35+ News Stories from Around the World That Will Brighten Your Day
We’ve rounded up the most heartwarming and inspirational stories from across the globe.
Mobile library gets rural kids reading
As a teacher in a primary school in rural Italy, Antonio La Cava (pictured above) was worried about his young pupils’ growing lack of interest in reading books. His response was to transform a three-wheeled van into a mobile library.
Now 73, he has spent nearly 20 years driving his Bibliomotocarro to bring books to children in the remote villages and communities of Basilicata, a region in Italy’s far south.
“I was worried about growing old in a country of non-readers,” he says. “Without a book, so often a child is alone.”
La Cava chose a Piaggio Ape van for its humble, homely associations, giving it a house-like roof: “As soon as you see it, it puts you in a good mood,” he says. “It suggests the idea of a refuge, of relaxation, which is what every book offers.”
Besides the library, La Cava also runs creative writing workshops and shows short films inspired by books, all of which underpins his belief that books and culture, as he puts it, are “made by and for everyone, not just a privileged few.”
German politicians get insect-friendly
A German government minister has proposed legal protection for insects as scientists warn that plummeting numbers of the crucial invertebrates threaten a “collapse of nature.” The new law would slash pesticide use and pump money into research.
“We human beings need insects. They deserve to be protected,” says environment minister Svenja Schulze.
As well as a €100 million “action plan” for protecting insects, Germany would also introduce new controls on the use of new land for housing or road projects until 2050, and limit light emissions at night to avoid disorienting insects.
Campaigners worldwide have highlighted the risks of plunging numbers of insects, which play a vital role in pollinating plants and food crops. “We wouldn’t only be protecting stag beetles and bumblebees, but above all ourselves,” says Schulze.
Carbon emissions decline in Europe
Carbon dioxide emissions rose 2.2 per cent globally in the decade to 2015. But 17 European countries, in a group of 18 developed economies that account for 28 per cent of global emissions, have shown a reduction over the same period. It was greatest in countries with the strongest renewable energy and energy efficiency policies.
“This is good news, but just the start,” said Corinne Le Quéré, co-author of the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Teenager uses Lego to build robotic arm
David Aguilar has always loved Lego. Born without a right forearm due to a rare genetic condition, at the age of just nine he built a rudimentary artificial arm for himself using the popular plastic construction toys.
“As a child I was very nervous to be in front of other guys, because I was different,” he says, “but that didn’t stop me believing in my dreams.”
As he got older, he kept working on his prosthetic design, and now, aged 19 and studying bioengineering at university in Barcelona, he has designed a robotic arm with an electric motor inside, again using Lego pieces.
He says his aim is to show that nothing is impossible; after university, he wants to create affordable robotic limbs for people who need them. “I’d try to give them a prosthetic, even if it’s for free, to make them feel like a normal person.”
Narcissus emerges in Pompeii
Some 250 years after the ancient Roman city of Pompeii was discovered buried by volcanic ash, archaeologists are uncovering new treasures. Among them is a brilliantly preserved fresco of Narcissus, enraptured by his own reflection.
The work was found in an “elegant and sensual” bedroom of a family residence. “The extraordinary discoveries of this site continue,” Massimo Osanna, director of Parco Archeologico di Pompei said.
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Nearly naked man rescues neighbour from blaze
Four in the morning and Keith Charles was fast asleep in bed at home in Stoke Newington, north London, when he was woken by his teenage son screaming. The terrace home of his elderly neighbour, Mrs. Brown, was engulfed in flames and the 85-year-old was trapped inside, banging desperately on her front windows.
“I saw the flames and instinct took over,” says Charles. Wearing only his pants, he dashed across the street, kicked in the front door, battled through the flames and carried his neighbour outside to safety. By the time firefighters arrived, Mrs. Brown was safe. “She says I saved her life, but when you see someone in trouble it’s just human instinct to help,” says Charles. “It was probably a bit stupid, but I’d never have forgiven myself if I hadn’t tried to help.”
Kind builder picks up the pieces
When a “cowboy” tradesman duped Sarah Ibbotson, she was left feeling shattered and helpless. The terminally ill mother of one from York, England, who has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and needs to use a wheelchair, had paid £41,000 for modifications to her home. But the builder she employed took her money and left the work unfinished.
Ibbotson turned to builder Roy Allen, who was shocked at the state of the house when he arrived to quote for repairs. “I’ve honestly never seen anything like it,” he says. Allen was so shocked that he and his crew did the work for free, refitting doors and windows, and mending the central heating. “I felt so sorry for her. I wanted to do what I could to help,” he says. Says Ibbotson: “I’ve been through hell… There are not enough words to say how grateful I am.”
