Italians Turn Old Tradition of Charitable Giving into Modern COVID Response With ‘Suspended Shopping’

Caffe sospeso—an Italian term which means ‘suspended coffee’—is what someone says in a Naples café when they’re feeling generous and want to pay it forward to someone less fortunate.

The tradition has come back into fashion in the last decade, but suspended coffee is an old Napolitano custom that actually arose after World War II, according to Luciano de Crescenzo’s book Caffe Sospeso, perhaps as a result of people wanting a release for their charitable urges.

Now, in their COVID-conscious culture, a more generous version of the tradition is sweeping Italy with ‘suspended shopping’ (la spesa sospesa).

COVID-19 has done more damage in Italy than almost anywhere else, and because of the extreme difficulties, people are going into shops and paying the grocery tabs for strangers who might be out of work.

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An estimated one in every two Italians has been out of work—or in ‘lavoro sospeso’, suspended work—since early March, and people are beginning to wonder how they will be able to afford to feed their families.

Shop owner Michela Buccilli in Rome’s Piazza San Giovanni della Malva, says she has been matching the donations of anyone who has something to spare. One customer told NPR news, after she asked to donate a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of oranges to a local aid group, the store owner went ahead and sent a whole crate.

The Power of the Internet

COVID-19 has shuttered two million Italian businesses, and citizens often compare such challenges to the ones posed by World War II.

In 1940s and 50s, a happy-go-lucky person in Naples might make a humanitarian gesture, after picking up a coffee from a street vendor, as if he were “buying a coffee for the world.” Italy was in economic straights after World War II, and it was common for people not to have enough money for a coffee.

Now with the internet on their side, modern-day Italians have more opportunities to support local businesses. One Italian foodie website, Puntarella Rossa, recently launched il calice sospeso “the suspended wine glass,” where readers can buy vouchers worth 1 glass, or 1 bottle of wine from a local bar—redeemable after the lockdown orders are lifted.

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“We did it as a way to help these businesses economically,” Livia Belardelli, the site’s wine blogger told NPR. But it also nourishes the communities that support the shops.

Since April 1st, Belardelli says more than 150 readers and patrons have paid for wine-in-waiting at over 30 wine bars.

But wine, coffee, and groceries aren’t the only things being “suspended.” From sustainable clothing brand Re-Bello comes a crowd-funding campaign called One-for-One Mask.

An Italian news network described it as ‘La Mascherina Sospesa’—you guessed it, the suspended mask. A person can buy one washable, antibacterial mask, and the profits go to providing a second mask for a refugee in Cyprus through a European aid organization Refugee Support Europe.

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On the inside of every mask lies a simple line bending into a smile alongside an embroidered message “The world will smile with you”. So far, 7700 of the 27,000 Euro needed for the project has been accumulated. You can contribute to it on Indiegogo by buying masks for yourself and a refugee, (1 mask for you, and 1 for a refugee) or 2 for 2, or 5 for 5.

This is just one of many positive stories and updates that are coming out of the COVID-19 news coverage this week. For more uplifting coverage on the outbreaks, click here.

(LISTEN to the NPR segment below)

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As Fur is Phased Out of Fashion, More Than 200 Donated Fur Coats Are Handed Out to Afghanis in Need

Photo by Life for Relief and Development

As the fashion industry continues to phase out the use of animal fur, more and more people are cleansing their closets of all their rabbit, fox, and mink furs.

Rather than let those fur coats go to waste, however, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is putting them to good use by donating them to Afghani people in need.

Last week, PETA partnered with Life for Relief and Development to hand out more than 200 donated fur coats to the people of Kabul.

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With temperatures dipping well below freezing, the coats are expected to offer some much-needed warmth to the men, women, and children living in poverty in the capital city of Afghanistan.

“Nothing can bring back the rabbits, minks, and foxes … but the coats that they died for can at least be used for good,” says PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman. “PETA encourages everyone to donate their fur or fur-trimmed coats to help those who have but few options in life—the only people with any excuse to wear them.”

Photo by PETA

Life for Relief and Development CEO Dr. Hany Saqr added: “With all of those that are less fortunate around the world, we at Life are honored to be able to work with PETA to give warmth during the harsh winter to those in need.”

This is not the first time that animal fur has been used to warm the less fortunate; back in November 2018, PETA and Life for Relief handed out 280 coats to Syrian refugees who had fled to Iraq.

PETA’s fur donation program also sends unwanted coats to homeless shelters and wildlife rehabilitation centers so they can be used as bedding for orphaned animals.

If you want to donate one of your own fur coats, you can visit the organization’s website to learn more.

(WATCH the video below)

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Girls in War Zone Find Their Power On Skateboards; Documentary About Them Takes Home the Oscar (Watch)

skateistan-girls-skate-garden-kabul1-jessica-fulfurd-dobsonPhoto by Jessica Fulford-Dobson

In Afghanistan, it’s considered offensive and taboo for women to ride bicycles—but one nonprofit has given these girls a different kind of fun on wheels.

