In Show of Solidarity, Morocco Sends 8 Million Masks to 15 African Nations

King Mohammed VI of Morocco has sent 8 million masks and millions of other pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) to 15 different African nations.

Including almost one million facial visors, 600,000 plastic hair caps, and 60,000 gowns, the aid will be distributed between Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Comoros, Congo, Eswatini, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Malawi, Mauritania, Niger, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal, Tanzania, Chad and Zambia, according to a statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

COVID-19 has been slow to arrive in Africa, but as many European and Asian countries are beginning to reopen, the pandemic is on the move in many countries on the continent.

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Having seen successful examples of beating COVID-19 in countries like South Korea, Germany, and New Zealand, Morocco and other African nations already have case examples and best-practices to base defense strategies on—and it’s this that Morocco hopes to encourage and support in other nations.

It also came just days after Morocco showed its desire to construct the headquarters of the African Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the country under the auspices of the African Union.

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Registering its first case on March 2nd, Morocco has seen only 200 deaths and around 9,000 infections.

Along with making masks compulsory in public, Morocco has painted masks onto the fronts of their train cars and buses as a cute way to raise awareness.

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Startup in Uganda Recycles Plastic Bottles into PPE Face Shields For Hospitals

Killing two birds with one stone, two Ugandan entrepreneurs working to up-cycle plastic waste into building materials have altered their production to tackle the shortages of personal protective medical equipment (PPE) in hospitals dealing with the country’s COVID-19 patients.

After the government ordered all non-essential businesses closed, Peter Okwoko and his colleague Paige Balcom, co-founders of Takataka Plastics, continued working in their plastics processing facility.

But, instead of things like roof tiles, they began recycling plastic waste into face shields for medical workers.

After posting an image of their prototype on social media, the pair got a surprising call from a regional hospital asking for 10 face shields because they didn’t have enough.

Using locally-sourced moulds for molten plastic, the two finished the order and delivered them, before getting a call later in the afternoon from the very same hospital asking for more because “the first ones worked out so well for them,” Okwoko, 29, told Reuters.

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PPE and Plastic Recycling

PPE shortages have occurred world-wide, and Ugandan hospitals are are no exception, but Takataka Plastics has, so far, made 1,200 face shields. Even more inspiring, the company’s staff of 14, includes six employees who were homeless, jobless youth.

Around 500 of the shields have been sold to NGOs and privately-managed health facilities at a low cost and the other 700 were donated to public hospitals.

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Takataka hopes to build upon the success of the face shields and expand its operations into a more appropriate plastic processing and recycling facility. Currently their location can reduce around 132 pounds (60 kgs) of plastic per-day, but they are aiming to establish a monthly capacity of 9 metric tons.

Uganda sees hundreds of tons of plastic thrown away annually, and their innovative solution to the PPE crisis has pushed these entrepreneurs to dream bigger.

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Unemployed Single Women Are Saving Fish and Making Money by Farming Sea Sponges

This article was reprinted with permission from World At Large—a news website which covers politics, nature, science, health, and travel.

In an area characterized by poverty, overexploitation of sea resources, and high rates of unemployment, these women from Zanzibar are beginning to farm sea sponges as a more reliable source of income.

Organized by Marine Cultures, a small Zanzibar-focused nonprofit headquartered in Zurich, 3 to 4 sea sponge farms are being launched every year to help unemployed and single mothers support their families.

Historically relying on seaweed for income, the people of Jambiani have been unable to rely on the trade because of disruptions in production from diseases and pests, and the crop’s low market price worldwide.

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Marine Cultures’s Christian Vaterlaus recently detailed how sponge farming became the primary idea for saving the livelihoods of these seaweed farmers in an article published in PANORAMA: a platform hosted by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) for nonprofits and other organizations to host solutions that benefit the natural world.

