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GLOBAL PRESS JOURNAL
Since 2006, Global Press has built and maintained over 40 independent news bureaus in some of the world’s least-covered places, where citizens lack credible access to accurate information. Global Press Journal, the award winning international news publication is staffed by professional female journalists who are from the coverage community. Their feature and investigative journalism is published in six languages and reaches audiences across 190 countries.
Illustration of Haiti.
Society
Anne Myriam Bolivar and Megan Spada

The Haitian Entrepreneurs Happy To Stay Home

Given the opportunity to flee an economic and political crisis in Haiti, some business owners opt to stay.

PORT-AU-PRINCE — Mathilde Ménélas recalls the moment her parents sold a piece of their land and handed her the cash, telling her to leave the only country she’d ever known. The 26-year-old refused. Instead, she set up a beauty salon in Haiti’s busy capital of Port-au-Prince.

The trained esthetician understood her parents’ fear for her to remain in a country marred by the threat of kidnap, natural disasters, an unstable economy and rising unemployment. Ménélas says leaving her country was all she could think about.

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Indu, standing at her neighbor’s home in Nepal, chose to abort her female fetus
Society
Shilu Manandhar

"Let It Be A Son": How Nepal Culture Pushes Women To Abort Girls

In a culture that can see girls as a burden, many women opt to abort their female fetuses — even though it's illegal.

SARLAHI, NEPAL — In the fourth month of her pregnancy, Indu found out she was carrying a girl. That night, she couldn’t sleep and kept crying. She chose to have an abortion, even though it’s illegal in Nepal to terminate a pregnancy after 12 weeks. If she were to have a seventh child, it needed to be a boy.

The desire to have a son is so strong in some parts of Nepal that it leads women like Indu to secretly terminate their pregnancies after finding out the sex of the fetus – either in a close-by town, or across the border in neighboring India. The decision is often one of economic necessity. Sons, especially in more rural regions, are considered financial assets who can contribute to a struggling family. But the illicit abortions, sometimes done in dangerous circumstances, often jeopardize the life of the woman. They’re also skewing the ratio of newborns, threatening to affect future population growth.

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Photo of Ugandan athlete Agong Micheal streatching for his lunchtime run
Society
Edna Namara and Beatrice Lamwaka

After Tokyo Olympic Golds, Uganda Guns To Become Africa's Next Sports Powerhouse

Success at the Tokyo Olympics inspired Uganda to step up its efforts to become a long-distance running powerhouse.

KAPCHORWA, UGANDA — Agong Micheal wants to become a Ugandan Olympic champion so badly that he skips his lunch every day to go for a run.

“Lunchtime is a waste of time,” he says.

The 17-year-old says his dream is to qualify for the Ugandan athletics team, win medals and receive the prize money that the country gives winners. Agong is on an athletic scholarship at Gombe Secondary School in Mpigi, a town in central Uganda. But when schools closed due to the coronavirus, he sought work as a laborer at the National High Altitude Training Centre, a state-of-the-art training facility under construction in Kapchorwa, in the eastern highlands. Although the facility is not open yet, working there gives Agong a rare opportunity to try out the course.

“One day I will be as famous as [Joshua] Cheptegei and [Peruth] Chemutai,” he says, referring to two Ugandans who won gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics last year.

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Photo of a couple practicing tango
Coronavirus
Lucila Pellettieri

It Takes Two To Tango, But One Pandemic Has Nearly Killed It

The pandemic has devastated Argentina’s tango culture — and the thousands of people who depend on it.

BUENOS AIRES — What María Campos missed most was the tango embrace. Two dancers, entwined like braided rope, whirling across a floor in wordless harmony. For tangueros, it’s as elemental as breathing. “Many older people in the tango milieu have died of sadness more than of COVID,” she says, “for not being able to dance.”

Tango was born in Argentina and is an international ambassador for the country of 45 million. Even so, the coronavirus has proved a formidable adversary. Tango thrives on intimacy, on commingled limbs and breath. So does the airborne virus. For 18 months, until September, the government barred tango events, or milongas, which shuttered tango venues, emptied dance studios and canceled competitions. Even now, dancing indoors requires proof of vaccination.

