya is a researcher at Cornell University in New York, working on a project he hopes will give other small farmers the same chance his parents had.
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He heads The African Seed Access Index (TASAI), launched this week, which monitors the continent’s commercial seed sector to try to get more improved seeds into the hands of small-scale farmers. Africa’s seed value chain is complex, says Mabaya, and TASAI tries to identify its weak points to pinpoint why access is a problem.

Improved seeds, which have been systematically bred for certain characteristics, are widely used in the West. But until the 1980s and ‘90s Africa’s seed sector was run by government monopolies, and since then private seed breeders have been slow to take off.

This means that most farmers still use the same seeds they have been saving for generations, and there are not enough improved seeds in Africa to supply the millions of farmers who need them. However, improved seeds can make a world of difference for a small farmer in terms of productivity. This can be enough to help lift subsistence farmers out of poverty, explains Mabaya.

Modern varieties of food crops, such as maize, can help improve productivity.
Modern varieties of food crops, such as maize, can help improve productivity.

Not only that, he adds, but new factors like climate change mean that some older seed varieties are not performing as well as they used to. “Farmers are facing challenges that they did not have to deal with only 10 years ago. So some of the varieties that farmers were growing are not doing well anymore. There are also new diseases that have come into the market, and you need new varieties that can resist some of these diseases,” explains Mabaya.

Smaller packets of seeds can make things more affordable for farmers with less big plots of land.
Smaller packets of seeds can make things more affordable for farmers with less big plots of land.

Africa’s seed industry still has a long way to go, he adds. But with access to the same agricultural technology the rest of the world is using, Mabaya says there is no reason why the continent should not be able to feed itself.

(Courtesy of Hilary Heuler: http://www.howwemadeitinafrica.com/?post_type=post&p=47635)

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A Woman Activist in the Fight against Ebola

Rugiatu Turay_header
Rugiatu Neneh Turay is a local hero and activist in Sierra Leone working to end the abusive cultural practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) and is now making a huge effort in curbing the spread of Ebola in Port Loko.

During the civil war in Sierra Leone, Turay fled the country in 1997. In a refugee camp in Guinea she met women who also opposed the brutal practice of FGM. The women bonded and together founded the human rights grassroots organization Amazonian Initiative Movement (AIM). Their goal is to prevent abuse and violence against young girls that occurs in the name of culture. In 2003, Turay returned to Sierra Leone and began her educational work, teaching girls and women that this archaic and abusive practice must end. Despite numerous death threats, Turay works hard to persuade the Soweis, the women who do the cutting, to lay down their knives and stop FGM. AIM also works against other violations of women’s rights such as early and forced marriage and violence in marriage.
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When Turay decided to become a teacher, she set herself the goal of achieving positive change in her hometown. As director of the AIM, she has been advocating for the rights of women and girls in the Port Loko district for over a decade now. The organization awards scholarships to school-age girls while promoting adult education programs for women in the area. “As much as we support women and girls, I realized that they would not be safe if we fail to empower their male counterparts,” Turay says. “This is why I also support young men to get technical skills so they can become self-reliant.”

With such a civic-minded outlook, it was no surprise that, when the Ebola outbreak hit her community, she decided to meet the crisis head on, offering education and advice as well as practical support to those affected by the disease.

Turay’s response was to train community social mobilizers who were then sent out to tackle the myths and misconceptions surrounding the virus. In addition, she provided resources to people affected by the disease, dispensing food and clothing to quarantined homes in the Port Loko district. She says her role as an activist is to “advocate for the rights of deprived and under-privileged members of society in order to achieve change.” Turay has also been working with traditional and local leaders, who have come under pressure to halt the practice of FGM during the Ebola outbreak.
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Despite all this, Turay insists she is not looking for praise, but finds pleasure and gratification in the impact her work is making on the lives of ordinary people. “Any time I go out to support women and children, the smiles on their faces give me joy and satisfaction, and I am motivated by those smiles,” she says. “Even if you are not directly infected by the virus, you’ll be affected by the situation surrounding the virus.”

