Hi, there! I’m Mari Gray, founder of artisan-made brand Kakaw Designs, based in Guatemala. After studying International Relations and Spanish at UC Davis and then working for several non-profits in Latin America, I became disillusioned and decided to focus on sustainable development through a social enterprise, partnering with talented artisan communities in Guatemala.
I feel incredibly fortunate to work with different artisan groups in Guatemala through Kakaw Designs (pronounced <kekao> like the cacao tree), an artisan-made brand I started about four years ago. We currently work with several different artisan groups: two weaving, one embroidery, two teams of leathersmiths, and one silversmith; all to make our designs come to life. But it was for a good reason that we started with the weaving cooperative Corazón del Lago in San Juan la Laguna, at Lake Atitlán.
We would never have been able to launch Kakaw Designs without this group of forward-thinking, professional weavers from this small Maya village. The community itself is exceptional, with sustainability clearly a focus through:
- Use of natural dyes in textile production, also using local traditional techniques such as backstrap weaving and ikat designs <<Learn more by watching our video>>
- Organization of weavers in cooperatives or associations, where women work together and can therefore take larger orders and offer quality control
- Up-and-coming development of community ecotourism, especially birding
Sadhana Forest shows local people in India, Haiti, and Kenya how to plant trees in dry regions – and improve their lives. PHOTO: Sadhana
Do you believe in a literary cosmos? I do. In the seemingly innocuous collision of two pieces of writing SO removed from each other that they are all that similar. Two articles – one found last evening for work, one chanced upon during the routine Instagram surf on the way to work. One standing out in the mayhem of a news feed; the incredible story of an Israeli man and his wife moving to India in 2003 and buying 70 acres of barren land. To build, sustain a forest. Reafforestation, to be clear. The other titled The Builder’s High. Yes, I’m ‘building’ this up.
In addition to the successful planting of millions of trees and bushes in parts of Tigray, Ethiopia, and elsewhere in Africa as part of the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100), the announcement of another ambitious initiative by several African countries during the United Nations’ summit of climate change in Paris could spearhead the continent to becoming the world’s cleanest in the following decades.
Selecting beans for export in India.PHOTO: Sebastiao Salgado
Coffee fields in Brazil during flowering season. PHOTO: Sebastiao Salgado
A coffee picker in Tanzania’s Rift Valley. PHOTO: Sebastiao Salgado
For those who believe life begins after coffee, the story of its origin will definitely sound familiar. Coffee grown worldwide can trace its heritage to the ancient coffee forests on the Ethiopian plateau, where legend says the goat herder Kaldi first discovered the potential of these beloved beans. It is said that Kaldi discovered coffee after noticing that his goats, upon eating berries from a certain tree, became so energetic that they did not want to sleep at night. Kaldi reported his findings to the abbot of the local monastery who made a drink with the berries and discovered that it kept him alert for the long hours of evening prayer. The abbot shared his discovery with the other monks at the monastery, and slowly knowledge of the energizing berries began to spread.
Now photographer Sebastiao Salgado takes readers deep into that grind with his latest collection, The Scent of a Dream: Travels in the World of Coffee that looks at the landscapes and labors behind the $100-billion-a-year business in ten countries around the globe.
Plant and animal life on Flag Hill, near the hill station town of Mussoorie in north India, has been restored through the efforts conservationist Sejal Worah.
Environmentalist and WWF India Programme Director, Sejal Worah, and her local team have spent the last two years attempting to revive a 400 acres area situated in the Garwhal Himalayas, in Mussoorie, Uttarakhand. From being a degraded and over grazed territory, within two years of conservation efforts the protected area has become a sanctuary for wildlife which hadn’t been reported for years, like the Himalayan black bear and Sambhar deer.
Holding a solar-powered lamp, Soni Suresh, 20, and Suresh Kashyap, 22, celebrate their marriage ceremony in Uttar Pradesh, where 20 million households lack electricity. PHOTO: Nat Geo
A worker at a logging camp in Myanmar’s Bago region, where elephants have been used by loggers for centuries, sits atop his 11-year-old animal. Laborers in these camps have no electricity, so they use solar lanterns before sunrise. PHOTO: Nat Geo
About seven out of every 10 households in rural India have no access to electricity. Many of these households still use less efficient energy sources that are harmful to the environment, such as kerosene. Even in places where electricity is accessible, shortages are frequent and the supply is inconsistent. In such a scenario, solar lamps come as a blessing and are revolutionizing lives in the country and around the world.