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Photo of Uganda Railways Corporation worker Samuel Nyero checks tickets before passengers board the train at Kampala Railway Station.
Society
Patricia Lindrio

Uganda Postcard: When People’s Lives Are Cleared Away In The Name Of Progress

Officials want to revitalize the country's ailing railway system. But it comes at a cost for the people who live in the way.

NAKAWA — Moses Musafili moved from his rural hometown of Masaka in search of more opportunities and higher wages in Uganda’ capital, Kampala, in 2005. Two years later, a friend told him about an irresistible land deal southeast of the city in Kiswa parish and Musafili used all of his savings to buy a plot.

Musafili says he bought land from Uganda Railways Corporation (URC), a government-owned company, and built a house believing the sale was legitimate. Seven years later, Musafili, his pregnant wife and their three children were among thousands of families told they were illegally living on the railway corporation’s land. They were evicted so the company could carry out improvement work on the East African country’s rail network and not offered any compensation as they couldn’t prove they owned the land. Their plight underscores the persisting tensions between economic development and basic rights.

“During the 2014 evictions, police raided our home at around 2 a.m.,” Musafili says. “My home was demolished. My wife, who has high blood pressure and was pregnant at the time, had to be hospitalized. I know these evictions emotionally drained her and led her to miscarry.” Musafili says their 6-year-old son also died from a stray bullet during the eviction.

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​Kariel Argenis, left, dances with Ana Macho, right, a nonbinary reggaeton singer, at the Casa Cultural Ruth Hernández Torres, in Puerto Rico.
LGBTQ Plus
Coraly Cruz Mejías

LGBTQ Reggaeton, Hitting Macho Music Scene With Beats And Politics

Queer artists are finding their voices in the thumping beats and dance-hall rhythms of reggaeton, a genre that has historically been anything but inclusive.

RÍO PIEDRAS — It’s midnight at the Casa Cultural Ruth Hernández Torres, a historic house that serves as a cultural and community center. Blue and pink lights flash as Ana Macho takes to the dance floor. Sporting pink sunglasses and athletic attire, surrounded by dozens of fans swaying to the Caribbean rhythms, the artist sings about freedom, survival, and economic and social justice.

“It’s about the paradise that Puerto Rico is, but the one who lives here can’t live it,” says Ana Macho, whose original song “Blin Blin” embodies this message.

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Fighting For Puerto Rico's Solar Revolution — And Against Sexism
Green
​Coraly Cruz Mejías

Fighting For Puerto Rico's Solar Revolution — And Against Sexism

Can Puerto Rico’s abundant sunshine and ambitious women unlock its renewable energy potential?

OROCOVIS, PUERTO RICO — Every few weeks, Yadira Sánchez Fuentes fearlessly descends waterfalls and slippery caverns, often the only woman among a group of caving enthusiasts. The rest of the month, with that same strength, smile and sense of satisfaction, the petite brunette confidently scales rooftops to help install solar panels, simultaneously tackling two outdated problems: Puerto Rico’s energy grid and gender stereotypes.

“We have to create leaders, not followers,” the 44-year-old says.

More than four years after Hurricane Maria devastated the region, Puerto Rico continues to struggle with chronic power outages and millions of dollars of debt. Bureaucracy and the pandemic have delayed political and economic solutions. The ongoing crisis has fueled interest in harnessing the power of renewable energy — and the power of women, who make up more than half of Puerto Rico’s population but less than one-tenth of its engineers.

Help low-income areas become more resilient

Adjuntas, a mountain town in central Puerto Rico, has a population of about 18,000 and a system of solar panels that provides electricity to several businesses, an emergency center and more than 200 homes. Casa Pueblo, an environmental conservation organization based in the town, has run on solar power since 1999.

After the hurricane cut the region off from the electrical grid, its energy independence became a model for others. Seeing women as a similarly untapped resource, Casa Pueblo and other nongovernmental organizations began offering training opportunities to those who wanted to install solar panels in their own homes and communities.

We have the skills, we have the strength

Dozens of women have learned to install solar panels since 2018. One of the training programs is at Puerto Rico National Model Forest, a community governance organization that stewards an ecological footprint of around 390,000 cuerdas (378,000 acres) and has trained 51 women through its three-month course on solar panel installation.