Skateistan is an organization that uses skateboarding to helps to empower marginalized youth and rescue them from the streets so they can be transitioned into a community that will teach them about leadership and independence.

Learning To Skateboard In A Warzone (If You’re a Girl)—a short film documentary about the organization’s mission in Afghanistan—recently brought Skateistan back into national headlines after it won the 2020 Academy Award for Best Short Film this week, although the nonprofit has been changing lives since 2007.

skate-board-skateistan-girlPhoto by Jessica Fulford-Dobson

According to the Skateistan website, over 60% of their students are low-income and do not have access to education—but the organization believes that once they hook the kids into the program, the possibilities are endless.

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Whether it’s instilling feelings of confidence and autonomy through skateboarding, or simply letting children know that someone cares, the program has encouraged kids to believe in themselves.

“When skateboarding came into Afghanistan,” Skate Girls of Kabul photographer Jessica Fulford-Dobson told BBC, “they didn’t even know what it was.”

Inspired by the young women’s joy, the photographer first approached Skateistan about documenting their life and community in 2012.

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One of her portraits of the skaters later ended up taking home the 2nd place prize in the 2014 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize.

aghani-skate-board-girlPhoto by Jessica Fulford-Dobson

“[The skater] first caught my eye because she was wearing such a beautiful color,” recalled Fulford-Dobson to the news outlet. “She’s just immaculate. From the way she has tied her headscarf so beautifully and so naturally, you see that she has an innate sense of grace. Her little hennaed hand rests gently—yet possessively—on the skateboard, and how small she seems beside it! I love her assurance: her firm, steady gaze. One feels a sense of depth in her eyes, even though she is just 7 years of age.”

After just one year of attending the Back to School Skate program, the girl in the prize-winning portrait (left) passed her first three educational grades, and enrolled in the national school system—all will continuing to skate in her free time.

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It may not be a conventional way of offering an education, but since Skateistan started in 2007, they have helped teach thousands of kids—44% of whom are girls—around the world to skate each week.

You can also donate to the organization on the Skateistan website or purchase Jessica Fulford Dobson’s book “Skate Girls of Kabul” here.

(WATCH the short film’s trailer below)

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If You Buy a Sapling For This Rainforest, Money Goes to Turn Illegal Loggers Into Forest Guardians

We can take shorter showers. We can try to recycle our plastic. We can make sure to turn the lights off in our homes at night. But the sense of urgency in the face of our climate crisis leaves some people discouraged because there isn’t more they can do.

For 13 years, however, Health in Harmony has been offering caring citizens of the world a way to reduce their impact on the environment—a chance to minimize, or even neutralize, their carbon footprint in ways that benefit so much more than just the CO2 equation.

The intrepid nonprofit is allowing people to buy personal carbon-offsets and using the money to benefit rural communities in Borneo and Madagascar. The brilliance behind their program is the way it addresses the locals in and around these tropical rainforests who are both impoverished, and living nearby some of the most important and vulnerable ecosystems on earth—ecosystems that if lost could place the goal of overcoming our impact on climate forever beyond our reach.

Tropical rainforests are the Fort Knox of carbon storage, as well as bastions of biodiversity. Many tracts, like Gunung Palung National Park on the island of Borneo have been hit hard by slash-and-burn agriculture and illegal logging, because struggling locals look for ways to make money and feed their families.

Based in Portland, Oregon, Health In Harmony offers people worldwide the opportunity to buy tropical tree seedlings that, when matured, will sequester a certain amount of carbon per year. But the impact here is profound.

According to an article in Fast Company, during its first ten years the program achieved 90% reduction in logging activities within households where the nonprofit was operating. This resulted in an astonishing regrowth of 52,000 acres of rainforest.

Photo courtesy of Health In Harmony

Kinari Webb, founder of Health In Harmony explained that 95 trees will offset the carbon emitted by an average American—while planting them ensures the survival of one of the most biodiverse places on earth.

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With the group’s carbon-offset calculator, you can enter in key contributors in your own personal carbon footprint such as how much gasoline you use, or how many miles you’ve flown on airlines, and the calculator will come up with the cost of that carbon footprint as it relates to buying seedlings to be planted in Borneo and Madagascar.

According to Webb a monthly donation of $31.00 is likely enough to make you a carbon-neutral citizen.

And, to assuage your skepticism about reforestation efforts that don’t ensure saplings’ survival, Webb says that during the first 3 years, watering, weeding, fertilizing, and fire prevention are regularly provided for the trees. Over their first 10 sites they’ve seen a survival rate of 80%.

They diversify, using over 100 native tree species and indigenous fruit trees, while also compensating for failure by planting more than is needed to account for tree death during infancy and adolescence. These steps ensure that the full biodiversity compliment of the jungle can return even in the plantations. But, that is just the beginning.

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Not Just Planting Trees, Transforming Villages

Photo by ASRI Kids / Nina Finley

Part of the money from your carbon offset purchases also provides healthcare, sustainable agriculture training, and economic empowerment for the villages near Gunung Palung National Park.

