Horses Aid in Therapy for Children With Disabilities in Zimbabwe 

Once a week, a horse track in Harare invites children born with cerebral palsy, a neuromuscular disorder, to visit. But the children don’t simply watch the horses.     Trish Lillie of the Healing with Horses Therapeutic Centre in Harare says her organization is helping kids who cannot afford the recommended speech and physical therapies. Nov. 21, 2019. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)The charity is supported by donations from companies and individuals with a mission to help heal children and communities. Stanley Dzingai, 37, brings his 4-year-old child for regular sessions. 
 
“At first my son used to refuse horse therapy, but he is changed and you can see the progress,” Dzingai said. “He couldn’t stand, but now he is standing; he couldn’t sit, and now he can sit. We started recently, but we can see an improvement, a huge one,” in one month’s time. Stanley Dzingai brings his 4-year-old child for regular horse therapy sessions at the Harare site. Nov. 21, 2019. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)The U.N. Children’s Fund says the prevalence rate of cerebral palsy worldwide ranges from about 1 to 4 in every 1,000 live births. 
 
Christine Peta, a former disabilities professor at the University of Cape Town who now works with UNICEF Zimbabwe, said that “when some women fall pregnant, they do not go for medical checks until the day they go into labor. So if there are problems that can be prevented or infections that can be treated that can prevent cerebral palsy, those problems remain unattended, resulting in the child being born with cerebral palsy. So it is very critical to be medically checked during pregnancy.” But that might be only an ideal in countries like Zimbabwe, where the health sector has essentially ceased to function. 
 
In that case, Peta recommends speech, occupational and physical therapies for children born with cerebral palsy.  The Healing with Horses Therapeutic Centre in Harare is supported by donations from companies and individuals dedicated to helping children and communities heal. Nov. 21, 2019. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)She said this might be difficult to obtain in situations where money is lacking. In such instances, she said, horse riding can be the cheapest kind of therapy. “When a child has cerebral palsy, the child faces a number of problems, which include balance, their limbs can be stiff or they are unable to control movement,” Peta said. “Horse riding can stabilize or improve the balance of the body or the weakened muscles, the weak bones. So it is one of the things that I believe are organic and brilliant in addressing the issue of cerebral palsy.” Almost as important, the children, after getting acclimated, take to the therapy with glee. What child, after all, doesn’t want to ride a pony? 

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Most Adolescents Do Not Exercise Enough to Stay Healthy, Study Finds

A new report finds most adolescents around the world do not get enough physical activity on a daily basis to be healthy and to stay healthy as adults. This World Health Organization study presents the first-ever global estimates of insufficient physical activity among adolescents ages 11 to 17.Data for this study was collected from 1.6 million adolescents across 146 countries. It finds girls were less active than boys in all but four countries —Tonga, Samoa, Afghanistan and Zambia.The report says the biggest gender gaps are seen in the United States and Ireland where 15 percent more girls than boys were physically inactive. The World Health Organization recommends adolescents do moderate or vigorous exercises for one hour every day of the week to stay fit.Benefits of exerciseRegina Guthold is a scientist in the WHO’s Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health, and lead author of the study. She says the 60-minute workouts can be split into three segments of 20 minutes a day for health benefits to kick in.“They get better heart health,” she said. “They have better respiratory fitness. They have better cognitive function too — easier learning. They have better pro-social behavior. And, it is likely that the benefits track into adulthood, meaning that active adolescents are likely to be active adults and then they get the heath benefits as adults as well.”Guthold says any kind of physical activity is good. This could include walking or biking to school, team sports, dancing, active domestic chores, physical education and planned exercise.The study finds young people everywhere in the world do not exercise enough. Data shows that 85 percent of girls and 78 percent of boys do not meet the current WHO recommendations of at least one hour of physical activity a day.Electronic revolutionThe co-author of the study, Leanne Riley, cites some of the causes behind this high level of inactivity.“We have had this electronic revolution that seems to have changed adolescents’ movement patterns and encourages them to sit more, to be less active, to drive more, walk less, be less active in general and then be more involved in digital play rather than the active play,” she said.WHO says schools should encourage physical education and get students to be more active in competitive and non-competitive sports. It recommends city and community leaders should create paths for young people to walk and cycle safely and independently.It says urban planning also has a big role to play in designing safer, recreational play areas in parks for young people.