PRASHANT MANDAL FLIPS ON A CANDY-BAR-SIZE LED LIGHT in the hut he shares with his wife and four children. Instantly hues of canary yellow and ocean blue—reflecting off the plastic tarps that serve as the family’s roof and walls—fill the cramped space where they sleep. He shuts down the solar unit that powers the light and unplugs it piece by piece, then carries it to a tent some 20 yards away, where he works as a chai wallah, selling sweet, milky tea to travelers on the desolate road in Madhotanda, a forested town near the northern border of India.
“My life is sad, but I have my mind to help me through it,” Mandal says, tapping the fraying cloth of his orange turban. “And this solar light helps me to keep my business open at night.”
Photo credit: Drinkwell
Water is the essence of all life on Earth, and access to potable water is an absolute human right. To resolve the global arsenic water crisis that affects over 200 million people across 70 countries, Drinkwell is pioneering an alternative method for providing potable water to affected communities by transforming existing arsenic-affected tube wells into local profitable water enterprises. The organization provides affected villagers with water filtration technology and business tools, and in turn, the villagers become entrepreneurs of these mirco-water businesses.
Drinkwell filtration systems extract the arsenic and do it efficiently. “Whereas current solutions use Reverse Osmosis technology that wastes 40%-60% of input water, Drinkwell wastes only 1% of water,” their website explains. The polymers, or resin beads, are infused with nanoparticles which extract arsenic from water flowing through them. These polymers are regenerable and can filter water for years.
When Dr. Pawan found out about the unhygienic living conditions in Gadchiroli, Maharasthra, India, he created a hand-washing device in just Rs.35 (50 cents) that has been saving the lives of the villagers. – PHOTO: Better India
Clean care is safe care, says the World Health Organisation and follows it with a campaign on washing hands towards cleaner living and working conditions across the globe. And Dr. Pawan did his part too. By creating a hand-washing device that costs less than 50 cents, roping in children to keep the initiative going, and relying on elders for the device to adapted and adopted into the community.
In 2008, Dr. Pawan was one of the seven students selected for a two-year fellowship programme at Nirman’s SEARCH (Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health), in Gadchiroli district, Maharashtra, India. The programme encourages students to work in areas affecting rural communities like water management and NRGA schemes, and being a physician, Dr. Pawan chose to work in the health sector. Living in the community, he realised that there were several diseases persisting in the village, those that could be prevented by merely drinking clean water or paying more attention to cleanliness. He promptly did a study that revealed that of the 64 families living in the village, only six families used soap for washing hands.
Pokkudan’s pursuit of mangrove conservation started back in the 80s when he started collecting mangrove seeds and planting them in the marshy lands of in Pazhayangadi. PHOTO: Mathrubhumi
Kallen Pokkudan, also known as Kandal (mangrove in vernacular) Pokkudan, an Indian environmental activist and writer from Kerala, devoted his life to mangrove forests and planted more than a hundred thousand mangroves over three decades across Kerala.These trees of the tropics offer a lifeline to areas under the threat of natural disasters, prevent soil erosion, form a breeding ground for marine animals, purify water, and sustain coastal livelihoods. Pokkudan’s pursuit of mangrove conservation started back in the 80s when he started collecting mangrove seeds and planting them in the marshy lands of in Pazhayangadi. His work to expand mangrove cover along the Indian coastline has earned him a UNESCO special mention.
As the noon breeze blows Pokkudan’s silver wisps into his eyes shaded by thick glasses, the octogenarian talks with an unvarnished matter-of-factness about the revolution he started in 1989. At a time when most people were ignorant of the many scientific and envi¬ronmental uses of mangroves, Pokkudan—until then a political thinker—saw them as wind-cheaters that, to a great extent, prevented schoolchildren from losing their umbrellas to strong winds blowing from the Ezhimala area. “I started planting mangrove saplings to shield school-going children from the wind,” says Pokkudan humbly. “I also believed they would prevent the sea from eroding the ground and, above all, I wanted to see the beautiful trees growing.”
