Category Archives: National & Global News

An assist of another kind by Shaq

During his 19 NBA seasons, Shaquille O’Neal scored 28,596 points and 3,026 assists. But he recently provided an assist of another kind, staying with a stranded motorist who had a blown-out tire on a Florida highway.

The incident occurred Tuesday on Interstate 75 near Gainesville, after O’Neal, 48, saw the driver pull over to the side of the road. On a Facebook video posted by the Alachua County Sheriff’s Department, the driver can he heard telling deputies that her tire blew out, forcing her to stop.

The 7-foot-1-inch retired basketball icon pulled over to offer help to the woman and her family, and stayed with them until sheriff’s deputies arrived at the scene. In video shared by the Alachua County Sheriff, O’Neal can be seen standing on the side of the road and he tells the officers the woman’s tire had blown out, with the officer saying, “I appreciate you stopping.”

Shaquille O’Neal assists driver stranded on Florida highway. (Golders/@AlachuaCountySheriff)

The police wrote on Facebook: “Yesterday, Shaquille O’Neal was travelling through Alachua County on I-75 when he witnessed a crash. He stopped to check on the welfare of the driver and remained with her until law enforcement arrived.”

The post adds that O’Neal fist-bumped the two deputies on the scene “before going on his way. Hey, Basketball Cop Foundation, you’re not the only one that knows Shaq.”

The foundation the sheriff’s office refers to is a Gainesville, Florida-based organization that connects law enforcement agencies across the country with the kids in their communities.

His interaction with the nonprofit foundation is just one of several ways O’Neal shows support for law enforcement. The ex-player, who lives in the Orlando area, previously went through the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Reserve Academy and became a reserve officer with the Los Angeles Port Police during his time with Los Angeles Lakers, which saw him win three NBA championships alongside the late Kobe Bryant.

After being traded to the Miami Heat, O’Neal became a Miami Beach reserve officer, and since his retirement 2011, he has launched a successful media career, as well as becoming a sheriff’s deputy in Jonesboro, Georgia.

(Edited by Matt Hall.)



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Motorbike mission: Activist delivers sunscreen to albinos

For street vendor Barbra Anyinge, who normally sells shoes in Lira, a town in northern Uganda, the pandemic has made one essential especially scarce: sunscreen.

While usually Anyinge’s difficulty in obtaining the recommended high-protection sunscreen is its up to $20 cost, the pandemic has made it even more challenging.

Many in the country are struggling to find work because of the ongoing pandemic, and when they can find work, a nationwide transport ban due to COVID-19 made it even more it difficult for those with albinism—a genetic condition where the body doesn’t produce melanin, a pigment found in skin, eyes and hair—to get the sun protection factor 50-plus sunscreen they need.

“Normally, when I go to Kampala, I get sunscreen for myself and others from organizations over there. But due to the lockdown, I’m just at home, with no sunscreen and unable to earn anything and I’ve used up all my savings, ” she said.

Activist Pat Robert Larubi, who advocates for those with albinism and disabilities, has traveled more then 800 kilometers, nearly 500 miles, on a motorbike across Uganda to provide three units each of sunscreen to hundreds of people with albinism. Larubi is a volunteer with Source of the Nile Union of People with Albinism in Jinja, approximately 85 miles from Kampala, the nation’s capital. The organization receives sunscreen units as donations from the United Kingdom-based Advantage Africa, prompting Larubi to set out last month to deliver it directly to those who need it most.

“The recommended sunscreen is not easy to find in pharmacies across the country. Even if there is sunscreen, it’s often very expensive for many to afford, costing around $20. So, based on my previous interactions, I’m trying to visit people who I know of. I’ve been to over 102 homes and delivered over 500 tins of sunscreen. But, this is the least I could do. People [with albinism] have trouble in getting food or money,” Larubi said.

Many people with albinism in Uganda labor outdoors, under the hot sub-Saharan Africa sun. Thousands of people with the genetic condition live in the country and they are sensitive to the sun and vulnerable to skin cancer and severe visual impairment.

“People call me to ask if I have sunscreen to give them. It has been particularly hard and I’m grateful for those donating sunscreen in such times,” Anyinge said.

Pat Robert Larubi and the motorbike on which he has ridden over 800 km across Uganda to deliver sunscreen which was packed in boxes. (Courtesy: Pat Larubi)

Toward the end of April, Larubi met two brothers, both with albinism, who worked long hours on a farm in northern Uganda to earn roughly $2 a day.

“They have to work because they have to eat. But they were working without any sort of protection, no long-sleeved shirts, sunscreen or hats. Their skin was burned and damaged with sores all over their body. If they continued this for long, the consequences could be fatal,” said Larubi.

A woman with albinism stands in her village in Gulu, Uganda. (Courtesy: Pat Larubi)

Skin cancer is a major cause of death among those with albinism. Without access to basic medical care and the knowledge or resources to protect themselves, many are vulnerable to sunlight and sunburns. Affordability and access to healthcare are some of  of the primary concerns for those with albinism.