A “green credit” system allows the residents who work to reduce illegal logging to receive discounts of up to 70% on medical services at the medical facilities of Health In Harmony’s partner on the group  ASRI.  They can even pay for medical care with things like tree seedlings, artisan goods, and manure.

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ASRI also works with village chiefs to nominate a Forest Guardian. Respected members of their community, the Forest Guardians are trained by ASRI to work with illegal loggers to try and convince them to put down their chainsaws. They spread awareness of alternative ways of generating income while earning discounts on medical services for themselves and their neighbors.

Sustainable modern agriculture techniques are replacing slash and burn methods which have been destroying the rainforest while yielding fewer crops. In 2018, locals were producing more crops for their families and selling the remainder for additional income. In July 2018, Health In Harmony’s Kitchen Gardens, and Goats for Widows projects allowed women at home to generate their own income from farming small plots of land or keeping goats whose manure and milk helped wives who had lost their husbands to stay afloat financially.

Next Up: Madagascar and Her Lemurs

Beyond a second, even larger, Indonesia site called Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park, which is a critical sanctuary for orangutans, Health In Harmony has expanded its operations to another biodiversity mecca: Madagascar.

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Madagascar’s forests are massively at risk from logging and agriculture, and with them almost 100 species of lemur, the charismatic primate found nowhere else on earth.

In the autumn of 2019, Health In Harmony began setting up reforestation, healthcare, agricultural training, and more in Manombo Special Reserve, a 14,300-acre protected area in southeast Madagascar, home to nine species of lemur—all of which are threatened with extinction.

Health In Harmony is proving that any concerned citizen can do far more than recycle to prevent climate change, and that the power of their dollar can help a lot more lifeforms than humans and trees.

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In Just 20 Years, Over 220 Million Children Have Been Saved From Marriage, Labor, and Violence

As English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes famously stated in his treatise On Commonwealth, life without the commonwealth was “nasty, brutish, and short”.

In commemoration of its founding 100 years ago, Save the Children has released its third Global Childhood Report—and it contains figures that would make Hobbes blush.

In Hobbes’ day, the average male life expectancy was about 35 to 45 years at birth in England; now the chances for a child—even in rural Africa—of reaching adulthood unmarried, nourished, and educated education, are getting stronger and stronger.

Success by Numbers

“In the year 2000,” reads the report, “an estimated 970 million children were robbed of their childhoods due to … ill-health, malnutrition, exclusion from education, child labor, child marriage, and early pregnancy.

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Just two decades later, Save the Children reports that number has been reduced by one-third. 115 million more children are being sent to school, 11 million young girls have been saved from marriage, 3 million girls are saved from bearing children in their young age, there has been a decrease of 94 million child laborers, and 4.5 million children have been saved from violent deaths around the world.

Nations across all 5 major continents have worked hard, sometimes in the face of corruption and even war, to achieve these remarkable results, including Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Colombia, the Philippines, Mexico, and Ethiopia.

Across every major geographical zone on earth, Save the Children’s “End of Childhood Index Score” has increased, including west, central, east, and southern Africa.

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Sierra Leone, once a Mad Max-style country of blood diamonds and civil war, has cut their rates of infant mortality, child labor, and child marriages by half since 2000.

25 years after the genocide, Rwanda’s score is 744 out of 1000 after cutting infant mortality rates by 80% and teen pregnancy by 60%.

What Accounts for this Dramatic Improvement?

In the Global Childhood Report 2020, Save the Children lists some of the ways in which these outstanding goals have been achieved.

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One of the primary drivers for reductions in things like child marriage, child labor, teen pregnancy, and school absence has been a global drive for equality between the sexes worldwide—not just in western nations.

“As this report shows, rising education rates among women and girls have been critical to improvements in child health in Bangladesh and child protection in Afghanistan and India,” the report reads.

“Investing in education programs for girls and increasing the age at which they marry can return $5 for every dollar spent. Investing in programs improving incomes for women can return $7 dollars for every dollar spent.”

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The first 5 of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals which so many bilateral development projects attempt to adhere to include Gender Equality and Quality Education.

The MDG (Millennium Development Goals) put down in the year 2000, targeted the eradication of poverty in all its forms by the end of the century.

“A recent Brookings Institution study found as many as 19 million extra child lives – most of them in Africa—were saved because of MDG-accelerated action,” reads the report.

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Finally, the advances in technologies like smartphones, social media, medical instruments, vaccines and drugs, have changed the face of the world in ways that especially benefit the developing world. Nearly all (96%) of the humans on earth have access to the internet, up from nearly half (58%) in 2001.

Mobile phones are being used to register births, improve early diagnosis of HIV in infants, monitor malnutrition in children, and to educate individuals about family planning, adolescent health and prenatal care.

If this is what nations can achieve in 20 years, another 20 years of pursuing development goals could mean that another 300 million children worldwide could enjoy their childhoods in relative peace and security before entering adulthood as educated, nourished, and independent members of society—which is quite an encouraging thought to have as we enter this bright new decade.

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