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Horses Aid in Therapy for Some Children With Disabilities in Zimbabwe

With Zimbabwe’s health sector and economy both struggling, some parents of children with disabilities have turned to Healing with Horses Therapeutic Centre.  The charity, supported by donations, provides horse rides and activities to children with cerebral palsy, a neuromuscular disorder, and other physical and mental challenges.  Columbus Mavhunga reports from Harare.

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Gore Kicking Off 24 Hours of Climate Talks Around the World

Former Vice President Al Gore said that even though President Donald Trump wants to back out of the Paris Climate Agreement, the U.S. cannot legally pull out until the day after next year’s presidential election.“If there’s a new president — pardon me for a minute,” Gore said to laughs and then loud applause, as he stretched out his arms and looked up. “Now don’t you dare interpret that as a partisan gesture. I have freedom of speech and freedom of prayer,” he joked.Gore’s spirited speech Wednesday night kicked off a series of climate presentations that continued around the globe on Thursday. Called “24 Hours of Reality,” it’s an endeavor of The Climate Reality Project, founded by Gore to educate the public and inspire action on climate change.Gore said some of the more than 20,000 climate activists he’s trained will present their own takes on climate change as the event continues through Thursday at more than 1,700 locations, as far flung as Antarctica and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.More than 1,000 people gave Gore a standing ovation at the opening presentation at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.Gore said he tries to avoid partisan politics at his climate presentations. He made a point of praising Vanderbilt’s College Republicans for calling on the Republican National Committee to change its stance on climate.But he said many current U.S. politicians need to be unseated.“We need to really clean house. Change is not happening fast enough unless we change policy,” he said. Later he added, “To change our policies, we’re going to have to change our policy makers.”Gore took aim at Trump’s characterization of the Central American migrants coming to the U.S. Gore called them “climate refugees” and said many are fleeing drought.“The reason they’re leaving is because they’re hungry,” Gore said to applause. “They’re not rapists and terrorists. They’re hungry and they’re trying to feed their families.”He also took a shot at Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of giving “the green light to burn down more of the Amazon.”Gore said the U.S. is suffering from a “democracy crisis” caused by the influence of special interests on politicians.“They put a coal lobbyist in charge of the EPA, for God’s sake. The fact that there is not widespread outrage about that is a symptom of our weakened democracy,” he said.Gore called climate change “the life and death struggle of people alive today,” comparing it to 9/11, Pearl Harbor and such World War II battles as Dunkirk and Midway. Such an existential crisis demands an “aspirational set of goals,” he said, expressing support for the Democrats’ sweeping Green New Deal proposal to combat climate change.The Green New Deal calls for the virtual elimination of greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming by 2030, by shifting U.S. from fossil fuels to renewable energy.“I think it’s a very effective and brilliant branding because it conveys the idea that the solutions to the climate crisis have to be on the scale of the New Deal,” he said.Prior to Gore’s presentation, actor and singer Jaden Smith took the stage briefly to talk about the impact that Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” had on him.“For me, for my generation, for all the generations that are going to have to go forth, dealing with the climate crisis, I am so glad we have an icon here to look up to,” Smith said. 

