GLOBAL PRESS JOURNAL
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Lady Amazona, 29, a lucha libre wrestler for 10 years, recently competed against five other luchadoras in the Furia de Titanes women’s championship.
Society
Mar García

Luchadoras Turn Mexican Wrestling And Machismo On Its Head

MEXICO CITY — Huge lamps swing from the ceiling on the sixth floor of a building in downtown Mexico City, illuminating the wrestling ring below. The crowd holds its collective breath as a woman emerges from the shadows. Her bright blue hair whirls behind her sparkling makeup as she kicks out her knee-high black boots. A deep voice booms over the loudspeaker:

“From the Mexican jungle comes Ladyyy Amazonaaa!”

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The Problem With Ixtle, Mexico's Ancestral Solution To Plastic Bags
Green Or Gone
Aline Suárez del Real

The Problem With Ixtle, Mexico's Ancestral Solution To Plastic Bags

Artisans who produce the natural fiber have mixed feelings about its success.

CARDONAL, MEXICO — Plácido Paloma places a maguey leaf on a log and scrapes it with a long, wide knife. His face and arms strain, but his scraping is efficient and delicate – just enough to remove the green pulp of the maguey plant, a type of agave, revealing a tuft of blond fibers known as ixtle.

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an Illustration of someone struggling with their mental health
Society
Anne Myriam Bolivar

In Haiti, Where Vodou Steps In For Lack Of Mental Health Care

With the country's mental health care severely lacking, Haitians seek the assistance of Vodou priests.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI — At exactly 12 p.m., the time when treatment rituals are performed, Moléus Jean enters the peristyle and begins bowing and tossing water from a white cup. He sits in a large chair and lights a candle. A Vodou priest for the past 20 years, he is dressed in a red robe symbolizing Erzulie Dantor — one of the main Vodou spirits, a mother protector for those who suffer oppression and abuse. A red handkerchief is tied around his left arm.

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Road engineer looking through a scope on a metal tripod in the Mongolian steppe
Green
Dolgormaa Sandagdorj

Global Warming Could Sink Mongolia's "Permafrost Highway"

Mongolia built an extensive road network on a permafrost foundation. Now, the permafrost is melting.

ALAG-ERDENE, KHUVSGUL PROVINCE, MONGOLIA — Munkhbaatar Tumur mounts a scope on a metal tripod and peers through it. He assesses the elevation of a road that stretches across the steppe and into the mountains.

He is a general engineer at Khuvsgul-AZZA, a state-owned corporation responsible for maintaining the roads in this northernmost province, on the border with Russia. Today, he and his team are repairing bulging and sunken asphalt along the road, which stretches more than 100 kilometers (62 miles) up to Khuvsgul Lake.

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A Paternity Reality Show Is All The Rage In Zimbabwe
Society
Gamuchirai Masiyiwa

A Paternity Reality Show Is All The Rage In Zimbabwe

A new program that settles paternity disputes has become the most popular television show in Zimbabwe. Not everyone is happy.

HARARE, ZIMBABWE — After Yvonne Damster gave birth to her baby boy last year, she was distraught when the father refused to acknowledge the child as his own. Damster says members of her community used her trade — sex work — to convince the man to deny responsibility.

“I was pained that he took me for a fool when I told him that the child was his,” Damster says.

To resolve the dispute, Damster turned to an unlikely resource: reality TV. A show called “The Closure” has become a pop-culture phenomenon in Zimbabwe since it began airing on national television in January. Each week, a couple involved in a paternity dispute is interviewed about their relationship before they settle the matter with a DNA test.

Viewers interested in appearing on the show are invited to call a telephone number to get in touch with producers. Damster picked up the phone.

“I felt that this was the only way that I would prove to him that he was indeed the father of the child,” she says. “I faced a bit of resistance from him, but he finally agreed [to go on the show] after being convinced by my relatives.”

The most-watched show on national television

“The Closure” is the brainchild of Tinashe Mugabe, principal consultant at Global DNA Zimbabwe, a DNA testing company founded in 2015. Mugabe also serves as the host of the television show, and he says it has changed the way Zimbabweans think about paternity testing.

“A lot of people did not have a conclusive way of resolving paternity issues,” he says. “Some used to base it on consulting a prophet or traditional healer to ascertain and trace the paternity roots of a child. Others would check paternity using physical features like similarities in lines in their palms. Or if a child refused to breastfeed, it was taken as a sign that the child did not belong to that family.”

To a certain extent, the show serves as compelling marketing for Global DNA’s products. Because of the show, people have come to accept the role that DNA testing can play in resolving questions of paternity, Mugabe says, and interest in the company’s products has increased, though he declined to provide details.

