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Leroy Mwasaru was a high school student at Kenya's prestigious Maseno School when a dorm room renovation created an unfortunate situation.

The school's outdoor latrines overflowed into the local water supply.

Understandably, this made some people quite upset. But Mwasaru saw this as an opportunity to turn something revolting into a revolution.


[rebelmouse-image 19469680 dam="1" original_size="500x274" caption="All GIFs from Makeshift/YouTube." expand=1]All GIFs from Makeshift/YouTube.

If he could redirect the overflowing human waste, it could give them cleaner water and help the school save money on fire and electricity.

See, at that same time, his school was spending a lot of money on firewood, which, like many Kenyan buildings, it used to fuel its kitchens, heat, and lights. It can be labor intensive to gather all that wood — and it's even more expensive to buy it.  Plus, all the soot and ash it creates is not good for the staff to consume on such a regular and large-scale basis.

[rebelmouse-image 19469681 dam="1" original_size="1200x624" caption="Mwasaru and his friends speak with school staff about the wood-burning furnace. Image from MakeShift/YouTube." expand=1]Mwasaru and his friends speak with school staff about the wood-burning furnace. Image from MakeShift/YouTube.

So Mwasaru thought — why not use a biogas digester instead?

In his sophomore year biology class, he had learned how these digesters can harvest natural bacterial byproducts, such as human waste and turn it into natural gas energy through a process called anaerobic digestion.

"I initially researched renewable energy and biogas [digesters] just to satisfy my intellectual curiosity," Mwasaru explains over email. "After a while, it became so much more than biology — there was chemistry too. It got to solving problems my local community faced, such as lack of access to affordable renewable energy."

[rebelmouse-image 19469682 dam="1" original_size="1189x574" caption="Students on the Maseno School campus. Image from MakeShift/YouTube." expand=1]Students on the Maseno School campus. Image from MakeShift/YouTube.

Mwasaru recruited a group of friends, and over the next year, they built a working prototype biogas digester for the school.

His initial proposal was met with some level of resistance from the community. "I want to burn our poop to fuel the kitchen" isn't exactly the kind of thing anyone wants to hear from a high school student.

"That's what pushed me to make sure it came to pass, and made sure it benefited them. Sometimes it's the bad energy you get that pushes you to do stuff," Mwasaru says.

Their earliest tests began by collecting raw "fuel" in the form of cow dung, food waste, fresh cut grass, and eventually, water.

These components were then mixed together into a paste...

... that they poured into a plastic vessel — the digester itself.

The natural bacteria contained in all these ingredients was more than enough to spark the anaerobic process as it broke down the organic waste materials.

Over time, the dense physical waste drops down to the bottom of the container, separating from the bacteria's combustible gas byproduct, which can then be collected and used for energy.

Lighting a burner with harvested biogas.

Granted, there were a few hiccups along the way. "I have to credit the failures we have had," Mwasaru says. "Our very first bio-digester prototype had too much gas and exploded, so we had to re-learn and re-invent the model until it was stable."

After a little trial and error, Mwasaru and friends completed their first working prototype — and it was good enough to earn them a coveted spot at the Innovate Kenya startup camp.

See this video here of how his small-scale prototype worked here:

It demonstrated the basic way that the anaerobic process could be contained within a single plastic vessel with pipes to move the gas along, while directing all the other organic waste into the ground. It wasn't enough to power the entire school on its own, but it was a start.

Then, at the startup camp, the teens had the opportunity to work alongside student engineers from MIT to hone and refine their project.

[rebelmouse-image 19469688 dam="1" original_size="1212x683" caption="Mwasaru, left, with his friends Amos Dede and Charles, who also worked on the biogas project. Image from MakeShift/YouTube." expand=1]Mwasaru, left, with his friends Amos Dede and Charles, who also worked on the biogas project. Image from MakeShift/YouTube.

In fact, the product that this high schooler devised was so impressive that it earned them funding from Global Minimum — a charitable organization that encourages young innovators and leaders in Africa — to build a second,  improved prototype.

"Leroy seeks to understand everything he doesn't know by asking probing questions, taking notes and experimenting to learn," said David Moinina Sengeh, an MIT Researcher who also serves as Global Minimum's board president, in an interview with CNN. "His curiosity to explore and learn from doing within a motivation to bring broader social change is something that we hope to see in all our youth and frankly everyone."

Mwasaru speaking at the One Young World summit in Arizona. Photo provided by Leroy Mwasaru.

As work began on the next, larger prototype, Mwasaru had the opportunity to travel to America to speak at prestigious conferences, such as Techonomy and One Young World.

He also returned home to the small village where his father still lives and helped to install a biogas digester there too, using the dung from his father's six cows. It generates enough gas for him to share with the other 30 houses in the village. Plus, it made things easier for the women in the village — another cause that Mwasaru is passionate about — who were sometimes spending up to 24 hours a week collecting firewood.