Thousands of baby eels rescued at airport
Customs officers released 5,000 baby eels into River Rhine after discovering them inside checked luggage at Frankfurt Airport. The tiny elvers were bound for Vietnam.
Eels are regarded as a virility-enhancing delicacy in Asia, where a kilo of the slippery anguillidae can fetch between €3,000 and €5,000. The elvers were found in water-filled bags inside a Malaysian woman’s suitcase.
Customs spokesman Hans-Jürgen Schmidt said the eels “clearly enjoyed being returned to their element.”
Berlin Wall wins protection
As the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall approaches, the future of the longest remaining section of the wall that became a symbol of the Cold War has been secured.
The 1.3 kilometre-long East Side Gallery, near the centre of the city on Mühlenstraße, had faced the possibility of demolition because of a construction boom in the area. But the Berlin Wall Foundation, which runs other memorials and museums in the city, has now taken control of what’s known as “the world’s longest open-air gallery.”
This stretch of wall was transformed after 1989 when 118 artists were invited to paint on its concrete surface. Their paintings express the euphoria and tremendous hopes for a better, freer future. One of the murals, by Russian painter Dmitri Vrubel, depicts a kiss between Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and East German leader Erich Honecker.
The East Side Gallery is one of the city’s most visited landmarks. Foundation director Axel Klausmeier describes it as “a symbol of joy.”
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Luxembourg to make public transport free
Luxembourg intends toe become the first country in the world to scrap fares on all public transport, in a move aimed at alleviating its chronically bad traffic congestion. Luxembourg City has 110,000 inhabitants, but a further 400,000 people commute into the city to work. The initiative is set to take effect in March 2020.
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Estonia creates its sixth national park
Almost a century after the idea was first mooted by botanist and conservationist Gustav Vilbaste, Estonia has established a new national park—the country’s sixth.
The Alutaguse spans more than 43,000 hectares in Northeast Estonia, taking in a remarkable diversity of habitats—including the country’s largest area of swamp and dense coniferous forest, its longest sand beach and numerous lakes.
It is an important habitat for many notable species such as golden eagles, brown bears (right), nocturnal flying squirrels and the endangered willow grouse. Environment minister Siim Kiisler describes the park as “a beautiful gift to all of Estonia.”
French post workers help the elderly
“It’s lovely to see the postman as I don’t usually see anyone else all week,” says 81-year-old Janine. She’s enjoying a French postal service initiative that’s helping elderly people living in isolation far from relatives.
Under the scheme, called “Watch over my parents” (Veiller sur mes parents), families can pay from €20 a month for postmen and postwomen to check on their parents during morning rounds. The home visits can be weekly or more frequent with reports delivered back to the family. Additional services such as a 24-hour helpline and alert system are available.
Janine lives in the Vaucluse region of southern France: her husband died years ago, and her daughters live 600 kilometres away in Paris. “They worry that I’m on my own in the middle of nowhere,” she says. Visited by postman Nicolas Dezeure, she relishes their 15-minute Monday morning chats in her kitchen.
“She knows loads about me!” says Dezeure, who messages Janine’s daughters after his visits.
“People are living longer,” observes Eric Baudrillard, head of new strategy at the French postal service. “More want to stay in their own homes for as long as they can.”
Forging a bond of love
One spring day, Gillian Assor was walking home with her dog past a railway bridge outside London when she heard strange noises. A man was on the bridge, crying hysterically.
“I could see he was in a really bad state,” says Gillian. She persuaded him to sit with her and talk about his troubles. The suicidal young man was called Tommy and just 23 years old. She convinced him to call his parents, waited until they arrived and then quietly slipped away.
Months later, Gillian discovered Tommy was appealing online for help in finding the mystery woman who had helped save his life. She got in touch and when they met he flung his arms around her, telling her, “You saved my life.” The two are now firm friends. “It is the most overwhelming feeling,” says Gillian. “The bond is there and it’s unbelievable.”
Official blessing for Sagrada
Some 136 years after construction began, Barcelona’s famous Sagrada Familia basilica is finally to get a building permit.
City officials say that legendary architect Antoni Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece lacked the proper paperwork. To settle the dispute, the Sagrada’s trustees have agreed to pay 36 million euros over 10 years: the money will go towards improving public transport and nearby streets.
Points mean prizes
An anti-pollution initiative in the Italian city of Bologna is rewarding people who get out of their car and cycle or take public transport instead.
Participants use an app on their phone to log sustainable trips, earning points they can redeem against the likes of beer, ice cream and cinema tickets. The app shows users how much CO2 they’ve saved after each journey.