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Mobile Phone Warnings Set to Aid Climate-vulnerable Somali Nomads

In central Somalia’s Beledweyne district, families still reeling from food shortages and livestock deaths after another year of poor rains were surprised by a new disaster last month: brutal floods that completely submerged homes after the Shabelle River burst its banks.Across the district, 230,000 people were driven from their homes, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR reported, some fleeing through neck-deep water.“The situation was devastating,” Ahmed Omar Ibrahim, an aid worker with Save the Children, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.In the flood’s aftermath, “all the people (were) out from the town, scattered.”But such disasters may soon no longer catch people unaware. A mobile phone alert system is set to roll out across Somalia, designed to text residents a warning before they are hit by droughts or floods.Such warning systems are increasingly common around the world, but the Somali effort will mark the first time a nationwide mobile phone-based alert system has been set up in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).The alert system is part of a $10 million project, launched last week by UNDP and the Somali government, to improve the conflict-hit East African nation’s resilience to growing climate threats.It includes efforts to educate pastoralists on better managing their resources and plans to build new weather stations, weather monitoring systems, and water storage dams.Officials expert the mobile alert system to be fully operational in two to three years.“This project is really looking into resiliency-building of the most vulnerable people,” said Abdul Qadir Rafiq of UNDP Somalia.PASTORALISTS AT RISKSimilar mobile-based systems have been tried out in drought-prone areas of Ethiopia and Kenya. A project led by Oxfam in 2013 trained local people to gather data on water levels and report their findings to the humanitarian organization using mobile phones.The UNDP alert system, by contrast, will rely on sophisticated data from new and existing monitoring stations and satellites, to alert people to danger directly through their mobiles.The technology has already been used on a trial basis in parts of Somalia, where climate change is contributing to more frequent and severe droughts and floods.In 2015, the Somalia Water and Land Information Management project developed an app to warn vulnerable river communities about impending heavy rain and to alert fishing vessels about December cyclones.But those most at risk from severe weather are Somalia’s nomadic pastoralists, who make up about 60% of the population, according to UNDP.The herders keep a majority of their wealth in livestock. If the animals are killed by severe weather, “that’s a huge economic loss,” said Chris Funk, a researcher at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and with the U.S. Geological Survey who has worked on drought forecasting in Somalia.“Farmers can have a bad year that is damaging to those households, but they can recover more quickly than pastoralists,” he said.Because of their nomadic lifestyle, providing pastoralists with early warning systems has historically been difficult, Funk said – but better access to mobile technology is changing that.Somalia has good mobile phone coverage, UNDP specialist Rafiq and aid worker Ibrahim both said. A 2013 survey by analytics company Gallup and the Broadcasting Board of Governors, a U.S. federal agency, found seven in 10 Somalis own a mobile phone.The study did note regional differences, however, with those in major cities more likely to own one than those in rural areas.Still, while “it is difficult to give exact numbers or percentages,” Rafiq said, “at this stage it is safe to assume half of pastoralist communities are using mobile technologies.”FROM WARNING TO ACTIONExperts stress that even if pastoralists have access to the technology, the emerging alert system will be useless unless Somalis are capable to taking effective action on the warnings.With this in mind, the new alert system has been designed to direct people towards the closest water resources as drought strengthens, for instance, so pastoralists can move their herds before they begin losing animals.Alerts may also help communities decide where to move to avoid expected flooding.The disaster resilience project includes funds to educate pastoralists on management techniques, such as reducing the size of their cattle herds before periods of drought.Funk, the researcher, said he was pleased the project was focused on improving resilience to climate events, not just monitoring the changes.“That’s the real promise,” he said.The UNDP project is set to last four years. But in order to create lasting change, projects like this one will need long-term commitment, climate resilience experts said.“The sustainability really is a big issue,” said Rebecca Carter, deputy director of the World Resources Institute’s climate resilience practice. “There’s a real role for the private sector here.”Telecom companies are increasingly aware of how valuable their services are to customers in crisis, she said.Since 2015, mobile operators in almost 30 African countries have signed up to the Humanitarian Connectivity Charter, an initiative launched by trade body GSMA and funded by the UK Department for International Development.It aims to create best practices for mobile operators responding to humanitarian disasters.In 2016, charter member Vodacom installed the first 3G tower in Nyarugusu refugee camp in Tanzania, with mobile operators Airtel, Halotel and Tigo soon moving in as well to offer refugees a choice of providers, according to the charter’s 2017 annual report.In Uganda, the report showed, mobile phone operators have used mobile money payment services to deliver cash aid from non-governmental groups to refugees.“This is a great way (for telecom companies) to build their base of customers,” Carter said. “Pastoralists recognize that it is worthwhile, with their scarce resources, for … someone in the community to have access to warnings.”