These women, including Sánchez and Eva Campbell, are now working to inspire others and create business models to expand their efforts. They want to make this a viable profession for more Puerto Rican women and help low-income areas become more resilient against power grid failures.

An opportunity for growth

Despite Puerto Rico’s sunny Caribbean climate, its Electric Power Authority is currently more than 95% dependent on fossil fuels for its nearly 1.5 million customers, according to an analysis by the United States Energy Information Administration.

“We have renewable resources here like wind, sun, tidal power,” says Loraima Jaramillo, programs manager at the Interstate Renewable Energy Council and the Puerto Rico Solar Business Accelerator, projects that support community efforts to seek financing for solar energy projects.

But solar technology is expensive. Solar panels cost between $12,000 and $30,000 to install, Jaramillo says — and the installation and maintenance require significant expertise. It’s not an accessible price in Puerto Rico, where the average household income is $20,539 per year. Not all residents have the necessary conditions for them if, for example, they live in apartments or rented homes, Jaramillo says.

It’s a very hostile field, which requires a lot of physical strength

Nevertheless, the Puerto Rico Energy Public Policy Act of 2019 states that 40% of the energy consumed must come from a renewable source by 2025, and 100% by 2050. According to the most recent estimates by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the percentage is currently less than 5%, through a scattered mix of solar, wind and hydroelectric initiatives.

This represents an opportunity for growth.

“We have the skills, we have the strength, and if we’re missing something, then we’ll figure out how to get it together,” Campbell says.

Roselyn M. Vélez Rodríguez, Hana Lynn, Yari Taína Rodríguez and Alanis Delgado work together to install 12 solar panels at Ángel G. Rivera Community School, which now serves as an agricultural school and emergency center.

Coraly Cruz Mejías/GPJ Puerto Rico

Women face lack of trust and machismo

But the women face challenges from every angle — bureaucratic, cultural, economic. The solar energy industry is young and male-dominated, with scarce full-time job opportunities, especially for people who have been trained but not officially certified.

“It’s a very hostile field, which requires a lot of physical strength and a lot of emotional strength — this perspective that women are weak, we are emotional, that we are less strong,” says Dariana Matei Ramos, community coordinator with the National Model Forest.

Even after being trained, the women’s solar panel installations must be supervised by an electrical engineer or an electrical surveyor, which makes it difficult for them to work independently and get hired.

There is also lack of trust from potential customers. Since 2018, close to 500 consumer complaints have been filed with the Puerto Rico Department of Consumer Affairs against solar panel installation companies, citing slow connections, incomplete installations, subpar materials and other issues.

It is not socially accepted

In October, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi announced that $300 million from the Puerto Rico Department of Housing’s Community Energy and Water Resilience Installations Program would be used to help people with limited resources transition to renewable energy. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development allocated the funds as part of the Home Repair, Reconstruction or Relocation Program.

The women who have completed the solar energy training now see organizing as a top priority, to encourage others to pursue opportunities in industries traditionally dominated by men.

Basic classes alone are not enough for women to be able to work professionally in the solar energy industry, says Frances Berríos, president of the Colegio de Peritos Electricistas de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico College of Electrical Experts). Even more specialized training and fortitude are needed to face the challenges that may arise.

“People try to take you out of it because it is not socially accepted,” she says. “If someone has that interest, they discourage it.”

Some of the women are pursuing further studies and certifications, with the goal of forming their own corporations to demonstrate their expertise and become more competitive in the field.

“It’s not easy. There is machismo,” Sánchez says, “but you have to get cracking and start educating.”

Coraly Cruz Mejías is a Global Press Journal senior reporter based in Puerto Rico. Contact her on Twitter and Facebook or via email.

Sarah DeVries, GPJ, translated this article from Spanish.

photo of a teacher writing in a notebook
Society
Edna Namara and Patricia Lindrio

Uganda Triples Teacher Salaries — But Only In STEM Courses

KAMPALA — Allen Asimwe has dedicated more than two decades to teaching geography at a large public high school in southwestern Uganda. Her retirement age, as a public servant entitled to benefits, is just six years away.

She doubts she will wait that long.

“I am determined, I want to quit,” she says, calculating that she could earn more by shifting full time to the salon she opened six years ago to supplement her income. “Given the frustration, I cannot continue in class anymore.”

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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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