Trial and error

“When searching for alternative means of income, many aspects such as the know-how of the parties involved, eco-friendliness, market opportunities, investment requirements, general acceptance of the method, scalability, and availability of resources need to be considered,” wrote Vaterlaus. However, “aquaculture of sponges was identified to be a suitable alternative to seaweed farming promising substantially higher incomes.”

A research trip to Southeast Asia and the Pacific yielded this idea after the group witnessed an organization working with community members to farm sea sponges and invertebrates with materials and methods that were both sustainable and very cheap.

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Sea sponges are used around the world as shower luffas and sustainable methods for removing makeup and paint. Since the sponges are anti-allergenic, dermatologists often recommend them for washing infants or for those with sensitive skin.

After Marine Cultures opened up their first sea sponge farm in Zanzibar back in 2009, they started testing more than 120 species of sponges to find one that was not only suitable for use in the bath, but also sustainable and environmentally harmless.

“We had to invest a lot of time to figure out best farming methods,” writes Vaterlaus.

Photo by Marine Cultures

Acquaculturalist’s almanac

Since their sponge farming operation was slow to get off the ground, Marine Cultures also started coral farming for the international aquarium trade in 2014.

Vaterlaus says that aquaculture practices—such as sea sponge farming—is “like land-based agriculture where years of experience and trial and error are key to shape best practices.” That being said, the hard work can certainly pay off; one single farm can feed 2 to 3 large families while 3 new farms can be launched each year.

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In contrast to pearl or fish farming, a sponge farm can be started with little to no effort while simultaneously empowering local women to learn the skills of a fisherman, marine biologist, merchant, entrepreneur, swimmer, and farmer all at once.

“To save the created jobs in the long-term, the coastal communities of Zanzibar have to learn more about the sea, the importance of corals, sea grass, mangroves and biodiversity to manage their natural marine resources themselves sustainably,” added Vaterlaus.

Photo by Marine Cultures

Sponge farming 2020

A Marine Cultures update published in February 2020 says the sponge farming operations are going well. The older sponge farms managed by some of the Jambiani women are producing more sponges these days than in previous years, as ecological conditions improve and knowledge is shared among participants.

Shemsa is just one of the Zanzibar women who have found success in sea sponge farming. She told Marine Cultures: “We’ve always lived in the lagoon with sponges—but only now have we learned how they help us to improve our lives and those of our children.

“Sometimes something is very close to us without us knowing how to make money with it,” she added. “Thanks to my training as a sponge farmer, I can feed my family, build my own house and have electricity. We may never achieve all of our goals, but I have already achieved half of mine.”

Reprinted with permission from World at Large

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During Lockdown a Ghanaian Shoemaker Invented a Solar-Powered Hand-washing Basin to Encourage Sanitary Habits

Ghana, a country the size of Utah but with 31 million inhabitants, is benefitting from good old-fashion ingenuity in its fight against COVID-19.

In Kumasi, the cultural capital of the country located in the Ashanti region, a 2-week lockdown to control the spread inspired a man to a wonderful invention.

In less than 48 hours, 32-year old shoemaker Richard Kwarteng and his brother Jude Osei managed to gather all the necessary supplies to turn an old recycled metal barrel into a solar-powered hand-washing basin to encourage sanitation habits among the neighborhood.

Set to run on a 25-second timer, in correspondence with the CDC guidelines for handwashing duration, it would need not only elements of plumbing, but also electrical engineering like sensors, alarms, and a motherboard, yet be able to work like a normal hands-free sink.

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Fortunately the street markets of Ghanaian cities carry every component under the sun, and with the help of a friend who worked as an electrician and was able to handle the computer element, Kwarteng finished his invention in just five days.

Osei recorded a video of Kwarteng demonstrating how to use the device and posted it on social media. It immediately went viral. “It was amazing to see the shares and likes,” Kwarteng told CNN. “We started getting calls left and right. We were so proud of ourselves,” he added.

Just two days after the video went viral, Ghanaian government workers contacted the brothers to see if more machines could be constructed for placement around cities throughout the country.