“Most of the people with albinism generally come from poor backgrounds,” said Larubi, who wants to see public officials make sunscreen an essential and accessible product.

But those problems caused by the ongoing pandemic form just the tip of the iceberg for people with albinism in the country, where there is a stigma against those with the condition.

“The stigma is still strong and the inequality is evident. Ignorance and beliefs such as having intercourse with people with albinism helps cure HIV/AIDS, and sacrificing those with albinism for witchcraft-related rituals still persist,” Larubi said.

Research indicates that people with albinism find it increasingly difficult to integrate into society with regard to schools and finding jobs. They face discrimination and regular abuse. Additionally, they are often victims of crime.

Pat Robert Larubi holds up a sunscreen unit, sitting besides activists in Gulu, Uganda. (Courtesy: Pat Larubi)

Larubi first learned about the myths and preconceived notions surrounding albinism in 2018, when he worked as a TV journalist. Since then, he has worked to demystify and portray of people with albinism in the media positively.

“They need more than just sunscreen and my journey has been just a tiny contribution. I still plan to cover one more route and visit seven to eight districts. I’ve told everyone who has received sunscreen to use it sparingly so that the units can last a little longer,” he said. “In the long run, I hope that those with albinism are seen like everyone else, accepted into society and the next generation of people with albinism don’t suffer. ”

(Edited by Sally Benford and Allison Elyse Gualtieri)



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From smoker to marathon woman: Brazilian completes 6 of the world’s biggest races

The Abbott World Marathon Majors comprises six of the world’s largest marathons, stretching from Berlin to Tokyo. It’s a feat for any runner, let alone one who once deemed herself a sedentary smoker.

Brazil native Sara Velloso, an avid smoker for 17 years, is now, at 52, an accomplished competitor in the six-marathon stretch.

Sara Velloso ran in the Tokyo Marathon in 2018. (Courtesy of Sara Velloso)

She quit smoking, trained for six major marathons and recently published a book documenting her challenging journey titled “Six Races: What I Learned in the 253 Kilometers of the World Marathon Majors.

The book, originally printed in Portuguese, topped Amazon’s motivational category in Brazil earlier this year. While the print edition is still only available in Portuguese, an English version is available as an e-book.

Velloso’s journey into the marathon world began as she biked through the streets of São Paulo and accidentally hit a man, who came out of the encounter with a few scrapes—and an introduction to a woman that would eventually become his wife.

“He was training for a marathon; we had a chat and exchanged our numbers,” Velloso told Zenger News.

After that encounter, she started to run six days a week. At this point, she had already been cigarette-free for eight years. She frequently trained with friends and traveled for short races in Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires before transitioning to her ultimate goal, marathons, which are 42.2 kilometers (26.2 miles) each.

Her motivation to take on such longer races came from her brother and sister-in-law, who introduced her a group of runners at São Paulo University. She described her goal to be more active as another major motivation. In addition, her work as a financial executive at a large company enabled her to afford the personal trainers, supplies and travel that competing in such races entails.

Velloso finished her first marathon in Berlin in 2011, followed by New York City (2015), Chicago (2016), Boston (2017), Tokyo (2018) and London (2019).

Her favorite? The Boston Marathon. “It’s harder because the city’s geography has lots of hills, and the first woman to finish the marathon, [Kathrine Switzer], did it in 1967, the year I was born.”

Each marathon also presented Velloso with its own challenges. The mental and physical tolls she experienced during her first race, in Berlin, resulted in a four-year gap in which she replaced running with cycling. It wasn’t until the Chicago Marathon that Velloso felt mentally prepared to again run such grueling races.

By this time, she had also begun to attune her training with her personal life, a balance that took Velloso years to perfect — for example, while competing in Boston she was simultaneously building a house; in Tokyo, she was recovering from laparoscopic surgery.

“Everything starts in the mind,” says Maura Albano, a psychologist and graduate of the Federal University of Minas Gerais. “To be mentally prepared results in great self-esteem and self-control, which is fundamental for sports.”

In a similar vein, Felipe Vardiero, a psychologist who works with Ultimate Fighting Championship fighters in Brazil, said “running is a mental sport, so you must apply your mind to understand the maximum potential of your body.”

Indeed, for Velloso, training for races consisted of more than running: it was solitary therapy.

“You must enjoy your own company,” said Velloso. “I had some training that I came out smiling, and others I was crying.”

There were also challenges during the races themselves. For example, in the London race, Velloso nearly fell to the ground after a water bottle was thrown at her feet. But she persevered, describing her last step across the finish line as the most rewarding.

In 2019 Velloso began working on an e-book to share her experience. “I’ve always wanted to write a book and my editor, Ivana Moreira, convinced me that what I did was a story to be written,” said Velloso.

Within the book, Velloso documents her emotional ups and downs, noting the toughest challenge was dealing with the personal exposure of not only herself but friends and family in its pages. Still, she calls its publication the realization of a lifelong dream.