The Bella Mossa (Good Job) scheme is the idea of urban planner Marco Amodori. “Everybody will have the chance to get some discount for their good behaviour,” he says. Amodori has persuaded more than 100 businesses to sign up to give away discount vouchers, and some 10,000 people used the app last year.
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Cooking with love
Massimo Bottura is no stranger to accolades. Last year, his three-Michelin-starred Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, was named the world’s best restaurant. But he’s more than simply a brilliant chef.
Three years ago, the 55-year-old restaurateur’s concern over food waste and homelessness inspired him to open a pop-up kitchen in an impoverished district of Milan, where he and fellow chefs used 13,000kg of scraps from markets to create 10,000 free, nutritious meals for the poor.
“We need to do much more when a billion people go hungry, while 33 per cent of the world’s food supply is wasted,” explains Bottura.
The success of that first Milan pop-up led him to found a non-profit organisation, Food For Soul, and to start permanent community kitchens, or refettorios, serving free meals to the poor and homeless. The first was in Milan, followed by Rio de Janeiro, London and Paris. The latest refettorio is in Naples.
“Cooking is hard work. But it is also an act of love,” says Bottura. “When you cook for the underprivileged, you put in more love.”
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Irene saves the day
The car was nose down in the canal and rapidly filling with water and mud. “Mum, are we dying?“ eight-year-old Irene asked her mother.
Moments before, Giorgia Maron had strapped her eight-year-old daughter into her car’s child seat preparing to drive her to school. She left the car briefly when, to her horror, it began rolling towards the canal that runs by their home in a village near Legnago, Italy.
Desperately, she jumped back into the car as it entered the water to unfasten her daughter’s seat belt to help her escape. But by then water pressure meant that she was unable to open the door. She tried to smash a window using her feet, without success.
Quick as a flash, Irene had a better idea. She saw the car’s electric window button and fell upon it. It still worked and both mother and daughter were able to escape the sinking car through the open window. “I wasn’t afraid, just a bit frightened,” said Irene later.
Slashing water use
A Swedish startup has invented a nozzle for taps that could dramatically cut household water use. Altered’s Dual Flow gadget fits on to existing taps to atomise water into a mist of millions of droplets, reducing the flow of water by 98 per cent.
“From an ordinary tap, as much as 10 to 12 litres of water run out every minute,” says Kaj Mickos, who developed the device with his son-in-law, Johan Nihlén. “But only a small part of that touches your hands or rinses off the plate.”
Altered’s nozzle can also be adjusted to create a steady stream, though still at a reduced flow rate of 85 per cent compared to standard taps.
“The most important thing to us is to make a difference to the serious water situation in the world today,” says Johan Nihlén.
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Tram that drives itself
Europe’s first self-driving tram has been successfully trialled on a six kilometre route in Potsdam, Germany. The autonomous Combino tram, looks like any other tram but uses radar, laser technology and camera sensors as multiple virtual eyes to view oncoming traffic.
Travelling at up to the track maximum of 50km per hour, it can respond to hazards up to 100 metres ahead faster than a human.
Cafe owner feeds hungry migrants
The former war-torn Bosnia has become the latest thoroughfare on the European migration route and has struggled to cope with the arrival of thousands of migrants and refugees en route to Croatia.
Not all the locals are happy about their uninvited guests, but Asim Latić, a café owner in the border town of Velika Kladua, responded straight from the heart. “I saw a man standing in the street. I asked if he was hungry and he said he didn’t have any money. I said it didn’t matter and fed him.”
The next day more people came and before long Latić’s café had become a kitchen for migrants. He and three friends served thousands of free meals, funding them from their own pockets for two months. “We are all war veterans. We know what it means to be hungry,” says Latić.
A holiday prescription
Holidays can help us to live longer, according to a 40-year study by Helsinki University researchers.
They followed 1,200 businessmen considered at risk of heart disease due to weight, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Those who took less than three weeks off work a year were 37% more likely to die young than those who gave greater priority to their holiday time.
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A historical theme park in France has enlisted some unlikely help in clearing up litter left by visitors: six rooks.
The Puy du Fou park in the Vendée region has trained the birds to pick up litter by installing a small box that delivers a nugget of food each time one of the birds deposits a cigarette butt or small piece of rubbish.
“The goal is not just to clear up, but also to show that nature itself can teach us to take care of the environment”, says Nicolas de Villiers, president of the park, which receives two million visitors a year.
De Villiers says the birds are “very fast” and can fill a box in less than 45 minutes. “We want to educate people not to throw their garbage on the ground,” he says. “Sometimes it’s good to make people feel a little bit guilty.”
