Gambia's plant-based wastewater treatment is reshaping how we preserve the environment.
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On a trip to Gambia in early 2014, Bianca Griffith visited a local wastewater dump with an enormous problem.

A friend of hers who works in government wanted her to see the Kotu Ponds in Gambia — the largest wastewater facility in the country — because recently, it couldn't handle its load. This meant that waste was overflowing onto the coast and surrounding areas, destroying the environment and spreading disease to animals, produce, and people.

"It's basically these giant lagoons filled with solid waste," Griffith recalls. "It looked like an island of trash."

She wanted to help.

Griffith is the co-founder and CEO of Agua Inc., a company that provides sustainable wastewater treatment systems in developing nations.

Established in 2013 with her fellow founder and COO Pedro Ortiz, the Agua Inc. team has installed over 200 water treatment systems around the world, some of which were completed before they had even formed a company. To date, they've done work everywhere from Kenya to Mali to the Dominican Republic.

CEO Bianca Griffith with COO Pedro Ortiz. Image via Agua Inc., used with permission.

Gambia, however, didn't have the resources to install a new system of their own, so, in mid-2014, Griffith and her colleagues established Agua Gambia Ltd., a subsidiary of Agua Inc. in partnership with the government of Gambia. By June 2015, after securing the proper licenses and contracts, they were officially in charge of the wastewater facility.

Unlike other projects, rather than just selling and installing their technology, Agua Inc. would take care of the entire service. By creating this new model, they could use private investments to finance the project and improve the current sewage infrastructure to make it more affordable, sustainable, and most importantly, 100% natural — something severely lacking in the developing world.

And how were they going to do this? With the help of good ol' green plants, of course.

Images via Agua Inc., used with permission.

Their method — called ABIS (Aquatic Biological Integrated Systems) — is a completely natural approach to waste management. It utilizes plants called macrophytes that have evolved to survive in waters where there is a lot of contamination and waste, explains Griffith.

These plants can absorb oxygen from the atmosphere and inject it into the water through their roots. This, in turn, helps creates an ecosystem where helpful bacteria can thrive and break down the harmful contaminants that they come across. While this is happening, the plant also absorbs nutrients from the water, purifying it.

In order to maximize how much surface area these plants can cover, Agua Inc. uses Agua Bio-Matrixes, which are devices that hold the plants in place and keep them floating at the surface level. This reduces the risk of clogging and allows the roots to increase their treatment capacity as they clean the water.

"We can do the same processes that a conventional wastewater treatment facility is able to do, these expensive mechanized ones, but do it without any energy inputs and without any chemicals," explains Griffith.

In addition to improving the environment, Agua Inc. also empowers the local community.

"We're trying to take the sewage facility and turn it into a garden and public space — make it beautiful," says Griffith. You see, Kotu is one of the premier tourist spots in Gambia, so by transforming the area that was once a sewage treatment area, they have the potential to usher in a more fruitful economy.

Image via Agua Inc., used with permission.

On top of that, Agua Inc. also ensures that the community is a big part of their growth. That's why 90% of their staff are locals, trained to take on the variety of roles needed in the waste management process. They also receive health insurance, more than standard pay, financial aid for additional studies, and opportunities for growth within the company.

Griffith hopes they can bring the water treatment technology to other places that need it soon.

That's the ultimate goal, she says.

Of course, no two places are exactly the same. But if their experience in Gambia has shown anything, it's that they can take a sewage system that's destroying the Earth and burdening the community and turn it into one that empowers locals, creates jobs, enriches the environment, and is sustainable for generations to come.

It's one thing to see a little kid skateboarding. It's another to see a stereotype-defying little girl skateboarding. And it's entirely another to see Paige Tobin.

Paige is a 6-year-old skateboarding wonder from Australia. A recent video of her dropping into a 12-foot bowl on her has gone viral, both for the feat itself and for the style with which she does it. Decked out in a pink party dress, a leopard-print helmet, and rainbow socks, she looks nothing like you'd expect a skater dropping into a 12-foot bowl to look. And yet, here she is, blowing people's minds all over the place.

For those who may not fully appreciate the impressiveness of this feat, here's some perspective. My adrenaline junkie brother, who has been skateboarding since childhood and who races down rugged mountain faces on a bike for fun, shared this video and commented, "If I dropped in to a bowl twice as deep as my age it would be my first and last time doing so...this fearless kid has a bright future!"

It's scarier than it looks, and it looks pretty darn scary.

Paige doesn't always dress like a princess when she skates, not that it matters. Her talent and skill with the board are what gets people's attention. (The rainbow socks are kind of her signature, however.)

Her Instagram feed is filled with photos and videos of her skateboarding and surfing, and the body coordination she's gained at such a young age is truly something.

Here she was at three years old:

And here she is at age four:


So, if she dropped into a 6-foot bowl at age three and a 12-foot bowl at age six—is there such a thing as an 18-foot bowl for her to tackle when she's nine?

Paige clearly enjoys skating and has high ambitions in the skating world. "I want to go to the Olympics, and I want to be a pro skater," she told Power of Positivity when she was five. She already seems to be well on her way toward that goal.

How did she get so good? Well, Paige's mom gave her a skateboard when she wasn't even preschool age yet, and she loved it. Her mom got her lessons, and she's spent the past three years skating almost daily. She practices at local skate parks and competes in local competitions.

She also naturally has her fair share of spills, some of which you can see on her Instagram channel. Falling is part of the sport—you can't learn if you don't fall. Conquering the fear of falling is the key, and the thing that's hardest for most people to get over.

Perhaps Paige started too young to let fear override her desire to skate. Perhaps she's been taught to manage her fears, or maybe she's just naturally less afraid than other people. Or maybe there's something magical about the rainbow socks. Whatever it is, it's clear that this girl doesn't let fear get in the way of her doing what she wants to do. An admirable quality in anyone, but particularly striking to see in someone so young.

Way to go, Paige. Your perseverance and courage are inspiring, as is your unique fashion sense. Can't wait to see what you do next.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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