Some Hindu temples in Pakistan are now Islamic schools. PHOTO: Rida Arif
Given the volatile relationships between India and Pakistan, any sentence that involves the two nations is fraught with speculation and scrutiny. Talking of a temple and a mosque in the same breath spells secularism in a liberal setting but portends unrest in another quarter. And when you do hear of goodwill where these worlds meet amicably, it’s a story worth sharing. Like this one about how ancient temples in Pakistan have turned into centers of Islamic teaching.
We stood at the entrance of the temple, not sure if we would be allowed to go inside.
It was a double-storey structure with a small round balcony. The door was made of wood with intricate patterns on it, while there were fading remnants of frescoes on the wall. Judging by the entrance, I could only imagine how beautiful this structure must be from the inside. The only problem was that this temple was not vacant. It wasn’t even taken over by an individual family, as has happened in many other cases. In that situation, I could have requested them to allow me to see the temple from inside. But this was now controlled by the women’s wing of an Islamic religious organisation called Minhaj-ul-Quran, founded by the famous preacher-turned-politician Tahir-ul-Qadri.
In addition to eliminating 94% of the smoke and 91% of the carbon dioxide emitted by open fires, the HomeStove can save households as much as $8 to $10 per week just on fuel. PHOTO: Biolite
According to the WHO, 4.3 million people die prematurely every year from illnesses attributable to household air emissions from cooking with solid fuels, which kill more people every year than malaria, HIV and tuberculosis combined. Women and children, who spend the most time near open flames in developing countries, are most at risk. And the gravity of the dangers of indoor air pollution pushed product developers Alec Drummond and Jonathan Cedar to maximize the use of the off-the-grid stove they were initially designing for campers.
“We’d seen that by blowing air in a particular place in a wood fire, you can really improve combustion and turn a rudimentary fuel into a super hot, controllable, clean combustion process,” Cedar tells Mashable. “We were fascinated by this idea that you could take waste product and turn it into a useful energy source.”
“The question was: How do you do that without batteries, which still tie you back to the grid?” he says.
Martha MacDonald Napaltjarri (in foreground) and Mona Nangala painting at Papunya Tjupi art centre, Papunya, 2015. Photo: Helen Puckey
Have you heard of Papunya? The birthplace of what is touted as the century’s greatest art movement? The Conversation looks at how the movement has given birth to indigenous artists’ collectives, transformed communities, empowered women and forms a grand narrative on Aboriginal art:
The emergence of ‘dot’ paintings by Indigenous men from the western deserts of Central Australia in the early 1970s has been called the greatest art movement of the twentieth century.It all changed at a place called Papunya. Papunya was a ‘sit-down’ place established in the early 1960s, 240 kilometres northwest of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory (NT). The settlement brought together people from several western desert language groups: the Pintupi, Warlpiri, Arrernte (Aranda), Luritja, and the Anmatyerr, who were unaccustomed to living in close proximity to each other. Papunya was described as a ‘centralised government settlement established as a marshalling point for Aboriginal people displaced from their traditional lands’ (Curator Hetti Perkins, Papunya Tula: Genesis and Genius, Art Gallery of New South Wales– external site, 2000).
A fish sanctuary in the making on Lake Vembanad, Kerala, India. PHOTO: Scroll
We love the backwaters. Period. Every single time one of our Xandari Riverscapes houseboats puts out into these deep waters, our hearts swell with pride. Responsible showcasing the charm, the timelessness of these waters and its people brings us much joy. And when we come across conservation efforts to maintain the quintessence and soul of this stretch of paradise, we can’t help but let you know.
Spread over 36,000 hectares and three districts in Kerala, this is the kind of landscape that gives conservation ecologists a blinding headache – a resource-rich, highly-productive area that is pulled apart in several directions (waste-dumping, tourism, livelihoods, water security) and depended upon by conflicting communities who have no other alternatives. Lakes have been straddling this intersection all across India – from Chilika in Odisha, to the Bengaluru urban lakes, to Loktak in Manipur, to Vembanad.
Such heavy-use landscapes outside protected areas, however, also might hold answers to the future of conservation. Whether it is a large lake system, or forest fragments that serve as the refuge of a few species or a corridor for wild animals, or a forest fringe, or large agricultural swathes that also host biodiversity, a section of conservationists believes that the future lies in teamwork between nature and mankind.
Lakheni is a social enterprise which harnesses the aggregated buying power of low-income communities to give them access to discounted staple food.