Homes for the homeless
A village providing housing for homeless people has been established on vacant land in the Scottish capital, Edinburgh. Its principal sponsor is the social enterprise Social Bite, a café chain that employs homeless people and provides free food to rough sleepers.
Made up of 11 two-bed houses, the village provides a community approach to homelessness. It aims to rehabilitate residents in a safe, supported environment, with full-time support staff to help with training and work placements.
“People living in the village would otherwise be in a B&B, hostel or on the street—very isolated environments,” says Social Bite co-founder Josh Littlejohn.
The village has a centre where residents can socialise, as well as a communal eating area and kitchen. Social Bite team member Sonny Murray, himself once homeless, says, “It’s going to be amazing because people will have support and work opportunities and a wee bit of life.”
The intention is that residents will stay for around 12-16 months before moving into permanent housing.
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A haircut with a difference
Lenny White had been a successful marketing consultant in Northern Ireland for 17 years, but he missed the job satisfaction he’d got working as a kitchen porter in nursing homes when he was a teenager. “I never forgot how it made me feel and the interaction with residents,” says White.
And that was his inspiration to give up marketing and retrain as a barber for dementia patients, travelling all around the country. To help his clients relax, he sets up a “pop-up” 1950s barber’s salon, complete with illuminated barber’s pole and a jukebox playing music from the era.
“I have so much compassion for them,” he says. “I understand their struggles and can feel their frustration at times. My job is to give these men good feelings and one-on-one time.”
How to talk to dogs
You know that slightly ridiculous high-pitched voice we use when we’re speaking to dogs? It turns out that they actually love it. Researchers at York University in England say “dog-speak” not only helps improve attention from our canine friends but also strengthens the bond between owner and pet.
Norway to fly electric planes
Two years ago Norway saw the launch of the world’s first electric ferry, and now it has its sights set on the skies, as companies and regulators look towards a future of battery-powered air travel.
According to Dag Falk-Petersen, head of airport operator Avinor, by 2040 all of Norway’s short-haul flights will be electric. “When we have reached our goal, air travel will no longer be a problem for the climate,” he says.
Avinor is set to buy its first electric plane this summer, and plans to launch a tender offer to test a commercial route with a 19-seat electric plane from 2025.
Last year European aerospace company Airbus announced plans to develop a hybrid-electric airliner, with a demonstration model scheduled for completion by 2020. And low-cost airline easyJet has announced that it is working on plans for all-electric short-haul planes, to be launched within a decade.
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Going back to school
“I can’t explain to children who have come to Germany as refugees why it is that they are suddenly here,” says Basel Alsayed (pictured). “But I think I know how they feel.”
Formerly a teacher in Damascus, Alsayed left Syria to avoid being conscripted into the war, and ended up in Zehdenick, near Berlin. Having taken an 18-month refugee teacher-training course at Potsdam University, he now teaches at a primary school, where a third of the pupils are similarly displaced, hailing from countries such as Bosnia, Ghana and Syria.
“I was thrown in at the deep end,” says Alsayed, who had to master the German language during his course. “Suddenly, I was having to do my own homework instead of handing it out.”
“Basel is a firefighter,” says head teacher Gerald Schneider. “He translates when there are language problems with parents and steps in when other teachers are ill.”
And Germany needs more like him. A forecast by the Bertelsmann Foundation predicts a shortfall of around 35,000 primary school teachers in Germany by 2025.
Defying terror with music
When a car packed with explosives detonated in the busy Mansour district of Baghdad, Karim Wasfi, the conductor of Iraq’s National Symphony Orchestra, did something unusual. As police secured the area, he took out his cello, sat on a chair and began to play amidst the debris. “It was an attempt to overcome grotesque acts of terror by an act of beauty,” he says.
Wasfi has since founded the Centre for Creativity-Peace through Arts, which brings young people from different ethnic backgrounds together to play music on Baghdad’s streets.
His approach has had some success. “One positive experience was when around 14 militiamen decided to give up their commitment to their weapons and to become musicians,” he reports.
There’s good news for art lovers, with the announcement by Florence’s Bargello Museum that the public may finally be allowed to see sketches by Michelangelo on the walls of a secret room that has remained private since its discovery 40 years ago. The room, beneath the Medici Chapels in the city’s Basilico di San Lorenzo, could be opened to visitors before the end of next year.
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Help for the bees
Bees and other insects are vital to our food chain, as they pollinate three-quarters of all crops. But their numbers have plummeted in recent years, and this has been partly blamed on pesticides.