(Courtesy of Cinnatus Dumbaya:  http://www.eboladeeply.org/articles/2015/03/7493/ebola-women-celebrating-achievement-fight-ebola/)
(https://gocampaign.org/heroes/rugiatu-turay/)

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An Unsuccessful Search for Apps Encouraged This Nigerian Entrepreneur to Develop His Own

NSE ticket
In 2013, after learning that the Nigerian economy was the third fastest growing economy in the world and Nigeria’s stock market grew almost 50 percent in just one year, Osagie Zogie-Odigie, a Nigerian entrepreneur with an avid interest for capital market activities, decided to seek out information about the companies driving this immense growth. To his disappointment, after scouring through a host of app stores on his mobile devices, not a single developer had published a comprehensive platform that tracked the activities of companies within the Nigerian Stock Exchange.

Rather than remain downbeat that the third fastest growing bourse at the time was without an active mobile app, Osagie took the challenge to change the trend. In 2013, it was estimated that about 75% of the 67 million Nigerian Internet users primarily accessed the Internet via their mobile devices. This was an attractive figure to reach a segment of the population keen on financial information and want to have the means of acquiring such data. Osagie saw the opportunity and was determined to seize it.

Two years later, the NSE Ticker was born, an app designed to monitor stock performances in real time, offering information on prices, heat maps, and the opportunity to compare with similar stocks when attempting a share purchase.
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Here’s an excerpt from a recent interview with Osagie.

What gave rise to the creation of the NSE Ticker app?
In 2013, I went to the App Store to search for apps that allow users keep track of the fastest growing stock market in Africa. To my surprise, there was none. We had made it into the 21st century but somehow the world’s third fastest growing economy had been left behind! It was a clear need for flexibility in the monitoring experience offered to NSE market watchers. In some sense, my national pride was also bruised. The revealed gap took the shine off the NSE’s recognition as the fastest growing stock exchange in Africa as it left a lot to be desired. All too often, our potential for advancement remains just that – potential. In this case, I could do something about it and that’s how NSE Ticker was born.

How will this app reshape the bias which arises from investors pulling back as a result of panic by foreign investors?
The bias is a result of a complex combination of many different issues. Resolving those issues will help reshape the bias but it will take time. NSE Ticker cannot single-handedly reshape the bias. It would be naive to think it can. NSE Ticker only attempts to address a few of these issues. For instance people are more likely to panic when they are in the dark. NSE Ticker addresses this by creating one more channel for investors and potential investors to be in touch (literally and figuratively) with the goings- on in the stock market. There is no longer the need to go back to your computer to verify some rumor. Just reach into your pocket, check your phone and tell the rumormonger – “na lie you dey talk”… (laughs).

If NSE Ticker inspires the development of more apps (and we strongly believe it will), things will only get better.

(Courtesy of Ehidiamhen Okpamen: http://www.ventures-africa.com/2015/03/an-unsuccessful-search-for-stock-market-apps-encouraged-this-nigerian-entrepreneur-to-develop-his/)

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South Sudan Woman Breaks the ‘Grease’ Ceiling

Elizabeth Yacob (Right) and Diane Andrew (Left)
Elizabeth Yacob (Right) and Diane Andrew (Left)

When Joseph Akeich James takes his grey minibus to the University of Juba Auto Garage for service, he always asks for the same mechanic. He says his preferred mechanic is meticulous, honest and trustworthy, standing out from the rest because of those traits.

But there’s another reason this particular mechanic stands out: Elizabeth Yacob is a woman, and women mechanics in South Sudan are as rare as hen’s teeth.

As a little girl, Yacob’s dream was to become an engineer. But when she turned 18 and had finished school, her parents told her there was no money left to pay for higher education. They also said it was high time that Yacob should get married.

But Yacob did not want to give up on her dream just yet. Encouraged by her brother, she enrolled in an auto mechanics’ school in 2008.  She graduated a year later, fully qualified to drive and work on motor vehicles.

First woman to apply
With her diploma in hand, Yacob went straight to the garage where she now works and asked for a job. She was hired on the spot — partly because she was the first woman applicant they had ever had.

