The work of 'The Iron Lady' could help save millions of lives in Nigeria.
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In Nigeria, there is a woman known as "The Iron Lady." And how she earned that nickname is a lesson in perseverance.

Her real name is Zainabu Abubakar and she lives in a society where women don’t work, let alone hold a leadership position. But you know what? She did both.

All images via Zainabu Abubakar, used with permission.


She started working as a nurse because she wanted to help improve the health of her community, especially the health of women and children. After that, she formed a small team to start educating people about sanitation, but they only had a small amount of money to do their work. Then, in 2009, after securing a bigger budget and more staff thanks to  the support of their state governor, Abubakar's passion for helping others led her to bigger things.

She was appointed to be the new director of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Department (WASH) in Bakori, a local government area in Katsina State, Nigeria.

"The Iron Lady" doing work.

She's the first woman to ever hold that position.

Of course, her appointment was met with opposition by people who were not comfortable with a female leader, but that didn't stop "The Iron Lady" one bit.

"The one thing I have learned is that people believe mostly what they know," says Abubakar. "They never believe that you can change attitudes."

But as director of WASH, Abubakar is proving that you can change people's attitudes by simply walking the walk.

She is tackling one of the biggest problems affecting the people of Nigeria: open defecation.

"Most of our people, they are not hygiene-conscious," she says. "They don't know that not having good environment or clean environment is very important."

Abubakar (left) always leads by example.

A 2016 WaterAid report for World Toilet Day states that a staggering 130 million people in Nigeria still don't have access to a safe and private toilet. This, in turn, contributes to the 46 million people that practice open defecation, spreading serious diseases such as typhoid and cholera and severely contaminating the water supply.

It's estimated that over 44,000 Nigerian children die every year because of diarrheal diseases and 1 in every 23 Nigerian women will lose a baby due to an infection.

But with "The Iron Lady" leading the way, more and more communities are learning proper health and sanitation practices.

"When you want people to do things, you have to do it so that people will learn from you," says Abubakar. "You are not dictating to them. What you are trying to make them understand is that this is good for them. And [if] they agree that it is, they practice it."

The students at a local school learning proper hygiene for Global Handwashing Day.

Through her innovative Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) project, for example, she educates and shows different communities what proper hygiene and sanitation really is — from washing your hands the right way to using the toilet to sourcing your water efficiently. This, in turn, inspires communities to build proper facilities on their own and, more importantly, change their way of doing things.

Abubakar's success rate is the stuff of legends: In less than six years, she has transformed close to 90% of the communities that she oversees to certified open defecation free (ODF).

When "The Iron Lady" speaks, everyone listens.

"I have 428 communities in my local government. In all these communities, people know me. One — I help women. Two — I help children," adds Abubakar. "I always strive for others to see that in the community I visit."

On top of that, she's empowering local women to confront inequality.

In fact, she started a loan program with the government to help aspiring working women gain access to the resources they need to succeed.

"Before now, women don't sit where men are. And men don’t agree for women to be together with them," says Abubakar. "But now, every community you go, there’s a mix of the men and women and they’re working [together]."

Changing people's attitudes is no easy task, but it's what drives Abubakar forward.

"You have to be tolerant. ... We sit with people, we discuss, we ask them their problems, and they’ll tell you," adds Abubakar. "Honestly speaking, changing people is the most happiest thing, I believe, in my life."

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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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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