"When I deployed the Biogas pilot in my rural home, I mainly envisioned it as a way of leveraging sustainable renewable energy to make the world a better place through my community," Mwasaru says. "Now I believe through our activities that other sectors [such as women empowerment] could benefit immensely from the approach."

[rebelmouse-image 19469690 dam="1" original_size="1200x624" caption="The dining hall at Maseno School. Image from MakeShift/YouTube." expand=1]The dining hall at Maseno School. Image from MakeShift/YouTube.

The biogas digester project has since grown into a full-fledged startup/social enterprise called Greenpact — with Mwasaru serving as its CEO.

Since graduating from Maseno School, Mwasaru has taken a gap year to focus on the company's mission to address the lack of affordable renewable energy and proper sanitation that affects some 9 million Kenyan households.

He hopes to steer the company into an impactful organization that offers a wide range of products and services, including biogas digesters. He does have plans to go to college — but for now, Greenpact is his priority.

"I didn't see myself focusing on renewable energy but after doing some work in the field I figured out that I am actually more into renewable energy than I had imagined," Mwasaru says.

Now he's determined to show the world how to turn energy into opportunity and vice versa. The only way to do that is to stop seeing things as waste and start seeing them as resources instead.

Photo courtesy of Girls at Work

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14 things that will remain fun no matter how old you get

Your inner child will thank you for doing at least one of these.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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When we’re kids, fun comes so easily. You have coloring books and team sports and daily recess … so many opportunities to laugh, play and explore. As we get older, these activities get replaced by routine and responsibility (and yes, at times, survival). Adulthood, yuck.

Many of us want to have more fun, but making time for it still doesn’t come as easily as it did when we were kids—whether that’s because of guilt, a long list of other priorities or because we don’t feel it’s an age-appropriate thing to long for.

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All images provided by Adewole Adamson

It begins with more inclusive conversations at a patient level

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Adewole Adamson, MD, of the University of Texas, Austin, aims to create more equity in health care by gathering data from more diverse populations by using artificial intelligence (AI), a type of machine learning. Dr. Adamson’s work is funded by the American Cancer Society (ACS), an organization committed to advancing health equity through research priorities, programs and services for groups who have been marginalized.

Melanoma became a particular focus for Dr. Adamson after meeting Avery Smith, who lost his wife—a Black woman—to the deadly disease.

melanoma,  melanoma for dark skin Avery Smith (left) and Adamson (sidenote)

This personal encounter, coupled with multiple conversations with Black dermatology patients, drove Dr. Adamson to a concerning discovery: as advanced as AI is at detecting possible skin cancers, it is heavily biased.

To understand this bias, it helps to first know how AI works in the early detection of skin cancer, which Dr. Adamson explains in his paper for the New England Journal of Medicine (paywall). The process uses computers that rely on sets of accumulated data to learn what healthy or unhealthy skin looks like and then create an algorithm to predict diagnoses based on those data sets.

This process, known as supervised learning, could lead to huge benefits in preventive care.

After all, early detection is key to better outcomes. The problem is that the data sets don’t include enough information about darker skin tones. As Adamson put it, “everything is viewed through a ‘white lens.’”

“If you don’t teach the algorithm with a diverse set of images, then that algorithm won’t work out in the public that is diverse,” writes Adamson in a study he co-wrote with Smith (according to a story in The Atlantic). “So there’s risk, then, for people with skin of color to fall through the cracks.”

Tragically, Smith’s wife was diagnosed with melanoma too late and paid the ultimate price for it. And she was not an anomaly—though the disease is more common for White patients, Black cancer patients are far more likely to be diagnosed at later stages, causing a notable disparity in survival rates between non-Hispanics whites (90%) and non-Hispanic blacks (66%).

As a computer scientist, Smith suspected this racial bias and reached out to Adamson, hoping a Black dermatologist would have more diverse data sets. Though Adamson didn’t have what Smith was initially looking for, this realization ignited a personal mission to investigate and reduce disparities.

Now, Adamson uses the knowledge gained through his years of research to help advance the fight for health equity. To him, that means not only gaining a wider array of data sets, but also having more conversations with patients to understand how socioeconomic status impacts the level and efficiency of care.

“At the end of the day, what matters most is how we help patients at the patient level,” Adamson told Upworthy. “And how can you do that without knowing exactly what barriers they face?”

american cancer society, skin cacner treatment"What matters most is how we help patients at the patient level."https://www.kellydavidsonstudio.com/

The American Cancer Society believes everyone deserves a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer—regardless of how much money they make, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, gender identity, their disability status, or where they live. Inclusive tools and resources on the Health Equity section of their website can be found here. For more information about skin cancer, visit cancer.org/skincancer.

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via Lewis Speaks Sr. / Facebook

This article originally appeared on 02.25.21


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