Today, she works alongside several men and one other woman, Diane Andrew. Andrew is a single mother who used to sell tea but made the leap into auto mechanics so that she could make more money. The garage pays each of them 1,400 South Sudanese pounds a month. That’s enough for Yacob to buy a plot of land, where she hopes to build a house, and for Andrew to look after her eight-year-old son.
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Like other working women around the world, Yacob says her daily obligations do not start and stop at the garage. “When I wake up in the morning, I first clean my compound and prepare tea for the children, and then I come to work. From there, I go to the market and then I go and make food for the children,” she says.

She met her husband, who is also a mechanic, at the garage. He understands his wife is carrying a double workload, and tries to help out as much as he can at home. Other men chip in and watch Yacob’s 18-month-old daughter who often accompanies her mother to work.

Exceptions to the rule
Yacob and Andrew are exceptions in South Sudan, a country in which only 16 percent of South Sudanese women over the age of 15 can read and write, compared to 40 percent of men. In this country, only 12 percent of women and 11 percent of men are “officially” employed. For female-headed households in South Sudan, the main source of livelihood is crop farming (71 percent), followed by wages and salaries (10 percent).

Statistics from South Sudan’s Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare show that nearly half of South Sudanese girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are married, many of them against their will. Girls as young as 12 are married off sometimes, in exchange for a dowry.

(Courtesy of VOA: http://www.voanews.com/content/south-sudan-women-work-culture-car-mechanic/2677694.html)

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A Kenyan Teenager Turns Human Waste into Clean Energy

Leroy Mwasaru_header
At Maseno School near Kisumu, a large boarding school in Western Kenya, the sewer system often backed up and contaminated a nearby stream. There was uproar from the local community, for it was the only source of fresh water, and nobody wants feces in his/her water.

Leroy Mwasaru , a teenage student at the school came up with a solution: Why not turn the sewage, along with food waste and dung from the school’s cattle, into power for the school?

“My inspiration was drawn from the pressing demand for a clean, renewable sustainable source of fuel,” says Mwasaru, now 17. “In the African continent we have lots of resources that masquerades as ‘waste.'”

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The full team behind the human waster bioreactor with Leroy Mwasaru (second from right). The team started off with five members, with two later graduated to university.

Along with a team of fellow students, Mwasaru started researching biodigesters a year ago—underground chambers that collected waste and used microorganisms to efficiently convert the waste into a renewable fuel. “We were out to make ours more flexible and better,” Mwasaru says.

After winning a national competition, Innovate Kenya, for their idea, the students built two prototypes. The second prototype is now in use at the school, sending biogas directly to the school’s kitchen, providing fuel for stoves. Previously, cooking used to happen on wood fires, a process that sent black soot into the cooks’ lungs and stripped local forests of trees. Such replacement means fewer trees have to be chopped down and thus a significant benefit for the local ecosystem. Ultimately, the team hopes to provide the school with plans for a system that can process the waste of all 1,200 students. It will cost around $85,000, but may reduce half that amount in fuel savings alone.
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The same system could also be scaled down to work in individual houses. “After the success of our second prototype, I gained enough conviction to build one at our rural home,” Mwasaru says. “The blueprint can be retouched based on the target market demands.”

They hope to eventually launch a start-up to bring the system to buildings around the country, based on a sliding scale that will allow richer customers to subsidize cleaner sanitation and energy for low-income communities.

“After completing high school next year, our team looks to venture into the project’s greatest potentials,” Mwasaru says.
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“What motivates Mwasaru is to solve problems that currently affect others in his community,” says David Moinina Sengeh, an MIT researcher and president of Global Minimum, a group working with youth to help them turn their ideas into tangible solutions. “His curiosity to explore and learn from doing within a motivation to bring broader social change is something that we hope to see in all our youth and frankly everyone.”

Watch a short video about the project here:
https://youtu.be/ziS7yYFT6jc?list=PLknZ-wngeQ7f0qTHFIs7sBjdIqftf7Plt

(Courtesy of Adele Peters: http://www.fastcoexist.com/3039676/change-generation/this-kenyan-teenager-uses-poop-to-fuel-his-school)
(Alex Court: http://www.cnn.com/2015/02/26/business/poo-power-kenya/)

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