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“I pray this pandemic will go away and there are better days ahead,” he said. “We hope this will help people to practice normal hand-washing etiquette and we are very grateful for everyone’s support.”

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After Finding His African City Missing From Maps, Zimbabwe Man Creates 2,000 Miles of Google Street Views

After discovering that his hometown was entirely absent from Google Street View, one man from Zimbabwe decided things had to change.

When Tawanda Kanhema moved to the United States in 2009 from Harare, the capital of his country Zimbabwe, he might have looked forward to showing people what his hometown looked as a major African city. However the self-described tech enthusiast discovered none of the streets and quarters of Harare were visible on Google Street View.

If you can imagine the disappointment of noticing your home city of 1.6 million people somehow didn’t exist on one of the world’s largest collection of digital maps, Kanhema also realized that his entire country was absent from street view.

He further learned that a bunch of other African countries were absent as well.

“When you look at Street View, you’re looking at this mosaic of images that show how people live across the world, how people conduct commerce, how people get around,” Kanhema told National Public Radio. “I found it quite jarring that a lot of the countries in the region were not on the map.”

A New Hobby

Currently working in Silicon Valley, the Berkeley resident volunteered to help Google get eyes and boots on the ground in some of what Kanhema considered Africa’s techno-neglected countries. After all, travelers from around the world might like to better plan their routes through these diverse states by seeing what they look like.

He wound up borrowing a 360-degree camera through Google’s Street View Loan Program and using it in a car as well as on the end of a 4-foot rod attached to his clothing. His trip in 2018 included a safari through a national park, boating down the Zambezi River, shooting Victoria Falls (below), and traversing over 2,000 miles of roads in Harare and other cities—it put Zimbabwe on the map.

“It’s so conspicuous to have a 4-foot contraption attached to the roof of your car,” Kanhema told NPR. “People are walking up and asking questions about, ‘Is that a camera? What are you recording? What are you filming? It is for Google Maps? Will my house be on the map? Will my face be on the map?”

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Atlases, globes and maps are an incredibly important part of how we conceptualize the world. Google Maps can confer a tremendous amount of information quickly, from the names, addresses and contact information of businesses, to local landmarks, to customer reviews and also grid patterns and street names to help plan commuting routes.

“We should do more to make sure that those communities are represented,” Kanhema says. “We should do more to showcase the businesses, the local businesses in those areas and also the tourist attractions.”

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A Kind of Documentary

Having spent $5,000 of his own money on the project, Kanhema sees it as a sort of documentary, with the gigabytes worth of sometimes stunning, sometimes quaint, sometimes informative photographs possessing the potential to connect people to his homeland from across the globe, perhaps contributing to her historically-troubled economy by adding tourist revenue.

His work has also seen him map the frozen ice-roads which the Mushkegowuk Nation in Northern Ontario use to traverse the land in winter.

“Imagine being able to lend a ticket to get on a helicopter tour of one of the seven natural wonders of the world and being able to bring at least a million other people with you by creating these images that people can look at and feel as though they were there,” he says.

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Maasai Nature Conservancy Asks For Help To Fight Pandemic—And 100,000 People Answer

The rolling plains of the Maasai Mara in Kenya are home to the famous red-cloaked Maasai people as well as some of the most charismatic animals on earth.

When it became clear COVID-19 would destroy the tourism industry of the Maasai living in the breathtaking Nashulai Nature Conservancy, the tribe petitioned Avaaz, a website connecting local people-powered movements, to try and organize a response call for help.

As a result, 100,000 people raised money to help pay the rangers’ salaries, ensuring that the critical Nashulai elephant migration corridor remained safe from poachers. The money was also enough to secure sanitation and medical supplies and food for the Maasai community there, so they could survive the COVID-19 storm.

About 3,000 people live inside the boundaries of the 6,000-acre conservancy, with another 5,000 living in surrounding communities in traditional Maasai villages where they rely mostly on their cattle for food and money.