The Global Social Venture Competition (GSVC) provides aspiring entrepreneurs with mentoring, exposure, and $50,000 in prizes to transform their ideas into businesses that will have positive real world impact. And one of the winners this year is Lakheni, a service that could serve as a low-cost replacement for brick-and-mortar stores.
Sixteen Santa Barbara-based fishermen are participating in the Dock to Dish pilot program in California. Seen are Keith and Tiffani Andrews fishing for ridgeback shrimp on the fishing vessel Alamo. PHOTO: Sarah Rathbone
You’ve heard of farm-to-table. At its heart, farm-to-table means that the food on the table came directly from a specific farm. Also emphasizes a direct relationship between a farm and a restaurant or store. The vocabulary of the movement is changing now to include produce from the seas, giving birth to the concept of dock to dish.
The pile of fish marks an important step toward a fundamentally different way that prominent chefs are beginning to source American seafood: the restaurant-supported fishery. Call it an evolutionary leap from community-supported-agriculture programs, which support local farmers, and community-supported fisheries, which support small-scale fishermen. Both models rely on members who share the risks of food production by pre-buying weekly subscriptions.
Avani uses green energy for all their production processes. Solar energy is used in the form of solar powered spinning wheels and calendering machines for all textile production. PHOTO: Avani
AVANI is a voluntary organization working in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, located in the middle ranges of the Central Himalayan region of India. The genesis of AVANI came about in the context of the isolation and consequent problems of the far-flung villages situated in one of the highest mountain ranges of the world. Its work focuses on developing and disseminating appropriate technologies for meeting the energy and water requirements of the local villages, promoting craft-based (development of handmade naturally dyed textiles) and farm-based livelihood opportunities. To date, AVANI projects include the dissemination of solar technology, water resource management, natural textiles and paints, and the social and economic development of rural communities with projects such as healthcare and micro-finance.
39-year-old Mahadev Charokar is vision impaired but has got amazing hearing, olfactory and tactical senses. He can differentiate between various denominations of currency notes, can walk up to his farms 1.5 km away and even lead a bullock-driven plough on fields. PHOTO: The Alternative
The adoption of the World Programme for Action concerning Disabled Persons in 1982 laid the foundation for a new approach to disability, with the goals of full participation and equalization of opportunities for persons with disabilities. The World Programme of Action has time and again reinforced the role of persons with disabilities as both agents and beneficiaries of development. The onus is on taking action so that persons with disability do not end up being referred to as a “vulnerable group” but rather, that disability itself will be considered as a cross-cutting theme in any emerging goals on sustainable development. In Madhya Pradesh, India, a unique experiment with organic farming is mainstreaming people with disabilities.
It took a long time to make one that was perfectly balanced and approx. 2 years before Bellerby produced a globe that I could sell. (Photo by Stuart Freedman)
When is the last time you looked at a map? No, we’re not talking GPS-powered imagery and guidelines but a physical entity. Like a globe. Like the collectibles Peter Bellerby and his company painstakingly churn out. In fact, they are one of the only two workshops in the world still in the business of handcrafting globes. And in the business of preserving a dying craft.
Sanergy builds healthy, prosperous communities by making hygienic sanitation affordable and accessible throughout Africa’s informal settlements.
Innovations are intriguing, ones with the power to change lives more so. Add development of communities, better health and dignity of life to the equation and you can’t say no to knowing more. We are talking toilets. Do you know Caltech engineers and Kohler designers are testing a self-cleaning, solar-powered toilet that turns human waste into hydrogen and fertilizer? Then there’s Peepoople making ‘toilet bags’. Inside are chemicals that break down human waste into fertilizer, offering alternative sanitation in slums and refugee camps. Then there’s what Sanergy is doing in Kenya.
Courtney Holmes, right, listens to Jeremiah Reddick, 9, of Dubuque, as he reads while receiving a free haircut during the Back to School Bash in Comiskey Park, in Dubuque, Iowa. (Mike Burley/Telegraph Herald via AP)
First day of school is round the corner and now is a time of frenzied preparation for the big day. And haircuts figure in the list of things-to-do. Precisely what Dubuque barber Courtney Holmes figured, too, as he headed to the neighborhood Back to School bash. Just that he thought he’d go beyond the hair and pack in some story time. No, he didn’t tell stories off the back of his head, but he let his little customers read to him. Talk about taking matters of literacy into your own hands and being there for your community right where they need you.