"Some relationships have suffered as a result of the TV show"

But there is no denying the show’s popularity. While exact viewership data isn’t available, it’s the most-watched show on Zimbabwean national television, says Privilege Makaripe, commissioning editor at the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe. Each episode airs on Saturday at 7:30 p.m., with a repeat episode airing each Wednesday.

“When we started screening it, it had one slot,” Makaripe says. “But because people loved it, we created a repeat slot during the week for people to watch.”

Hundreds of thousands of people also watch the weekly episodes on YouTube, and viewers comment and create memes and comedy skits about the show on social media.

Plot Mhako, a creative content producer and arts journalist, says audiences enjoy the show because it’s engaging and emotionally compelling, and because it addresses social issues that are rarely discussed publicly. That has made it stand out on Zimbabwean TV, which mainly consists of current affairs shows, soap operas, music shows and local dramas.

“Its popularity simply speaks to the void that we had in the entertainment area,” Mhako says.

Discarding traditions

Not everyone is a fan.

“In our Shona tradition, there is an idiom that says ‘gomba harina mwana’ — meaning a child sired from an affair doesn’t belong to the biological father but the one who raised him,” says Prince Sibanda, education secretary at the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association. “But with what is happening after these tests are carried out, some relationships are being broken.”

Traditionally, Sibanda says, if family members harbored suspicions about a child’s parentage, they would consult healers to trace the lineage. Once the healers made their determination, the biological father would then pay a token of appreciation to the man raising the child.

Discarding such traditions in favor of a reality TV show is unfortunate, Sibanda says. “It’s bad to publish such issues, because you would have paraded your personal life to everyone, and your community will know your dirty linen, which could have been dealt with in private.”

A government regulatory authority criticized Mugabe and Global DNA for 'unethical' behavior

Some relationships have suffered as a result of the TV show. Chrispen Shava, for example, says he married his girlfriend when she found out she was pregnant. Seven months after she gave birth, he discovered on the show that the baby boy he was raising was not his.

“I broke up with my wife a month after the DNA test,” he says, “when I realized that she was now communicating with the father of her child behind my back.”

Shava wants the child’s biological father to pay him back the money he has spent to raise the child. “If it wasn’t for the DNA tests,” he says, “I would have continued to look after a child who was not mine.”

Stigmatization and praise

Mugabe says the show offers counseling sessions to help all participants manage stress. In September, however, the Medical Laboratory and Clinical Scientists Council of Zimbabwe, a government regulatory authority, criticized Mugabe and Global DNA for “unethical” behavior, citing the fact that Mugabe is not a registered member of the council and therefore not professionally qualified to issue DNA test results. In a statement, the council “urges the Zimbabwean population not to be coerced into receiving paternity results in such an unprofessional manner.”

Global DNA denies any wrongdoing and says it is working to provide the council with additional documentation. “We are an upstanding and ethical business and we operate within the legal parameters of Zimbabwean law,” the company said in a statement. Mugabe declined follow-up interview requests.

Going on television created challenges for Damster. After her episode aired in May, she says she was stigmatized. Some in her community ridiculed her for revealing her private life.

“I became shy to even go to the shops during the day, because of the way people were talking about me,” she says. “I ended up moving to a friend’s place for two months for the dust to settle.”

But she also received praise for being brave enough to appear on the show. “I started getting calls from various people across the world who had watched the show and wanted to help me leave my old ways of surviving as a sex worker,” Damster says. “Others offered me counseling, and others offered financial assistance.”

Perhaps best of all, the show confirmed that the man Damster alleged to be the father of her child was indeed the biological father. Now, she says, he is taking full responsibility.

How COVID-19 Has Made Hunger Worse For Zimbabwe Child-Care Centers
Society
Kudzai Mazvarirwofa and Fortune Moyo

How COVID-19 Has Made Hunger Worse For Zimbabwe Child-Care Centers

Feeding vulnerable children was already a challenge in Zimbabwe. Since COVID-19 swept the globe, it's only gotten harder.

HARARE, ZIMBABWE — Before the coronavirus pandemic, Mai Tafara Children's Center was a bustling refuge for the 50 children it serves.

The kids, many of whom are orphans, would come to the center in Tafara, a high-density suburb in Zimbabwe's capital city of Harare, and enjoy a heavy lunch consisting of sadza — a dense porridge made from maize meal — plus sugar bean, leafy greens or soya mince, an inexpensive, soybean-based protein. They would eat their fill and spend the afternoon doing arts and crafts or homework.

But that changed in March 2020, as the coronavirus emerged. Like many countries, Zimbabwe enacted a strict lockdown to limit the spread of the virus.

