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When we look back on the year 2020, most of us will recall a time of devastating loss and uncertainty. But amidst the pain and suffering of a global pandemic, there were still many impactful moments over the past 12 months that brought us joy and gave us hope for the future. Here are five of our favorites.

Real Life Hero

World Vision

Akhi, 17, was working as a child laborer in dangerous conditions in Bangladesh. After being removed from the situation with help from World Vision, she enrolled in one of their training programs that provided her with a sewing machine and taught her sewing skills. Wanting to find a way to give back during the COVID-19 outbreak, Akhi began sewing beautiful, colorful masks and selling them at affordable prices to poorer households in her community. Her work was even recognized by the U.N., who gave her a Real Life Hero award.

The Greatest Gift

World Vision

When the pandemic hit, schools were forced to close and students transitioned into remote learning. But for many without access to the right technology, the closure meant an interruption to their education. This was the case for Simon, a refugee from South Sudan who lives in the BidiBidi Refugee Camp in Uganda. To prevent his son from missing out, Simon's dad used what little money he had to buy a radio so Simon could tune into his lessons which had been transferred to the airwaves. "My Dad is my hero because he bought for me a radio in which I can study," Simon said.

Solidarity

World Vision

COVID-19 led to a desperate need for healthcare workers and medical equipment. In July, the Solidarity, World Vision's floating hospital, set sail for the Amazon. The team of doctors, nurses, and dentists on board were able to provide the remote communities in this region with necessary medical care, food packages, and information to help prevent the spread of the virus.

A Place to Call Home

Peter Mutabazi

Peter Mutabazi, 37, grew up in poverty in a village near the border of Uganda and Rwanda. He eventually migrated to America and got a job at World Vision, but decided he wanted to do more to help those in need, so he signed up to be a foster dad. Over the past three years, he's cared for 12 children, but one child in particular made an impact on his life. Anthony, 13, had been abandoned by his family at the age of two then again by a family who had taken him in. Peter and Anthony really hit it off when the two met and Peter decided to adopt the boy, which finally went through in March after two years. "Anthony is an amazing kid," Peter told Metro News.

Girl Power

World Vision

During lockdown, many people faced unprecedented financial pressure. For some parents, forcing their children into child marriages seemed like the only way to keep them fed and sheltered, according to World Vision India's Sandip Bhowmick.

World Vision's Girl Power groups in India aim to equip girls with necessary life skills, including personal safety, self-defense training, education, and legal awareness to avoid the threat of gender-based violence, trafficking, and child marriage. The girls then use what they learn to raise awareness and equip others with the same crucial knowledge. These skills were especially useful to help end the flux of child marriages happening at the height of the pandemic.

"In just one apartment block, our Girl Power group alerted us to nine imminent child marriages. The youngest case of child marriage was that of a fourteen-year-old girl. However, thanks to Girl Power, we were able to stop these marriages and work with the families to find a better solution to their difficulties," Bhowmick said.

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World Vision

With the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to be felt around the world, many people are struggling to meet their basic needs. Unemployment is at an all-time high and an alarming number of families are facing food insecurity.

To bring greater awareness to these struggles, particularly for those in under-developed and conflict-affected countries, a group of professional chefs are coming together to share their favorite recipes from across the globe this World Food Day (October 16).

"More Than a Meal" is a collection of recipes from around the globe developed in partnership by World Vision, a global aid and development agency, and The Chefs' Manifesto, a network of chefs advocating good food for all.

"Food really is life. It brings people together and importantly, good, nutritious food, and plenty of it, ensures children are able to survive and thrive," said Marcus Frost, World Vision's partnership leader for marketing and communications.

Recipes include those from both Michelin Star chefs and families living in many of the countries where World Vision works, and represent a wide variety of cuisines. Some examples are Macaroni Egg Soup from Indonesia and Imvungure, a traditional Rwandan recipe using maize.

"We hope these recipes and the stories behind them encourage people to look at places such as Syria as more than just humanitarian crises. These countries are children's homes, often filled with memories and traditions passed down through generations," Frost said.

