Why you should care

Forget gloom and doom. There’s plenty to be optimistic about.

This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.

It’s Christmas Eve and you’re hopefully taking a break from your daily routine, while preparing for the start of 2019. Looking back over 2018, it’s easy to recall the global tightening of borders and growing polarization on everything from health care to climate change. But if you look beyond the seemingly endless daily news churn, the year offered plenty of uplifting stories from every part of the world. 

From Asia to Africa, and Europe to the Americas, ordinary people and societies overcame rare challenges, inspired others and helped forge bonds across divides of language and geography, politics and race. Here’s a look back at some of those tales of bravery, grit and humor that offer hope and optimism for 2019. Yes, sometimes the news can make you smile.

HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT 

Sportsman spirit. Sports, it is often said, helps bring people together. But no one could have imagined just how true — or critical — that adage would prove when 12 Thai junior soccer players, between the ages of 11 and 17, entered Tham Luang cave with their assistant coach after practice on June 23. Flooding trapped them inside. As Thai agencies struggled to rescue the team on their own, hundreds of military personnel, medical experts and volunteers from 15 other countries arrived to help them. One former Thai Navy Seal died of asphyxiation. But by July 10, all 12 children and their coach were rescued after a billion liters of water were pumped out. Teamwork prevailed to save lives.

Coffee cures. Jonny Boucher has lost 16 friends and family members to suicide. Now, he’s helping save many more lives. Boucher’s café, Sip of Hope, isn’t just one of many independent coffee shops in the city of Chicago. It’s a rare space where coffee blends with conversations about mental health. The coffee shop offers customers information about local mental health providers, online workshops, educational literature and brochures. It’s also the first café in the world to donate 100 percent of its proceeds toward suicide prevention and mental health. What a great way to drink to someone’s health.

Halving homicides. In 2012, Honduras had the worst homicide rate in the world, with 90 out of every 100,000 people killed. But a combination of a laser focus on specific crimes that often lead to murder, such as extortion, a targeted approach against large criminal gangs and admission of internal frailties dogging the country’s law enforcement system has since yielded dramatic results. Since 2016, Honduras has dismissed 4,455 corrupt police officers. Today, the country has halved its homicide rate compared to 2012.  

Spiderman savior. When Mamoudou Gassama, a construction worker from Mali, traveled 3,700 miles and through the treacherous Mediterranean migrant route to reach France, he didn’t know if he would be welcomed. But when he saw a boy dangling from a balcony in Paris one day, he scaled four stories to save him. Lauded by the nation, Gassama was awarded citizenship and a job with the fire brigade by French President Emmanuel Macron. 

Gettyimages 977994226

Malian immigrant in France turned hero, Mamoudou Gassama addresses the media within a meeting with Mali’s president on June 18, 2018 in Bamako. – Mamoudou ‘Spider-Man’ Gassama’s dramatic rescue act on May 26, 2018, during which he climbed four storeys on the outside of a block of flats in Paris in 30 seconds to save a four-year-old boy who was hanging from a balcony, earned Gassama a fast-track to French nationality and a job in the fire service.

Source Getty Images

Moving mountains. Jalandar Nayak, a vegetable seller, singlehandedly built a five-mile road through a hill in an inaccessible part of the eastern Indian state of Odisha so his children could walk to school. Nayak never got to go to school himself, and when he approached district authorities for help with his children’s education, they advised him to move with his family to the nearest town. But Nayak wasn’t going anywhere; he decided the mountain had to move. He worked with rudimentary tools — a pickaxe and a shovel — for eight hours every day for two years until the road was built.   

WHAT TO READ

This Melissa McCarthy Story Just Might (Maybe? Possibly?) Cheer You Up, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner in The New York Times magazine

“Maybe McCarthy is onto something … Why look for meaning in everything when the entire point of the comedy exercise is to transcend meaning and responsibility and poignancy? She’s funny. She’s polar bears and toucans. That’s it. That’s what she aspires to. Take it or leave it.”

South Sudan’s Universities Beat Odds of War to Build Nation’s Future, by Rachel Savage on OZY

“Against the odds, the country’s five public universities are innovating in real time to grow while preparing a generation of South Sudanese who can transform their country’s future.”

WHAT TO WATCH

Grandpa Paints His Taiwanese Village in Cats and Dogs 

“If I didn’t paint this village, the government would have destroyed it. There were 1,200 households here.”

Watch on BBC on YouTube:

The Man Making the Whole World Bounce With Music

“I got diagnosed with cancer. So I was super stressed and I couldn’t work. Now, more than anything I have time. So, me having cancer … I looked at it as a blessing. I believe God, the universe … gave me cancer in order to kinda … to divert my attention … to take life seriously.”  

Watch on OZY on YouTube: 

WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER

Playing hooky from school can be a good thing. A 15-year-old Swedish girl skipping school to make a statement on climate change may sound extreme, but Greta Thunberg’s protests have been effective. They’ve inspired similar school protests as far away as Australia, and she pressured world leaders with a stirring speech at the COP24 in Poland this month to adopt new rules to meet the Paris climate change agreement.

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