"Things have been very tough for the children," says Eleanor Alfred, founder of Mai Tafara Children's Center. "These children do not have parents, and sometimes no family at all, to go to for food and necessities — just us. And we cannot let them down."

The effects are ricocheting through communities worldwide. Child hunger has skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic, according to the 2020 Annual Report from the United Nations Children's Fund, known as UNICEF. An additional 6.7 million children under age 5 are now at risk of wasting, a form of malnutrition, in the next year. This could lead to at least 10,000 more children dying each month from food insecurity.


Increasingly difficult to provide meals

The pandemic has added pressure on centers like Mai Tafara, which serve as a fragile last resort to feed and educate vulnerable children. COVID-19's repercussions, including death and loss of employment, mean centers have more mouths to feed, alongside an ever-dwindling base of resources.

Alfred, fondly known as "Mai Tafara" — Shona for "mother of Tafara" — says that it has become increasingly difficult to provide meals for the children. The center's one donor, a Zimbabwean living in Australia, was unable to continue funding the operation due to financial struggles prompted by the pandemic. The donor had supplied the center with money to buy food, such as mealie meal, a hot porridge made from maize flour and a staple meal in Zimbabwe.

"I have had to sometimes dig into my own pocket and resources to try and stretch them out so the children have some form of consistency," Alfred says. "I take foodstuffs from home sometimes to cook at the center, and sometimes I take whatever money I have to add to the children's school fees, especially those in examination classes."

Water shortages are a persistent issue in Zimbabwe due to lack of purifying chemicals and an ailing pipe system. But that means children must "go and queue all day for water, without having eaten anything, only to go home at the end of the day and find nothing," Alfred says, noting that many of the children live with grandparents who aren't strong enough to work.

Stretching supplies

The number of vulnerable children and orphans in Zimbabwe has increased amid two decades of economic instability. HIV/AIDS and related illnesses also have had an impact; in 2019, 13% of Zimbabwean children age 17 and younger had lost one or both parents to the disease, according to a survey by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency.

In May, Faith Community Support Trust, a child-care center in Kambuzuma, a suburb of Harare, was stretching supplies meant to serve 30 children in order to care for 40, said Orpah Magadzire, the resident caregiver, who later contracted COVID-19 and died. Phone calls to the center now go unanswered.

In Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second-largest city, Siduduzile Nkomo uses income from her tailoring business to care for about 45 orphaned and vulnerable children at the center she runs.

In addition to her own funds, she also receives assistance from the surrounding community, including residents and some businesses. But Nkomo says the coronavirus has affected everyone, and contributions have tapered off.

Turning to other revenue streams

The government is grappling with a currency crisis and many donation-based organizations working in the region already are stretched thin.

Henry Chigama, president and chief executive officer of EatOut Movement, a startup initiative meant to fight homelessness and poverty, says the pandemic has dried up resources.

"When COVID-19 began, companies and individuals were able and willing to donate items which we then gave to orphans and vulnerable children," he says. "However, as the pandemic continued, companies also became strained, a situation which has also affected us as an organization."

For child-care centers, that may mean turning to other revenue streams.

"These homes will need to come up with other self-sustaining methods, such as agriculture," says Thomas Sithole, a Zimbabwean social expert and civic society leader. "The impact of COVID-19 on various societal aspects has been profound, and homes that look after vulnerable children have not been spared."

----------------------------------------------

Fortune Moyo is a Global Press Journal reporter based in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Fortune specializes in stories about the impact of Zimbabwe's fragile economy on education.

Kudzai Mazvarirwofa is a Global Press Journal reporter based in Harare, Zimbabwe. She specializes in reporting on development and land reform.

Photo of nurse OvidioDíaz Gómez waiting for people to arrive for COVID-19 vaccination at a health center in Aldama, Chiapas. Few people showed up.
GLOBAL PRESS JOURNAL
Adriana Alcázar González, Mar García and Marissa Revilla 

Why So Many In Mexico Don't Trust The Coronavirus Vaccine

Despite the pandemic's heavy toll, people remain reluctant to inoculate, in part because of persistent doubts about the country's public health system.

TUXTLA GUTIÉRREZ Sitting in her sister's restaurant in the smothering midday heat of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, in Mexico's southernmost state of Chiapas, Ricarda Jiménez Tevera prepares a cuchunuc flower freshly cut from the tree for cooking. Later the flower will be part of traditional dishes such as quesadillas or tamales, but for now Jiménez Tevera is fired up about something else.

"I've never been vaccinated; I don't believe in vaccines," says the forceful Jiménez Tevera, gray-white hair tied in a ponytail. "We're used to taking herbs. A lot of people aren't going to get vaccinated."