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Back Market

Between the new normal that is working from home and e-learning for students of all ages, having functional electronic devices is extremely important. But that doesn't mean needing to run out and buy the latest and greatest model. In fact, this cycle of constantly upgrading our devices to keep up with the newest technology is an incredibly dangerous habit.

The amount of e-waste we produce each year is growing at an increasing rate, and the improper treatment and disposal of this waste is harmful to both human health and the planet.

So what's the solution? While no one expects you to stop purchasing new phones, laptops, and other devices, what you can do is consider where you're purchasing them from and how often in order to help improve the planet for future generations.

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Brett Kuxhausen
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Gorongosa Coffee

When it comes to education, females are still at a disadvantage compared to their male counterparts. Sixteen million girls around the world will never set foot in a classroom, and women account for two-thirds of the 750 million adults without basic literacy skills, according to UNESCO.

This gender inequality is also a major cause and effect of poverty and hunger, with women and girls making up an estimated 60% of chronically hungry people, statistics from U.N. Women reveal.

Girls' education is a crucial component of decreasing the gender gap; every additional year of primary school a girl attends will increase her eventual wages by 10 to 20% and encourage her to marry later and have fewer children, leaving her less vulnerable to violence and poverty.

While there are many ways in which we can contribute to the efforts of those working to ensure girls get the education they deserve, one company has made it as simple as buying a bag of coffee.

In 2015, the Gorongosa Project partnered with green bean coffee experts and local farmers to plant coffee on Mount Gorongosa in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique. The shade-grown coffee is planted alongside native tree saplings to restore the depleted rainforest and provide farmers with a sustainable source of income.

Brett Kuxhausen

From this, Gorongosa Coffee was born. The company, founded by Gorongosa National Park, directly supports the activities of the Gorongosa Project, with every purchase of its products aiding human development and conservation activities in the area.

The beans are harvested by small-scale producers in Mozambique and then roasted into three different blends by partners around the world. Each blend serves a specific impact area, including wildlife conservation, rainforest reforestation, and girls' education.

One hundred percent of the profits from the Girls Run the World blend help to build 100 schools, give 20,000 girls access to after-school programs, and provide 500 high school scholarships. Even the purchase of just one bag equals one day in school for a girl.

"Our main aim is to keep girls in school, because for many reasons, as soon as girls are old enough…12 or 13, they normally are sent to get married," Larissa Sousa, the girls education program manager at Gorongosa National Park, said.

One way the park does this is through its Girls' Club, a program that works to prevent premature marriages and keep girls in school so they have access to more resources and can become self-reliant.

"We want to work with the most vulnerable…in the community to give opportunity to these children. So what we want is to try to have this generation of women who have the opportunity to continue education, who can grow and be what they want to be, who have better opportunities than the previous generation had," Sousa said.

Brett Kuxhausen

Sousa explains the program works to inform both the girls and their parents of the importance of getting an education and how that will have a big impact on their future.

"What we are doing is for these girls to try to create safe spaces, open doors to the opportunities that they can have, and also create that sense of thinking about the future that what you do today will have an action, a reaction in the future, that everything we do has a consequence," she said.

The results of the work Sousa and Girls' Club are doing is already evident.

"We've known the girls for some time now, so now we can see that they are already more confident. They want to know more about the world," Sousa said.

"In the beginning, you would greet the girls and they would run away. They're open now to opportunities. They want to know more of life…they're curious. It's very interesting how some of the girls already come and say, oh I want to be a doctor, I want to be this, because now they see this is possible so that's what makes us work harder every day," she said.

Anora Manuel, 13, is one such example. Manuel participates in Girls' Club after school and says she wants to be a ranger when she grows up.

"I live with my father and grandfather. I don't have a mother. I'm a child and I want to study. I don't want to get married," Manuel said.

To help Girls' Club continue this important work, all you have to do is swap your current coffee for Gorongosa Coffee's Girls Run the World blend and know that with every sip, you're helping close the gender gap and giving a girl the opportunity to dream bigger for her life.

Put simply, "educating a woman is educating a society," according to Sousa.