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In 2016, Nelson Ole Reiyia and Margaret Koshal Reiyia placed a project on Avaaz to turn their home into a Nature Conservancy. “Avaazers” around the world chipped in with hearts and wallets to launch the Nashulai Maasai Conservancy, an innovative way to help the Maasai maintain their traditional way of live in a harmonious way with the land.

The Conservancy created a way to bring outside capital into the community through offering safaris and camping, as well as cultural homestays and other events.

Nashulai Conservancy – nashulai.com

These community programs brought increasing opportunities for education, established greater food and market security, and needed sanitation facilities.

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The Maasai are famous warriors, and the conservancy established a mighty force against poachers. Professional rangers and young warriors called “moran” who are trained in bush practices, now serves as “The Warriors for Wildlife Protection”, monitoring the animal populations and protecting against poaching.

The Modern Maasai Facing COVID-19

COVID-19 has put much of this in danger. The tourist infrastructure, which 90% of all the Nashulai Maasai depend on for income, has completely collapsed.

The community library has been repurposed as a storehouse for medical equipment—and rationing of food supplies like cornmeal and cooking oil has begun.

With help from Avaaz they’ve been able to pay the rangers’ salaries, and import much needed medical and sanitary supplies.

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“We’ve worked hard to create this unique conservancy, and we want it to be there for the people in their deepest moment of need,” writes Nelson Ole Reiyia on the Nashulai website.

Generous persons can still donate to their COVID-combating activities directly on the website, which are tax deductible contributions for the U.S. and Canada.

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‘Surprise Breakthrough’ For Kenyan Scientists Who Discover Natural Microbe That Completely Stops Malaria in Mosquitoes

A team of scientists in Kenya and the UK are hailing the “enormous potential” of a new strategy to control malaria, after discovering that a microbe completely protects mosquitoes from infection.

“The data we have so far suggest it is 100% blockage,” Dr. Jeremy Herren of the International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology told BBC News. “Quite a surprise… I think people will find that a real big breakthrough.”

Now, they are developing plans to spread the microbe through mosquito populations in infected regions, in an unprecedented effort to eliminate the 400,000 deaths that result from the disease each year.

While studying mosquitoes near the waters of Kenya’s Lake Victoria, the researchers unexpectedly came across a protective fungus called ‘Microsporidia MB,’ which was already in the bodies of the insects.

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Now, their goal is to disseminate the microbe in at least 40% of mosquitoes in malaria-infected regions.

Two main methods are being considered: the mass release of spores of the microbe in areas where many mosquitoes live, or implanting the microbe in male mosquitoes (who don’t bite) in the lab, who would then spread it to female mosquitoes, who spread the disease through their bites.

Equally important is the fact that neither of these approaches would kill the mosquitoes, thus preserving the delicate balance between ecosystems and food chains.

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Their promising lab research was published in the prestigious scientific journal, Nature, where they wrote “These findings are significant in terms of regional malaria transmission and epidemiology as well as risk-mapping.”

Such a program would be the biggest leap forward in the effort to eradicate malaria since infections had dropped by 40% leading up to 2014 due to mass mosquito net distribution by UNICEF and their partners such as the Global Fund.

Photo by Dean Calma / IAEA, CC license

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Happy 60th Birthday to Madagascar! World’s Most Biodiverse Island Gets Gift of 60 Million Trees

To celebrate its 60th birthday, the nation of Madagascar held its largest ever tree-planting ceremony, with a million seedlings going into the ground in just a few hours after the speeches concluded. The country is preparing to plant a million trees for each year of its six decade history.

“The government has the challenge of making Madagascar a green island again. I encourage the people to protect the environment and reforest for the benefit of the future generations,” said President Andy Rajoelina at the January launch event in Ankazobe district, 100 kilometers (60 miles) northwest of the capital, Antananarivo.