The government is trying to fool people, Jiménez Tevera says. COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, is really pneumonia, she says, despite a lack of scientific evidence. And before that, it was bronchitis.

"They keep changing the name," she says, "but it's the same."

Jiménez Tevera's COVID-19 cynicism is echoed throughout Mexico. The country has the world's fourth-highest COVID-19 death toll, behind the United States, Brazil and India. But as it combats the pandemic, it faces a deeply suspicious public that mistrusts government institutions in general and public health care in particular.

About 37% of Mexico's population doesn't trust public hospitals, according to the National Survey on Governmental Quality and Impact 2019. And it's a problem that traces back decades, says Dr. Humberto Cravioto Portugal, director of the government-run Hospital Básico Comunitario de San Juan Chamula, an indigenous municipality in the southern state of Chiapas.

People fear COVID-19 vaccinations because they don't know their origin, how they are made or what their ingredients are.

Some health facilities have few or no medications. Others use only interns to see patients. And it can take weeks to get an appointment. "Sometimes there is not even someone to open the door, or it is closed," Cravioto Portugal says. "So, what happens? No one is going to see you. The government health system is seen as something that is not good, as something that is not of high quality."

Mexico began rolling out its vaccines in December. Five options are available, and by the end of June, almost 20 million people had been fully vaccinated, about 15% of the population.

But suspicion has fueled rejection of COVID-19 vaccines. In indigenous communities in Chiapas, for example, fear and resistance toward inoculation has grown, along with the use of alternative medicine to prevent and treat COVID-19.

Radio stations broadcast messages in the Tsotsil and Tseltal languages in indigenous communities in the Chiapas highlands, as government officials and health authorities invite the population to get vaccinated. Yet residents ignore the pleas. They're afraid.

"We're not going to vaccinate," says Silvia Santiz López, who lives in Aldama, an indigenous municipality in Chiapas. "It's been on the news that many go and then die, so that makes you hesitate and not get vaccinated."

Some experts predicted that the pandemic would pound indigenous communities because of their precarious living conditions, lack of water and overcrowding, says Marcos Arana Cedeño, a medical science researcher. But that never happened: Government statistics show that of Mexico's more than 2 million cases of COVID-19, less than 1% are among indigenous people.

These communities generally rely on plants and herbs to prevent and treat COVID-19. Lucía Pérez Santiz, 56, learned to use traditional medicine as a child. A member of the Tsotsil, an indigenous group, Pérez Santiz employs local plants such as mumo to treat COVID-19.

People fear COVID-19 vaccinations because they don't know their origin, how they are made or what their ingredients are, Pérez Santiz says. Traditional medicines are comforting, familiar.

"COVID-19 is cured depending on the person's symptoms," says Pérez Santiz. "The most dangerous symptom of COVID-19 is fear of death, fear of the unknown."

The UN's World Health Organization accepts the benefits of traditional medicines in general and says they may be useful for treating COVID-19. But it urges rigorous testing of such treatments for efficacy and possible side effects.

Mistrust of public institutions has fed a false conflict between modern health care and traditional medicine.

Toni López Silva, a public educator in the city of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, consumes chlorine dioxide to stave off the coronavirus. She says the substance works as a broad-spectrum antibiotic that provides oxygen to cells so the body can defend itself.

The Pan American Health Organization, a regional agency that is part of the WHO, doesn't endorse chlorine dioxide or other sodium chlorite-based treatments for COVID-19. "There is no evidence of their effectiveness, and the ingestion or inhalation of such products could cause serious adverse effects," it says.

Vaccine hesitancy was on display in early April in Aldama. A few days before vaccinations were scheduled to start on April 8, local health workers asked groups of residents how many planned to show up. The answer: none.

By 9 a.m., a team of National Guard personnel and medical staff had arrived at the spacious, well-lit Centro de Salud con Servicios Ampliados (Expanded Health Services Center) to vaccinate those older than 60. But there were no lines.

And by 1 p.m., only one person had come for the vaccine.

Some people must leave their hometowns for a vaccine. Relatives brought Crisóforo Cruz Torres, 77, originally from the indigenous Tsotsil municipality of Chenalhó, to San Cristóbal de Las Casas because Chenalhó residents didn't want vaccine sites.

"In Chenalhó they told us that they weren't going to vaccinate, but they never said why, so I got worried and we brought my dad," says Concepción Cruz Aguilar, Cruz Torres' daughter.

Mistrust of public institutions has fed a false conflict between modern health care and traditional medicine, Cravioto Portugal, the government doctor in San Juan Chamula, says. Both sides can learn from each other.

"We need to ally ourselves with the ways that the indigenous communities cure themselves," he says. "In that way, we can strengthen both types of medicine."