Five years ago, the EU banned the use of neonicotinoids, a widely used group of insecticides, on flowering crops that attract bees. And from the end of this year their use will now be banned completely, following an investigation that found the chemicals contaminate soil and water, and can then appear in wild flowers and succeeding crops.
“Banning these toxic pesticides is a beacon of hope for bees,” says Antonia Staats of campaign group Avaaz. “Finally governments are listening to their citizens, to the scientific evidence and to farmers.”
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A smarter wheelchair
The design of the wheelchair has changed little since it was invented in the late 18th century. But now a group of young Swiss innovators has designed a revolutionary new mobility device for the disabled.
Their “wheelchair of the future”, named Scewo, can climb stairs thanks to a set of retractable rubber tracks, allowing users to reach places that would otherwise have been inaccessible.
“Stairs are climbed sitting backward and driven down in the forward position,” says Thomas Gemperle, one of 10 students who developed the Scewo in partnership with Zurich’s Federal Institute of Technology and University of the Arts.
The chair has many other novel features, too. For example, a user can steer it simply by shifting body weight, and cannot tip it over. Gemperle says he hopes the Scewo’s unique qualities will make people look at users “with admiration instead of pity.”
A commercial launch is planned for the mddle of next year.
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Smart thinking averts emergency landing
Engineering student Karttikeya Mangalam was on a flight from Geneva via Moscow to New Delhi when a fellow passenger with type 1 diabetes was taken ill. The 30-year-old Dutchman had lost his insulin pump at airport security and was developing dangerously high blood sugar levels: he had cartridges of fast-acting insulin with him but no way to inject them.
A doctor on board tried to use a pen-style insulin injector, but the device malfunctioned. Mangalam took over and went into action.
Using the plane’s wi-fi, he studied diagrams of the injector online, and used a spring extracted from a fellow passenger’s ballpoint pen to fix the device. The doctor then injected the Dutchman, who recovered, and an emergency landing was averted. “It made me realize the importance of the basic skills we are taught in our freshman year,” Mangalam says.
Green parking spaces
A pilot scheme in the Amsterdam suburb of Segbroek is offering residents the chance to turn their parking space into a bit of greenery—such as a sun terrace or play space for kids. In return, participating residents’ vehicles are stored for free in a car park. The long-term aim is to encourage people to use car-sharing schemes.
Boost for Africa tunnel
Long-held hopes of building a tunnel connecting Spain with Morocco have been raised with a new study concluding that the major technical challenges can be overcome.
The idea of a tunnel between Europe and Africa goes back to the 19th century, but previous projects have hit the buffers over difficult tunneling terrain and funding. Supporters say the 38km-long tunnel could be used to transfer solar energy from the Sahara to Europe and would slash journey times for freight traffic between Madrid and Marrakesh.
The scheme would require eight specialist boring machines to be built and could cost up to 8 billion euros. “All institutions involved have to be willing to do it,” notes Rafael García-Monge Fernández, head of the Spanish government committee considering the tunnel’s viability.
Repair Café inspires the world
“In Europe, we throw out so many things,” says Martine Postma, long frustrated by our throwaway culture. “I wanted to do something about it.”
What she did was to open the first Repair Café in Amsterdam, a social space where people could learn to fix anything from vacuum cleaners and toys to jewellery and clothes—rather than dump them in the trash.
The idea quickly spread. This year, the Amsterdam café marks its 10th anniversary—and has now inspired more than 1,500 other repair cafés around the world.
For a small fee, Postma’s Repair Café Foundation helps people in other cities open their own cafés. It provides a step-by-step manual along with other support and the basic approach is the same.
Volunteer repair experts show café-goers how to fix their broken items. “They like sharing the knowledge and helping other people,” says Postma. “It’s about doing something together, in the here and now.”
Breaking an addiction
Smartphones have become such a part of modern life that for many of us living without one feels impossible—and their power to distract has been shown to make people less productive.
Now three entrepreneurs who met at Copenhagen Business School—Maths Mathisen, Florian Winder and Vinoth Vinaya—have launched an app to combat smartphone addiction, particularly among students.
Called Hold, the free app tracks the continuous minutes during the day that a person doesn’t use their smartphone. It then awards the user points for showing restraint. The longer they resist checking their device, the more points they get. Those points can then be used to purchase products and services—such as cinema tickets—or enter competitions or donate to charity via the app’s marketplace.
“We want to reward users for not using their phone, rather than punish them,” says co-founder Maths Mathisen.
Trials at universities in Scandinavia and the UK have seen students report greater concentration levels as they hold off checking their phones for notifications.
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