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EU Ambassadors Take Up Shovels to Make Point About Climate Change

Around the world, national leaders and diplomats have expressed their hopes that the United States will reverse its decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement on fighting climate change. In Washington, some others have chosen to act in small ways rather than wait. 
 
Ambassadors and aides from all 28 members of the European Union joined forces last week with volunteers from Casey Trees, a local conservation group, to plant trees in a Washington city park, hoping to earn goodwill and make a symbolic point with their labor. EU countries’ representatives joined National Park Service staff and volunteers from Casey Trees to plant oak, holly, tuliptree and American elm trees at Montrose Park in northwest Washington, Nov. 15, 2019. (Natalie Liu/VOA)Trees soak up and store some of the excess planet-warming carbon dioxide that human activities produce.”The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago,” the enthusiastic planters were told as they gathered in a sunny corner of Washington’s Rock Creek Park by Stavros Lambrinidis, ambassador of the European Union (EU) to the United States. “The second best time is now.”  Speaking afterward to VOA, Lambrinidis elaborated on the significance of individual citizens’ actions.”Every single thing every single citizen does is as important as the grand things that governments do,” he said, noting that the EU has committed itself to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.Benjamin Roehrig, senior counselor at the French Embassy in Washington, tells VOA that the door is always open should the U.S. change its mind concerning the Paris Agreement. (Natalie Liu/VOA)Estonian emissary Jonatan Vsevoiv, one of about a dozen ambassadors who took up shovels, said the effort “symbolizes the EU’s effort on the climate front.” He added that the oak tree he helped plant holds special meaning to his native Estonia, just as it does in the United States.”I would say this is a national tree. It symbolizes strength and longevity — and stability,” he said.Having spent half of the past decade in diplomatic posts in the U.S. capital, Vseviov added that Washington has become for him “almost like my second hometown. … I’m glad to do something that gives back to the city.”  The tree-planting effort was led by Ambassador Kirsti Kauppi of Finland, which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency. (Natalie Liu/VOA)The tree-planting effort was led by Ambassador Kirsti Kauppi of Finland, which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency. She said her nation has a special affinity for trees, given that 70% of its surface is covered by woods and that Finns basically “live in and outside of the forest.” 
 
Even as Finland is often imagined as a land of ice and snow, the trees in her Nordic country “have no problem surviving the winter,” she said. “Then we have a very nice summer, a lot of sunlight. That’s when the trees grow.”   
 
Eva Hunnius Ohlin, senior adviser for energy and environment at the Swedish Embassy, was laboring with two other female embassy staffers when Juan Urbano, the Spanish Embassy’s robust agricultural attaché, offered a hand. 
 
The self-sufficient women declined his offer, but Ohlin cheerily told Urbano he should not take it personally “because we had earlier turned down the Finnish ambassador.”  Eva Hunnius Ohlin, right, senior adviser for energy and environment at the Swedish Embassy, with two of her colleagues insisted on Swedish sovereignty in their planting effort. (Natalie Liu/VOA)On a more serious note, Ohlin told VOA that her embassy has been increasingly engaged on climate change with institutions on the city and state level, even as the federal administration is seen as retreating on the issue. 
 
The interest in the issue in the big coastal states such as New York and California is well known. But, Ohlin said, citizens are also active “in the middle of the country,” in states like Colorado. 

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