“Sometimes we do not believe in what we can do, in our potential; some women say that it needs to wait, but it does not,” she said.

(Edited by Mara Welty and Matthew Hall)



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Women rangers work to keep lid on illegal game hunting

Last year, Kenya reported a 90% decrease in wildlife poaching, but the advent of COVID-19 has stirred concerns the country’s national parks may draw new illegal hunters left jobless by the pandemic.

Standing in their way despite the threat of illness is a group of eight women drawn from the Maasai community, known as Team Lioness.

Team Lioness members were given the option to remain employed full-time and on patrol at Amboseli National Park, a 392-square kilometer reserve that lies at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro, with the understanding that they would have little or no contact with their families during the pandemic. When they are not out patrolling, they remain in their base camp doing paperwork.

Though Kenyan authorities say there has been no increase in poaching thus far, international wildlife agencies are worried about the impact that closing national parks to tourists as part of efforts to stop the spread of the virus will have on the welfare of the animals.

“In [tourism’s] absence, wildlife security is threatened as conservancies are likely to collapse, leading to loss of space for wildlife,” said a recent report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Tourism revenue supports land leases, community jobs and livelihoods for many who live in east Africa’s conservation areas, the report said. 

And tourist arrivals around this time of the year are usually very high, and the hospitality industry employs more than 1.2 million Kenyans, said Nancy Githaiga, the head of policy research and innovation at the World Wildlife Fund.  

Community ranger Beatrice Sailepu (24) washes her hands at the Olgulului Ololarashi Group Ranch in Kajiado, Kenya on April 23, 2020. (Photo Courtesy: Will Swanson/IFAW)

Many of those workers provided security in national parks, including anti-poaching efforts and battling human-wildlife conflicts. But they have all been sent home during the pandemic, said Githaiga.

The Kenya Wildlife Service and community conservancies depended heavily on tourism revenue to pay the salaries of rangers, said James Isiche, East Africa regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. But after the government locked down the country in response to the pandemic in March, there was a reported 98.9% decline in tourism revenue. 

Without those revenues, the Kenya Wildlife Service and conservancies are no longer in a position to continue anti-poaching operations without the aid of subventions, he said.  

The fund has therefore kept its team of rangers patrolling national parks like the Amboseli, which is is home to elephants, rhinoceroses, buffalos, giraffes, gazelles and numerous other species whose hides and horns are highly prized by the illegal wildlife trade.

The fund’s Team Lioness have been effective in deterring poachers, Isiche said. 

Team Lioness member Loice Soila said the stress created by the pandemic has made her job even more critical. “Families living around the Amboseli are mostly employed in conservancies as casual workers. But they lost their jobs due to COVID 19. Most of them are idle and this is tempting them to engage in poaching,” she said. 

Community rangers rest at a water hole during a patrol at the Olgulului Ololarashi Group Ranch in Kajiado, Kenya on April 22, 2020. (Photo Courtesy: Will Swanson/IFAW)

She is happy the Kenyan government has declared her job an essential service. “Taking care of wildlife has been my favorite choice since I was in school. I have been doing that since I joined Team Lioness and will continue to do so despite challenges like COVID-19,” Soila said.

However, the lack of contact with their communities has in some aspects made an already difficult job harder, since community interaction was a principal means by which rangers would gather intelligence on planned poaching activities, said Jacqueline Nyaga, the communications manager at the fund.

Even communicating over the phone is difficult because Team Lioness usually works in areas that have poor network connectivity, Nyaga said.

The long absence from home has added to the stress they and other Kenyans are experiencing, said Eunice Peneti, another member of Team Lioness. “We cannot go home to see our families and loved ones. This is straining our social lives,” she said.

The job presents other challenges for these young women, including braving extreme heat or flooding when tracking animals, said Peneti. There is also the ongoing danger posed by human-wildlife conflict, which the team has to face without the aid of firearms or other gear to protect themselves. 

Community ranger Ruth Sikeita (27) conducts a daily widlife patrol at the Olgulului Ololarashi Group Ranch in Kajiado, Kenya on April 22, 2020. (Photo Courtesy: Will Swanson/IFAW)

“These animals can injure and kill a victim. But I am proud of my work because it has proved that a woman can do what a man can do. This has earned me respect in the society,” said the 28-year-old mother of one.

The rangers have received the requisite safety equipment to protect them from COVID 19, as outlined by the Kenyan government and the World Health Organization, said the fund’s Isiche.

Team Lioness has brought benefits other than greater gender equity to the role, he said. “Women… interact with nature in many ways, sometimes even more than men, as their responsibilities and daily chores of running their households may mean they are more aware and in tune with their environments as they fetch water, collect firewood and tend to livestock.”
 
He expects their work to continue, he said, but the fund will continue to monitor the situation to ensure the threats to wildlife do not intensify with deteriorating economic conditions.
 
(Edited by Jewel Fraser and Matthew Hall)



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