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World of Change: Breast cancer rowers, solar engineers, and underwater experiments

Explore social projects around the globe, from a dragon boat team formed by breast cancer survivors to a school training women to be solar engineers.

Philippines: Cebu Pink Paddlers

The Cebu Pink Paddlers is a dragon boat team formed by cancer survivors
The Cebu Pink Paddlers is a dragon boat team formed by cancer survivors

Established in 2017, the Cebu Pink Paddlers have scooped up several awards at competitions around Asia. But that’s not the only reason it’s notable: As the first dragon boat team formed by cancer survivors in the Philippines, the Pink Paddlers provides an important source of strength, support and physical therapy.

The teammates not only take care of each other but also promote early detection and diagnosis in order to save lives. “They are not just breast cancer survivors,” Christian Ian Sy, Cebu Pink Paddlers’ head coach, told Rappler. “They are now athletes who are inspiring the world, teaching us that despite the scenarios that may happen in someone’s life, one should keep moving forward as life must go on.”

India: Barefoot College

'Solar Mamas' learn to be solar power engineers in India
‘Solar Mamas’ learn to be solar power engineers in India

Founded in Rajasthan, India, in 1972, Barefoot College sets out to alleviate poverty and promote sustainable energy in rural communities around the world. At no cost to participants, the school invites women to take part in five-month-long Women Prosper vocational training programmes where they learn to be solar engineers.

Throughout the curriculum, “Solar Mamas,” as they’re nicknamed, build a toolkit of practical skills. Not only can they install and maintain solar power for their communities, but they also learn to become entrepreneurs and educators. Nearly 50 years on, Barefoot College now operates in 1,300 villages across 92 countries and has impacted more than 2 million people. 

Rwanda: Maternity Ward 

Maternity Ward, Kanombe Military Hospital, Kigali, Rwanda, 2013
Maternity Ward, Kanombe Military Hospital, Kigali, Rwanda, 2013

German photojournalist Julia Gunther explores themes of social justice and gender issues in her work, which takes her across sub-Saharan Africa. On one of her trips to Rwanda, Gunther learned about the challenges facing women when it comes to reproductive rights. In the Central Africa nation, at least 30 per cent of births are unplanned due to a combination of strict local traditions and little sexual education, according to a study by the Guttmacher Institute. Of those pregnancies, roughly 22 per cent end in abortion – often in an unsafe or illegal environment, which can cause grave health risks.

To raise awareness about these issues, Gunther started documenting daily interactions at Kigali’s Kanombe Military Hospital, one of the country’s major maternity wards, in 2013. “To be allowed to witness the intense joy and pain of childbirth is always humbling,” says Gunther. “New life is precious anywhere, but in a country like Rwanda, with its dark past still well within living memory, watching a child being welcomed into this world, is something very special.”

Italy: Nemo’s Garden

At Nemo's Garden, scientists explore new ways of growing produce
At Nemo’s Garden, scientists explore new ways of growing produce

A chemical engineer, professional scuba diver and avid gardener, Sergio Gamberini combined his passions to create Nemo’s Garden. Located about 20 feet below the surface of the Ligurian Sea in northwestern Italy, the collection of ‘biospheres’ (which resemble balloon-like greenhouses) serves as an alternative way to grow produce such as basil, strawberries, beans and lettuce.

The futuristic underwater system is not only used for botanical research but also as a way to repopulate marine life and teach the next generation about self-sustainable agricultural solutions. Gamberini believes that bold, out-of-the-box ideas will be necessary in the face of extreme environmental conditions, which could make traditional farming more difficult in the future.