According to two Madagascar writers published at Mongabay, the highly-publicized campaign comes one year after Rajoelina’s election on a platform that promised to “Make  Madagascar green again.” It is the culmination of months of hard work by many organizations amassing around 100 million seeds to place into cultivated nursery beds—with schools, NGOs, government ministries, and even the army lending a helping hand.

Some officials supporting the project worry there won’t be enough follow-up to ensure the trees make it to adulthood, but Madagascar’s environment minister vowed to provide support.

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“This time, the action will be continuous, and there will be a follow-up,” said Alexandre Georget. “The state will recruit guards to monitor and protect the young plants.”

This is the world’s oldest island and a country of unparalleled biodiversity, but it is often scored as one of the worst nations for deforestation, with 40% of its forest cover lost since 1940. Most rural populations can’t make money from the incredibly unique forest ecosystem, so the trees are the first to go, when islanders need to make a living.

– Lemur, Mobile Library Project

That’s one of the reasons the environmental ministry and partners are planting trees that bear fruit and spices which can be harvested for export.

Recent movements turned to education, government protections of land, and the training of rural communities to regard themselves as forest protectors, which have all helped slow the decline of forests and exotic wildlife populations like the 100 species of lemur that are found only on this island.

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But rigorous reforestation is also needed to support these exotic creatures, so the country is stepping up. It is including some fast-growing non-native species which do pose a risk to the high bio-diversity of flora in the region, but also could go a long way towards achieving a financially stable relationship between the trees and the Malagasy who live under them.

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Wind Farms in Africa Aim To Power New Era of Clean Reliable Energy While Saving a Billion Tons of CO2

Senegal is preparing to take a large step in the emerging market of African renewable energy with the construction of the 340 million euro Taliba N’diaye Wind Farm.

Almost all of the 46 wind turbines planned for the site have been completed, with the first trickle of totally renewable energy finally flowing into the capital city of Dakar.

“The first megawatts of energy are today entering Senegal’s grid, giving the country its first taste of clean, renewable wind power,” said Massaer Cisse, General Manager for Senegal at Lekela Power, the farm’s manager.

“This is an exciting time and it brings us a step closer to our ultimate goal of providing power for millions of Senegalese”.

Located 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of Dakar, the turbines and substations erected so far are already generating 50 megawatts of the proposed total of 158 to be added to the grid when Taliba N’Diaye is finished.

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This will serve to increase the power supply of Senegal by 15% as well as save 300,000 tons of carbon from entering the atmosphere annually.

Africa Happenings reports that the lack of reliable access to electricity is a major contributor to unemployment and low manufacturing output, as power shortages often stall heavy machinery, making investments into capital goods such as electric forklifts or other construction equipment risky.

They estimate that 500 million Africans don’t have reliable access to electricity. For instance, Nigeria, another West African country, could be losing as much as 5% GDP per year due to power shortages. People resort to portable backup generators, which often run on dirty diesel fuel, contributing mightily to falling air quality due to the fumes.

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Bird Friendly Wind Energy Comes to Egypt

With recent successes in Senegal, Lekela Power has also recently secured financial investments worth $325 million for its 250 megawatt West Bakr Wind project in Egypt. Expected to be fully operational by 2021, West Bakr will produce over 1,000 gigawatts per hour, per year, of clean energy for the Egyptian grid.

Egypt’s ‘Build, Own, Operate’ plan is an ambitious project aimed at establishing an Egyptian-managed energy infrastructure that will be made up of 20% renewables by 2022.

The Suez Gulf is a high-traffic area for migrating birds, sometimes at risk from the windmill blades. Lekela and Egyptian Electricity Transmission Company have planned the West Bakr project to be more bird-friendly through the development of a “shut down on demand” program.

Lekela has partnered with the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency and its Migratory Soaring Birds project to help fund and eventually implement a Migratory Birds Monitoring training program that will help ensure birds survive the journey around their wind farms.

West Bakr near the Gulf of Suez Canal is far larger than Taliba N’diaye, and its massive energy output is expected to offset more than 550,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

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